The Commodores' 15th win included arguably their most impressive half of the season. After quickly falling to a double digit deficit in the first half against UMass, Vanderbilt used a 14-0 run to close the halftime gap to a single point. In the second half, Shan Foster, A.J. Ogilvy, and Jermaine Beal combined to score 45 of a whopping 61 Vanderbilt points, and the ‘Dores held the Minutemen to 40.4 percent shooting, ultimately coasting to a nine-point victory. Foster, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, finished with a season-high 32 points, and Ogilvy logged his second double-double with 25 points and 11 rebounds.
The Gamecocks (8-6) have seen mixed results since overhauling a team that finished last in the SEC East last season. After losing perhaps the conference's best point guard, Tre Kelley, Coach Dave Odom is counting on a pair of newcomers to lead his team out of the division cellar. So far, Cincinnati transfer Devan Downey and Georgia Tech transfer Zam Fredrick have been as good as advertised, but the Gamecocks struggled through the non-conference season. Their only wins of any consequence came on the road against Penn State and Providence, and their most recent loss was a disappointing home defeat at the hands of UNC Asheville.
Last season, the Commodores swept the two meetings between the teams. Vanderbilt needed overtime to beat South Carolina in Columbia, and the Gamecocks dropped a ten point decision after relinquishing a halftime lead in Memorial. Though Kelley, a Commodore nemesis, has graduated, the home team's primary focus remains on the Gamecock backcourt, particularly the point guard spot.
Downey, a 5-9 dynamo of a point guard, leads the Gamecock attack into Nashville. The former Cincinnati Bearcat leads his team in scoring and assists, pouring in 18.6 points and handing out 5.4 assists per game. Though he's not the most efficient scorer, Downey has certainly improved his shot selection since his freshman campaign. He's shooting 41.0 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from three-point distance, having improved the latter by almost ten percentage points since his one year in the Big East. As Vanderbilt fans can attest to, Downey is as quick a player as the Commodores will see this season. He scored 18 points as a Cincinnati freshman to lead his Bearcats to a win in Memorial two seasons ago. On Wednesday, he'll be the focal point of a Commodore defense that has had much-documented trouble with speedy scoring guards. Most recently, Chris Lowe of UMass, similar to Downey in speed and ball handling ability, slipped through the Commodore defense for lay-up after lay-up. Downey will present the same penetration capabilities plus a smoother stroke from the perimeter. His quickness makes him a defensive menace as well; Downey leads the SEC in steals with 3.3 per game.
Zam Fredrick, like Downey, is a South Carolina native who has transferred back to his home state after two seasons at Georgia Tech. The former Yellow Jacket, a 6-0 guard, is averaging 16.0 points per game through his first 14 games at South Carolina. While he's not as quick as Downey, Fredrick is a better shooter, converting 42.6 percent of his field goal attempts and 39.6 percent of three-pointers. The junior shoots in streaks; when he's on, he can be nearly unstoppable, but when he struggles, he can shoot his team out of a game. For example, Fredrick went 5-of-7 from beyond the arc en route to 21 points in a win over Charleston, but he shot a dismal 3-of-14 for just 9 points in a home loss to Baylor. Fredrick is also a talented distributor, averaging 3.7 assists per game this season. If Downey is able to penetrate as easily as the UMass guards did, the former Yellow Jacket will get a few extra open looks due to double teams and help defenders.
The Gamecocks usually employ a three-guard lineup, with Downey, Fredrick, and sophomore Brandis Raley-Ross in the backcourt. However, Raley-Ross suffered a sprained knee in practice and will miss Wednesday's game. Shooting 65.2 percent on three-pointers, the sophomore is the nation's leading outside shooter and will be missed tremendously by coach Odom and the ‘Cocks.
Three rangy forwards fill out the South Carolina starting lineup. Sophomore Dominique Archie is a beanpole of a swingman. Standing 6-7 and weighing just 200 pounds, he leads the Gamecocks in rebounding at 6.3 boards per game, and his 10.7 points per contest are good for third on the team. In his most recent game against the ‘Dores, Archie poured in 21 points in a loss in Columbia. A threat to score from in the lane or from the perimeter, the sophomore leads his team in points per shot with 1.36. Offensive rebounds, often leading to easy put-backs, are a big factor in Archie's scoring – he leads the team with 37 offensive boards. On defense, the tall and athletic Archie will likely draw the task of guarding Shan Foster.
