Basketball Scouting Report: South Carolina
The Vanderbilt Commodores finally attained something close to the magic formula they were looking for against the Florida Gators on Tuesday. In many games this season, the Dores fell on the wrong side of two out of three important statistical categories: free-throw shooting, rebounding, and turnovers. Against Florida, however, Vanderbilt decisively won two of the three categories, minimizing its deficit in the third.
The Dores coughed up 18 turnovers while Florida committed only eight. However, they won the battle on the glass by 16 rebounds (42 to 26) and the free-throw competition by 16 makes (29 to 13). When you lose, key categories either go against you, or you fail to attain a clear-cut advantage in a majority of them. This had been happening to Vanderbilt, but against Florida, the Commodores were able to turn things their way. They also received four double-figure scoring performances and were able to have Riley LaChance and Damian Jones playing reasonably well (though not quite great) on the same night. Elusive realities no longer eluded VU, and that’s why this team grabbed its second SEC win of the season.
Now, everyone in the Vanderbilt locker room hopes to put together a second straight winning performance to gradually establish the idea that consistent results are attainable. Yes, this is not Kentucky which is coming into Memorial Gym. It’s only South Carolina. However, the process of becoming an NCAA tournament team has to begin somewhere, and it has to develop at a modest level before it can develop at an even higher level.
It’s one thing to snap an extended losing streak. It’s another matter to stack together consecutive wins and show that progress is a sustainable, realistic part of a long and trying season. Vanderbilt has just over a full month of game play in which to set the table for the 2015-2016 season. The attempt to build a foundation for the future continues on Saturday, and that task needs to be given the level of urgency it deserves.
SOUTH CAROLINA AT-A-GLANCE
Against Florida, Vanderbilt benefited from the Gators’ poor three-point shooting, save for Michael Frazier III, who it 4 of 6 triples. Non-Frazier Florida players, however, were 2 of 13 from long distance. This clearly aided a VU team that has found it hard to defend the perimeter for much of the season.
Vanderbilt’s next opponent just happens to be the worst three-point shooting team in the SEC, and the larger story surrounding the South Carolina Gamecocks is that the hot shooting which briefly emerged in December has not been able to last.
South Carolina’s best stretch of the season came in December and early January. Taking away a non-Division I game, the Gamecocks went through a four-game stretch in which they beat Oklahoma State, a likely NCAA tournament team, by 26. They beat Clemson, a likely NIT team, by 23. They beat Iowa State, easily an NCAA team, on a neutral floor.
Why is South Carolina now sitting here at 2-7 in the SEC and out of the running for an NCAA tournament berth? The Gamecocks’ shooting has cooled off. South Carolina hits under 29 percent of its three-point shots, the worst percentage in the SEC. The Gamecocks’ Duane Notice embodies the direction of this team more than any other player. He was white-hot in South Carolina’s blowouts of Oklahoma State and Clemson, hitting 14 of 28 shots combined, 8 of 15 from three-point range. He went through an eight-game stretch in which he scored in double figures without exception. He experienced a four-game sequence in which he averaged 21.3 points per game. Since that flurry, however, Notice has not been able to replicate that same level of success. He averages 11.1 points per game and has not been able to carry the hot hand he developed in December.
How did South Carolina beat Iowa State, in what is sure to remain one of the more puzzling outcomes of the whole season? The Cyclones had an unusually bad night from the three-point arc, hitting just 1 of 18 long balls. That’s remarkable, but it happened, and South Carolina was there to pick up the win as the beneficiary of Iowa State’s inaccuracy. The odds, in short, favored coach Frank Martin’s team for a period of time. In SEC play, those odds have abruptly stopped working for the Gamecocks, who could be 5-4 in the league if they had been able to win home games against Florida and Tennessee plus a roadie at Auburn.
South Carolina is simultaneously an extremely dangerous team and a team whose weaknesses fit right into the kind of profile that suits Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks have beaten multiple NCAA tournament teams, and yet their awful three-point shooting makes them vulnerable to the Commodores. Can VU take advantage of this situation?
