Scouting Report: South Carolina

Vanderbilt squandered a chance to challenge for the fourth spot in the SEC East on Wednesday, as the Commodores sputtered offensively and dropped a close contest in Athens. At 5-8 in conference play, the ‘Dores must win their final three games to get to .500 in the SEC. The first of those three takes place Saturday night, when the red-hot South Carolina Gamecocks are set to visit Memorial Gym.

Vandy's Last Game

The Commodores delivered one of their worst offensive performances of the season against Georgia, shooting a miserable 31.4 percent from the floor as a team.  Darshawn McClellan was the only ‘Dore to make at least half his shots, going 2-for-3 from the field.  Vanderbilt's top three scorers (A.J. Ogilvy, Jermaine Beal, and Brad Tinsley) needed 29 shots to score a combined 34 points.

Though Georgia entered the game with the SEC's most turnovers and worst turnover margin, Vanderbilt coughed up the ball 14 times while forcing the Bulldogs into just ten.  The Commodores were able to erase a 15-point second-half deficit, but they couldn't force the Dawgs into making mistakes, something nearly every other Georgia opponent has been able to do.

South Carolina At-A-Glance

The Gamecocks (20-6, 9-4) have emerged from a four-team pileup as the SEC East's top squad – at least for the time being.  First-year coach Darrin Horn took over an undersized team that had no offensive balance and little defensive presence and now appears poised to get the Gamecocks to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.

Behind potential conference Player of the Year Devan Downey, South Carolina is a dynamic offensive team that can score in several ways, but the Gamecocks' most important improvement has come on the defensive end.  They lead the SEC in turnover margin, averaging 5.3 fewer turnovers per game than their opponents in conference play.  The ‘Cocks top the league in turnovers forced with 19.5 per game, nearly four more per game than their nearest competition.

Offensively, the guard-oriented Gamecocks thrive in transition, armed with plenty of ball-handlers and athletic forwards who can finish on the break.  South Carolina boasts four players with at least 20 three-pointers; such a slew of shooters is useful when teamed with a guard like Downey who can get into the lane at will.  Add in the emergence of Mike Holmes and Sam Muldrow as post threats, and you've got an offense as potent as any in the league.

Starting Lineup

Devan Downey – Junior, 5-9, 175 lbs. – The heart of the Gamecocks, Downey is the SEC's fourth-leading scorer with 19.9 points per game in conference play.  Perhaps the toughest player in the league to stop off the dribble, Downey is a creative finisher around the basket and loves to stop on a dime and shoot a fade-away floater that he makes with impressive frequency.  Though he can be streaky from beyond the arc, he shoots 36.1 percent from three-point range and is capable of sinking opponents from long distance as he showed in a 33-point performance at Florida in which he connected on seven of his nine three-point attempts.  Downey also ranks fifth in the SEC in assists, doling out 4.2 per game in conference play.  A lightning-quick and tenacious defender, he averages 3.1 thefts per contest.

Zam Fredrick – Senior, 6-0, 203 lbs. – Fredrick is averaging 15.3 points per game in SEC play, placing him just outside the top ten in the conference in scoring.  A dangerous perimeter shooter with a solid mid-range game, the senior leads the Gamecocks with 47 trifectas and shoots 36.2 percent from long range.  Fredrick is a streak shooter, and he's been cold lately, shooting just 27.9 percent over the past four games.  The undersized off-guard struggled in South Carolina's home win over Vanderbilt, scoring 11 points on 2-for-12 shooting.

Dominique Archie – Junior, 6-7, 200 lbs. – A multi-purpose swingman, Archie has taken his play to new heights since the start of conference play.  He's averaging 12.2 points in SEC games and has scored at least 15 points on five occasions.  Able to score and defend in the lane and on the perimeter, Archie gives the Gamecocks versatility on both ends of the court.  He ranks second on the team in rebounds, steals, and shooting percentage and third in assists.  On defense, the junior swingman has the quickness to guard some perimeter players and the strength and athleticism to battle bigger post players down low.

Mike Holmes – Sophomore, 6-7, 220 lbs. – After struggling through the first six games of the conference season, Holmes has scored fewer than ten points just once in the past seven games, averaging 10.7 points per game over that span.  A rugged post player with a decent jump shot, Holmes is shooting 48.0 percent on the season.  He leads the Gamecocks with 6.8 rebounds per game in conference play, and he is a superb post defender for his height.  Simultaneously quick and sturdy, Holmes averages 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks on the season.

Sam Muldrow – Sophomore, 6-9, 216 lbs. – Muldrow is the other half of South Carolina's athletic if undersized front line.  Like Holmes, Muldrow uses his strength and explosiveness to defend bigger forwards and centers more than adequately.  Kentucky got an up-close-and-personal look at the sophomore's defensive ability in the Gamecocks' win over the Wildcats on Wednesday; Muldrow blocked seven shots in that contest and frustrated Kentucky's Patrick Patterson for the game's duration.  Though he doesn't possess a vast offensive skill set at this point (6.5 ppg), he's athletic enough to make plays around the rim; he and Holmes can wreak havoc on the offensive glass if defensive rebounders sleep on them.

Bench

A pair of three-point threats and a third athletic forward round out the Carolina rotation.  Evaldas Baniulis, a 6-7 Lithuanian catch-and-shoot forward, has knocked down 18 three-pointers on 42.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc in SEC play.  Brandis Raley-Ross was one of the hottest shooters in the nation last season, but nagging knee problems have limited his production in his junior year.  Averaging 6.7 points per game, he has a more diverse offensive game than Baniulis and can play the point when Downey rests.

Sophomore forward Austin Steed doesn't offer much scoring (4.1 ppg), but the Gamecocks' rebounding and interior defense don't suffer when he enters the game for Holmes or Muldrow.

Keys to the Game

Protect the Rock – Not only does South Carolina's ball-hawking pressure defense deny opponents scoring opportunities, but armed with perhaps the SEC's most athletic one-through-five, the Gamecocks use turnovers to ignite their own offense.  Vanderbilt turned the ball over 22 times against the ‘Cocks in a ten-point loss in Columbia, and the hosts turned those miscues into 25 points.  The Commodores defended the Gamecocks well in the half court and shot 46.4 percent themselves; if they can limit their turnovers this time around, the ‘Dores match up well enough with Carolina to avenge the January loss.

Backcourt Size – South Carolina's guards have the quickness to make life miserable for opposing backcourts, but they don't match up well with Vanderbilt's bigger perimeter players in a half court setting.  Jeff Taylor and George Drake both logged career-high scoring totals in Columbia, consistently getting to the basket and using their size to finish against the smaller Gamecock defenders.  With a healthy Lance Goulbourne back in the mix, look for the ‘Dores to use the same approach in Memorial; if Vanderbilt can knock down the perimeter shots when the slashers kick the ball out, the Commodore offense should enjoy one of its better games.

Prediction:  A.J. Ogilvy, still battling various ailments, played 21 minutes and scored just three points in Columbia.  His finesse in the post should pose problems for the eager Gamecock shot-blockers, especially after the defensive show Muldrow and Holmes put on against Kentucky.  Given effectiveness from the wings similar to January's game, expect Ogilvy's presence to make the difference for the Vanderbilt offense.  Final Score: Vanderbilt 75, South Carolina 74.

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