Vandy's Last Game
Sunday's game was a case of "wrong place, wrong time" for the Commodores as Florida came out scorching from beyond the arc. Led by an unbelievable shooting performance from Chandler Parsons – the sophomore scored 27 points and went 7-for-8 from long range – the Gators drained 12 trifectas in the first half en route to a 19-point halftime lead.
Vanderbilt's defense certainly didn't do anything to extinguish the Gators' long-range flames. Commodores were constantly two steps behind Florida players around screens and did a poor job finding the Gators in transition.
The game's first five minutes saw the ‘Dores find an offensive rhythm they'd been missing since early in the Mississippi State game. Steve Tchiengang knocked down a three-pointer to open the scoring for Vanderbilt, and Festus Ezeli asserted himself in the paint when Ogilvy hit the bench. After leading 13-7, though, the ‘Dores fell victim to a 21-6 Florida run and never got close to the Gators again.
South Carolina At-A-Glance
The Gamecocks (14-4, 3-2) have turned some heads in SEC play after finishing one of the nation's weakest non-conference schedules. First-year coach Darrin Horn set up a slate of mostly cupcakes to instill confidence in his team before league play; the Gamecocks played just two BCS conference opponents before conference play, losing to Clemson at home and winning at Baylor. After losing a pair of road games to fall to 1-2 in the SEC, South Carolina regained momentum as Zam Fredrick sank a buzzer-beating lay-up to beat Florida.
Like most recent South Carolina teams, this season's edition relies on the play of its backcourt. Devan Downey and Zam Fredrick are the catalysts of what might be the SEC's fastest-paced offense. The Gamecocks, second to Tennessee with 79.6 points per game, play at the speed of their lead guards, and there aren't many pairs that can match Downey and Fredrick in that department. The two are lightning-quick off the dribble, allowing them to score at the basket or in the mid-range. The emergence of Mike Holmes and continued improvement of Dominique Archie have given the Gamecocks an athletic offense that can score in the half-court and in transition, from outside and in the paint.
With Downey at the point of attack and superior athletes at every position, South Carolina boasts one of the nation's most disruptive defenses. Because of their relative lack of size, the Gamecocks pressure the perimeter relentlessly. As a result, they force opponents into an average of 19.8 turnovers per game, best in the SEC. According to Ken Pomeroy, South Carolina forces a turnover on 26.3 percent of opponents' possessions, placing the team in the top ten nationally. The Gamecocks also defend well against the three-pointer, holding opponents to 31.1 percent from beyond the arc.
Devan Downey – Junior, 5-9, 175 lbs. – The SEC's second-leading scorer with 19.7 points per game, Downey is the league's quickest guard and perhaps its best playmaker. The former Cincinnati Bearcat uses a nearly unstoppable first step to get into the lane, where he is a good finisher despite his small stature. Downey has markedly increased his scoring efficiency this season, shooting 47.4 percent from the floor after shooting 42.3 percent a year ago. A good three-point shooter as well (35.7 percent), the Gamecock point guard uses the perimeter shot to keep defenders honest. Downey's penetration abilities benefit his teammates as well; he leads his team with 4.3 assists per game. A relentless and cat-quick defender, Downey leads the SEC with 3.0 steals per game.
Zam Fredrick – Senior, 6-0, 203 lbs. – Devan Downey may be the Gamecocks' Batman, but Fredrick is more than a sidekick. The team's elder statesman ranks in the top ten in SEC scoring with 15.8 points per game, giving South Carolina a one-two punch to rival any in the country. Fredrick is more of a jump shooter than Downey and thus a streakier scorer. Shooting 40.7 percent from the floor, the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket has the potential to score 25 on any given night, though he can also shoot his team into a deep hole when struggling. Despite his marksmanship from long range, Fredrick is not a good free throw shooter; his 84 attempts from the stripe lead his team, but he's converted just 64.3 percent of those attempts.