Forward – Michael Carrera – Junior, 6-5, 212; 2014-15: 5.8 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game
Carrera remains what he’s always been at South Carolina: an energetic, hard-working, but ultimately very limited post player with a lack of shotmaking skill. South Carolina, down through the years, has been a team powered by its guards or wing players, rarely by post players. This has been true under Frank Martin. It was true under Dave Odom with Renaldo Balkman. It was certainly true under Eddie Fogler, when the Gamecocks gained top-three NCAA tournament seeds in consecutive seasons thanks to the exploits of Melvin Watson, Larry Davis, and B.J. McKie. Prime post players have been hard to come by for South Carolina, and that’s why Florida, Kentucky and (to a lesser but still real extent) Tennessee were able to do more than the Gamecocks when the SEC still used a divisional format. Carrera is just a worker bee. South Carolina will need recruits that can be more than what Carrera has been if this program is to move forward.
Forward – Laimonas Chatkevicius – Junior, 6-11, 251; 2014-15: 8.7 ppg, 5 rpg
Chatkevicius comes from Lithuania, where a more European brand of basketball is supposed to translate into a more substantial shooting and scoring presence. In an ideal world, South Carolina would get floor spacing and a game-changing style of play from Chatkevicius, but that hasn’t been the case this season or in the previous two, for that matter.
Guard – Duane Notice – Sophomore, 6-2, 212; 2014-15: 11.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.7 assists per game
Notice’s strong month of December and his overall inconsistency were both documented above. Can South Carolina once again get 19-point games from this erratic player? When Notice was putting the ball in the bucket, this team played its best basketball of the season and posted its best results. This is a key player for Vanderbilt to keep under wraps. The last thing VU wants is for Notice to regain that spark of confidence which is currently not in existence. Notice was just 2 of 10 from the field earlier this week in a blowout loss to Arkansas.
Guard – Sindarius Thornwell – Sophomore, 6-5, 215; 2014-15: 11.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.9 apg
This is South Carolina’s most formidable offensive player, largely because he’s a bigger guard who can play over the top of defenders on at least some occasions. He can create shots more easily than the 6-2 Notice or other players in the Gamecocks’ backcourt. However – and this underscores the team’s problems at the offensive end of the floor – Thornwell hits just 27 percent of his threes. That’s a problem for the Gamecocks, when their best scorer is still not a terribly accurate marksman.
Guard – Tyrone Johnson – Senior, 6-3, 195; 2014-15: 10 ppg, 3 rpg, 3.4 apg
Johnson is the best assist man on the South Carolina roster, and with 3.4 per game, that’s a fairly modest average. Only two players on this team average more than three assists, and only four average more than 1.8 dimes per game. This is in many ways a product of the fact that the Gamecocks just don’t hit a lot of shots. As for Johnson’s three-point shooting, in case you’re curious: It’s just under 30 percent, at 29.6.
Martin turns to three players in particular: guard Marcus Stroman and forwards Mindaugas Kacinas and Brian Steele. Stroman averages 4.9 points, 3 boards, and 3.5 assists per game off the bench, giving this team balance and some valuable non-scoring contributions. It’s up to the starters to be able to score better; Stroman fills some important roles off the pine. Kacinas, the other Lithuanian on the roster, averages a modest 6.5 points, but at least he contributes 5.4 rebounds per contest. Steele barely registers at all, averaging 1.2 points per game.
Keys to the Game
1) Vanderbilt is on Notice. It’s not complicated: When Notice was making news with a hot shooting hand, South Carolina flourished. Keeping him contained is a priority for the Dores, who should be able to avoid being burned behind the three-point arc in this game.
2) Turnovers. The one substantial deficiency from Tuesday’s win over Florida was the turnover bug. If Vanderbilt can fix that while maintaining an ability to get to the foul line, the Dores should be in excellent shape against the Gamecocks.
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