Coach Odom will use two freshman starters – forwards Mike Holmes and Sam Muldrow III. Holmes is averaging 9.2 points and 6.1 rebounds in his first year as a Gamecock. At 6-7 and 220 pounds, he's a more post-oriented player than Archie. He's shooting 48.0 percent from the floor, and most of his shots come from within ten feet of the basket. Though he doesn't often venture out to the perimeter, Holmes can play facing the basket. He's got a decent mid-range jumper and can drive past his man from the high post.
Muldrow is the Gamecocks' tallest starter at 6-9. He's not much of a scoring threat, as he's reached double figure scoring just once this season, but the freshman grabs almost five rebounds per game and leads the team in blocked shots with 1.6 per contest. Muldrow is a good athlete for his size, making him an asset on the defensive end, but he has the potential to hurt opponents offensively, too. If he can use his quickness to draw more fouls on opposing big men, Muldrow could tack on four or five free throws per game – right now he's shooting 92.9 percent from the charity stripe.
With Raley-Ross out, the Gamecocks' depth takes a hit. Senior swingman Dwayne Day can step in at guard or small forward. Averaging 4.3 points and 2.9 rebounds per game, South Carolina's lone senior has struggled with his shooting to this point, leading to a decrease in minutes. He's averaged just ten minutes a game over the past four games.
Chad Gray and Evaldas Baniulis round out the Gamecocks' regular rotation. Both sophomores, Gray is a 6-7 slasher, while Baniulis prefers to hoist three-pointers all night long. If the Lithuania native can catch fire off the bench, his outside shooting will help stretch the Vanderbilt defense.
South Carolina's offense has become much less stagnant with the addition of Downey and Fredrick. The backcourt mates average almost half of the Gamecocks' scoring (36.6 of 77.9 points per game). Having two combo guards in the starting lineup allows the ‘Cocks a little more freedom both in transition and in the half court, as Downey and Fredrick can both create for themselves and for their teammates. Slowing these two down is a big part of beating the Gamecocks.
The Commodores ran the table in a non-conference schedule that included a few tough games. On Wednesday, though, they start conference play with a clean slate. A win to open conference play is important with road trips to Lexington and Knoxville looming, so the ‘Dores need to come out with some emotion and focus on putting away a team that's been hurt by injury but still no pushover. To go to 1-0 in the SEC and run the overall winning streak to 16 games, here are Wednesday's keys for the Commodores:
- Limit Penetration: The Minutemen were able to race out to a big, early lead because Vanderbilt's guards allowed too many dribble drives and lay-ups from the UMass backcourt. South Carolina boasts two players that are just as good, if not better than Chris Lowe and Ricky Harris, so the ‘Dores, especially Alex Gordon, Keegan Bell, and Jermaine Beal, need to shore up their perimeter defense. At the very least, Vanderbilt's big men could be more aware of penetration and move in to contest the shots around the basket.
- "Fresh" Prince: Reigning SEC Freshman of the Week A.J. Ogilvy should have his way with a small South Carolina frontcourt. The Gamecocks' tallest rotation player is the 6-9 Muldrow, and though he's a good athlete, the USC freshman simply doesn't have the size or experience to handle a post player with Ogilvy's savvy. Providing Shan Foster doesn't go unconscious for the second straight game (which he might), look for the big Australian to lead the way for the Commodores.
- Backcourt Composure: Because the 5-9 Downey and 6-0 Fredrick don't have the size to get physical with Vanderbilt's guards in the half court, they'll mix in some full court presses and trapping situations to exploit their quickness advantage. Every Gamecock starter is athletic enough to jump passing lanes and generally harass the Commodore ball handlers, so Beal, Gordon, and Bell must exercise caution in the backcourt. Just as important, though, is how secondary ball handlers like Darshawn McClellan, Ross Neltner, and even Ogilvy handle what could be some very frustrating pressure.
Prediction: South Carolina has some talented pieces. Downey and Fredrick are as good as any guard tandem in the league. However, the Gamecocks are a largely inexperienced team, and going into an extremely hostile environment against a top 15 team for their first SEC game is a tall task, especially without their best shooter. Look for the Memorial crowd to be fired up with the students back in session; the Commodores will follow suit and head off to Lexington with a convincing first conference win. Final score: Vanderbilt 82, South Carolina 70.