Vanderbilt-South Carolina Preview
With Tennessee and Kentucky looming in the weeks ahead, Vandy needs to bank as many wins as possible. You could say that in a season where 12 SEC wins would go a long way toward the Big Dance, the VU crew's magic number is 10.
It's a long way to Tipperary. It's a long way to go.
SOUTH CAROLINA AT-A-GLANCE
Coach Darrin Horn has had a tough year… not in the sense that the former Western Kentucky boss has failed, but because the Gamecocks have been shaken by two body blows to their roster, and for completely different reasons. Forward Dominique Archie sprained his right knee in a Nov. 22 loss to Miami, and recently chose to undergo season-ending surgery. Fellow forward – make that former fellow forward – Mike Holmes didn't see any action in the month of December and was kicked off the team by Horn on Jan. 1 for repeatedly breaking team rules.
These two losses were substantial for a South Carolina club that is a little more forward-oriented this year, and lacks the same amount of backcourt brilliance it possessed last season. In the 2008-09 campaign, now-graduated guard Zam Fredrick was able to play off star guard Devan Downey to make the Gamecocks extremely quick and hard to defend. This year, USC brought a little more brawn to the table, but now that Archie (14.4 points and 6 rebounds per game) and Holmes (11 points and 4.8 boards per game) are gone, Horn has had to sound the alarm in Columbia and call upon a pair of freshmen to fill in the gaps. This has made South Carolina a younger and less polished team, meaning that Vandy has a great chance to pick off another road win against an opponent other than Big Orange or (Really) Big Blue.
Because USC has been stripped of 25.4 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, the Dores need to bust into the Colonial Center and create separation in the SEC East.
Note: South Carolina uses a two-forward, three-guard lineup.
Forward – Sam Muldrow – Junior, 6'9", 216; 2009-10: 9.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.4 blocks per game
What stands out about Muldrow is his imposing shot-blocking ability. The Florence, S.C. product possesses superb defensive instincts and the length needed to turn his 6-9 frame into an effective swatting mechanism. Muldrow is USC's big man, the unquestioned center of attention in a body that could belong to a wing forward. A.J. Ogilvy will receive a terrific test from Muldrow when Vandy has the ball. The Australian will need to display picture-perfect footwork on his low-post moves in order to outmaneuver Muldrow and put the ball on the backboard before the South Carolina shot blocker can use the "return to sender" stamp on his very active arms.
Forward – Lakeem Jackson – Freshman, 6'5", 215; 2009-10: 7.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg
Jackson is one of the two freshmen pressed into extended service by Horn following the Archie injury and the dismissal of Holmes. At 6-5, Jackson will surely have a height disadvantage whenever he's on the floor. Precisely because road games can be won with power, rebounding and overall dominance near the rim, the more experienced Commodores – who endured a lot of growing pains last season – have a great opportunity to teach Jackson a thing or three in the paint and on the glass.
Guard – Ramon Galloway – Freshman, 6'2", 175; 2009-10: 8.3 ppg, 1.6 assists per game
While there's a certain degree of perceived weakness in Jackson – USC's frontcourt freshman, newly thrown into the starting lineup – Galloway doesn't project such vulnerability. While it's true that the young man from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., doesn't cause the scoreboard's circuits to overload, Galloway is another player whose value is found in unseen or hidden qualities. This poised performer simply doesn't turn the ball over very often. In his last 10 games, Galloway has committed more than two turnovers in only one game. Devan Downey's new backcourt mate decided to get really loosey-goosey with the orange and coughed up three giveaways in a Dec. 6 loss to Clemson. It will be hard to turn Galloway over, so VU's foremost point of focus in this matchup will be to make sure Galloway doesn't serve as an effective passer and traffic cop for the USC offense. If Galloway can't feed the ball to his post players or to cutters on the wings, the Gamecocks can be bottled up on Saturday.