Mike Holmes – Sophomore, 6-7, 220 lbs. – Carolina's center by default, Holmes is a strong, athletic forward who thrives in the post by nature. He emerged about halfway through the SEC campaign during his freshman season, averaging 13.5 points per game over the team's final nine games. The sophomore has continued his steady play this season, averaging 11.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest. Though his production has dipped since the start of SEC play, Holmes has shown that he can play against high-level big men. Besides his play at the end of last season, he logged a double-double against a hyper-athletic Clemson front line in December.
Dominique Archie – Junior, 6-7, 200 lbs. – Archie, a smooth, sweet-shooting swingman, is the Gamecocks' most versatile player. Able to play out on the wing and in the post, the junior allows Darrin Horn to tinker with his lineup without losing Archie's production. He is a highly efficient scorer, averaging 11.2 points on 53.1 percent shooting, and he can put it in from anywhere on the court. Perhaps even more valuable than his offensive versatility is his defensive flexibility. Archie is a superior perimeter defender, averaging 1.7 steals per game, but he can also hold his own in the paint and as a weak side post defender.
Sam Muldrow – Sophomore, 6-9, 216 lbs. – After academic issues kept him off the court for the first semester, Darrin Horn inserted Muldrow into the starting lineup in the win over Florida and left him there for the following win over Ole Miss. Not a big scorer in his freshman campaign, Muldrow has warmed up over the five games he's played thus far, scoring a combined 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting in his last two contests. He leads the Gamecocks in blocks with 1.4 per game, and as he rounds back into form he should improve his rebounding average of 2.8 per game at least twofold.
A pair of sharpshooters provides some offensive firepower off the bench for South Carolina. Evaldas Baniulis, a 6-7 Lithuanian forward, leads the Gamecocks with 34 three-pointers on a scorching 54.8 percent from beyond the arc. Mainly a catch-and-shoot guy, Baniulis has racked up 72.3 percent of his points from downtown. The forward also snags 3.0 boards per game.
Junior guard Brandis Raley-Ross led the nation in three-point percentage last season before nagging injuries limited his output. A sprained knee sidelined him for six games this season, and he hasn't been able to return to last year's form, shooting just 25.9 percent from three-point land to this point.
Sophomore forward Austin Steed rounds out the Gamecock rotation. A 6-8 bruiser, Steed averages 4.8 points, most of them coming from the paint, and 3.9 rebounds per game.
Keys to the Game
Value the Ball – South Carolina thrives on converting opponents' turnovers into transition opportunities for its quicksilver guards. What's more, the Gamecocks don't give the ball back once they take it, as they average just 13.8 turnovers themselves. With the way the Commodores have been shooting the ball, they can't afford to waste any offensive opportunities. Against perimeter defenders the likes of Downey and Fredrick, that means that the ‘Dores will need Jermaine Beal to play a lot of minutes, as they don't have another guard capable of consistently handling the type of pressure the Gamecocks will bring.
Size Advantage – Considering South Carolina's advantage on the perimeter and in transition, the Commodores need to slow the game down and exploit the considerable size advantage they have over the Gamecocks. With A.J. Ogilvy limited by foot problems, Festus Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang have an opportunity to build on the aggressive play they displayed in the early stages of the Florida game. To that end, the ‘Dores must deliver clean entry passes more often and with less hesitation. Further, when the Gamecocks use a three-guard lineup, Jeff Taylor and Lance Goulbourne should be able to get to the rim against their defender. To open driving lanes, crisper ball reversals with (again) less hesitation will be needed.
Prediction: On paper, the Commodores have the personnel to wear down the Gamecocks by pounding the ball inside against South Carolina's shallow and undersized front line. Ogilvy's nagging injury, the ability of the Gamecock forwards to play bigger than they are, and above all Vanderbilt's inability to stretch any defense make that scenario rather unlikely, however. If the ‘Dores can finally cure their shooting woes, or if the Gamecocks turn the ball over an uncharacteristic amount, then Vanderbilt could escape Columbia with a much-needed win. Otherwise, look for the Gamecocks to end their five-game losing streak against the Commodores. Final Score: South Carolina 76, Vanderbilt 68.