Guard – Brandis Raley-Ross – Senior, 6'2", 193; 2009-10: 10.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg
It always helps to know the roles each player occupies when poring over a scouting report. Quite clearly, Raley-Ross is USC's answer to Alabama's Anthony Brock. The Gastonia, N.C., native is South Carolina's foremost 3-point shooter. Raley-Ross has attempted at least five treys in each of his team's last five games, and he makes 43 percent of his behind-the-arc bombs. It's evident that in a sport where a good long-range sniper can instantly change the calculus of the competition, Raley-Ross needs to be watched at all times when the Gamecocks have the ball. Some 3-point specialists like to shoot, but can't create their shot quite so readily. Raley-Ross finds a way to get his share of looks during a game, so even when he puts the ball on the deck, the Dores must shadow him and be ready to close down his shooting hand.
Guard – Devan Downey – Senior, 5'9", 175; 2009-10: 20.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.8 apg
In this examination of USC's starting five, we've saved the best for last. Downey – who averaged 21 points in two outings last season against Vanderbilt – is the undisputed meal-ticket scorer and spiritual leader on the Gamecocks. Downey's quickness is complimented by an even larger dose of fearlessness. It's just not possible for a 5-9 guard to become an elite scorer in a power conference without a rare combination of innate instincts and an uncommonly strong will. Downey gets to the rim and insists on attacking the glass. He involves his teammates to the tune of almost four assists per game, and in the absence of both Archie and Holmes, he's had to become an even more vocal leader on the floor. Downey will get his share of points on Saturday; he scored 29 in USC's most recent game, a 67-58 win over LSU this past Wednesday in Columbia. Tthe main priority for Vandy is to ensure that this dynamic player doesn't create easy looks for his teammates. As long as USC doesn't get cheap baskets or an abundance of free throws as a result of Downey's forays to the tin, VU should find itself in reasonably good shape.
Because attrition has thinned out South Carolina's frontcourt, Horn has had to go deep into his bench this season. Three forwards – Austin Steed, Johndre Jefferson and Evaldas Baniulis - receive at least 12 minutes a game off the pine. Steed and Jefferson both average at least 3.5 rebounds per game (but not quite four), so they'll demand attention on the glass. With that having been said, this isn't USC's strongest point. Steed and Jefferson would be nice complementary parts as eighth and ninth men in an extended rotation, but they're not really equipped with the skills of primary reserves. Horn and the rest of his coaching staff need to find a high-impact sixth man before this season acquires any more mileage in the Palmetto State.
Keys to the Game
1) No cheapies, no freebies. The main reason why Vandy lost in its previous trip to the Colonial Center was painfully simple: deficient defense. A sluggish effort, combined with a youthful inability to adjust to the referees' whistles, buried VU in an 86-76 setback. South Carolina paraded to the foul line in that contest a year ago, shooting 49 foul shots against the Dores. Had the Gamecocks made more than 32 tries, they could have blown the lid off Kevin Stallings' club; as it was, USC still walked away with a 10-point triumph. This year, a wiser VU crew can't send the Gamecocks to the charity stripe, and with a stud like Downey in the USC backcourt, it's imperative to ensure that defensive breakdowns and poor decisions are minimized. As long as Vanderbilt makes Downey work for his shots, the visitors stand a good chance of moving to 3-0 in the SEC.
2) Remember the Florida formula on offense. It isn't rocket science: Much as VU destroyed Florida a week ago by relentlessly pounding the ball inside in the second half, the Dores – up against a thin and undersized USC frontcourt – need to work the ball into the low post and give A.J. Ogilvy quality touches in preferred spots on the floor. Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins need to use dribble penetration and establish the ability to slash to the goal before turning to the 3-point shot. Basketball wisdom says that the inside game generally precedes the outside game. Driving to the basket precedes kick-outs to the perimeter. You know the drill. If VU can get to the rim early and often, and force the smaller Gamecocks to collapse on defense, the outside game will open up in the second half, and the Dores can force USC to scramble aimlessly at the defensive end of the floor.
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