VU-South Carolina Preview

Every college basketball team wants Senior Day to be special. The best way to give Jermaine Beal a fitting Memorial Gym sendoff is to take care of business against the South Carolina Gamecocks.

If you think this game's going to be a piece of cake, you must have forgotten the close shaves in Nashville against LSU and Georgia. You also must have ignored the fact that Penn State – the last-place team in the Big Ten – came within an eyelash of knocking Michigan State out of Big Ten title contention on Thursday night in East Lansing. Nothing can ever be taken for granted, and so, as coach Kevin Stallings leads his VU crew onto the floor for this 2010 home finale, the "V" which Commodore Nation wears so proudly must also stand for "Vigilance."


There was hope in Columbia when the Gamecocks started the SEC season 2-0. That hope quickly disappeared however with three straight losses, including an 89-79 decision to the Commodores. A turnaround looked possible when South Carolina pulled off a monumental upset of Kentucky, but the season went downhill quickly thereafter. Since winning two of the next three following the upset of the Wildcats, South Carolina has forfeited that momentum and leverage by dropping six in a row. The last two losses for the Gamecocks have come at home to Mississippi State (76-63) and lowly Alabama (79-70). The air has gone out of the balloon for Darrin Horn's ballclub.

The Gamecocks – at 5-10 in the league - fly into Nashville in a last-place SEC East tie with Georgia. They are almost guaranteed to be the No. 6 seed in the East, since they would need to defeat Vanderbilt and have Georgia lose to LSU in order to climb to fifth. This seemingly minor detail should interest fans of both South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Why? The Gamecocks – if they can't escape the No. 6 slot - would face the No. 3 West team, probably Arkansas, in the first round of the SEC Tournament. Who would Carolina face in the quarterfinals if it could get past the third seed in the West? The No. 2 team in the East – Vanderbilt – in less than a week.

South Carolina is a team in disarray. It has already played most of the year without two key contributors: Dominique Archie, who suffered a knee injury, and Mike Holmes, who broke a bone in his face. The loss of those two individuals has caused the remaining Gamecocks to be worn down over the course of a punishing season. This fatigue has been most evident in the play of forward-center Sam Muldrow, who has failed to reach double-digit rebounds in his last seven games.

A season is, of course, never completely hopeless as long as a conference tournament remains in your future. Coach Horn would love nothing more than to gain even a little momentum before opening the SEC Tournament next Thursday, and he can do so by ruining Jermaine Beal's Senior Day.

Starting Lineup

Note: South Carolina uses a two-forward, three-guard lineup.

Forward – Sam Muldrow –
Junior, 6'9", 216; 2009-10: 10.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.1 blocks per game

Muldrow, with a long and lanky frame, has a reputation for blocked shots that might only be exceeded by Jarvis Vanardo at Mississippi State. Common sense would dictate that someone with his length and athleticism would negatively affect the post play of A.J. Ogilvy, but that was not the case in the first meeting between South Carolina and Vandy. Ogilvy scored 22 points on 7-of-8 shooting as the Dores scored 89 points. Will his defense return this Saturday, or will Ogilvy's fundamentally sound footwork again take advantage of Muldrow? Gamecock fans are probably not too hopeful; Muldrow had only four rebounds against Alabama.

Forward – Lakeem Jackson – Freshman, 6'5", 215; 2009-10: 7.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg

Jackson is one of two freshmen playing extended minutes for the undermanned Gamecocks. Playing on the frontline at 6'5" usually puts him at a disadvantage and Saturday will be no different; he'll be guarding a 6'7" player, either Andre Walker or Jeffery Taylor. Jackson was effective in the first matchup against the Dores when he scored 11 points and added four steals on what was a generally poor defensive day for Carolina. Despite recent team struggles, Jackson's offense has developed a degree of consistency, too. In his last four games he is shooting 21 of 34 from the field and even had five assists in one game, the second time in conference play he has done so.

Guard – Ramon Galloway – Freshman, 6'2", 175; 2009-10: 7.6 ppg, 1.2 assists per game

Galloway, the second freshman to regularly start for Darrin Horn's club, appears to have turned a corner offensively after struggling for most of the SEC schedule. In the first 14 SEC games of his young career, he surpassed eight points only once, in an 11-point showing at Ole Miss. The past two games have been a different story. Against MSU, Galloway scored 14, shooting 6 of 15 from the field. A combination of growing confidence and freshman fearlessness enabled Galloway to grow in the Bama game by not hesitating to pull the trigger from long range. The youngster hit 4 of 8 triples and ended the night with 21 points. Should this resurgence continue, look for quite the freshman shooting exhibition between Galloway and John Jenkins.

Guard – Brandis Raley-Ross – Senior, 6'2", 193; 2009-10: 11.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg

Raley-Ross, the senior sharpshooter from Gastonia, N.C., has a role and knows how to fill it. That role of course is to be the Gamecocks' spot-up shooter. Only three times in SEC play has Raley-Ross attempted fewer than five 3-pointers. (He went 3 of 5 against the Commodores in the first go-around.) Exactly 100 of the 148 shots he has taken from the field in conference play have been beyond the arc. A .381 3-point percentage is not something the Dores can ignore. How does Raley-Ross get so many looks? Having Devan Downey as a backcourt mate means other defenders will be drawn to help on him. When that happens, the savvy senior knows how to space himself on the perimeter and be available for open looks. Depending on who draws the assignment of guarding him, most likely either Taylor or Jenkins (whoever doesn't guard Galloway), it is imperative he be pressured and forced to put the ball on the deck, where this shooting specialist isn't nearly as efficient.

Guard – Devan Downey – Senior, 5'9", 175; 2009-10: 22.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.6 apg

Downey is no stranger to Vanderbilt fans. After averaging 21 points a game last year against the Commodores, Downey dropped 35 in the first meeting this year. How can a 5'9" player be the leading scorer in a power conference such as the SEC, where Downey is averaging 26 points a game? Fearlessness. There is not a shot he is unwilling to take. This courage was exemplified in the upset of Kentucky. While not blessed with a stellar shooting night, the diminutive guard scored 30 points on 9-of-29 shooting, all while being matched up with the prohibitive NBA No. 1 draft pick in John Wall.

Downey may be tiring, it seems. While his shooting rarely approaches 50 %, his turnover rate has steadily increased of late. He had eight turnovers on Feb. 17 at Arkansas (an SC loss) and has averaged more than four in his last three games. The main priority for VU, as it was in the first game, is to ensure this dynamic player does not create easy looks for his teammates. If Vandy can avoid having to constantly help on his dribble penetration and keep him off the free throw line where he is shooting 83 %, the Dores should be in a good position to finish the regular season with a win in Memorial Gym.


Depth never figured to be a strength for the Gamecocks and it only got worse when Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes were both injured for the season. No substitute plays more than 13.8 minutes (Johndre Jefferson) and only two others play at least 10 per game, Austin Steed (13.6) and Evaldas Baniulis (11.4). Jefferson backs up the frontline, but has scored only four points in the last five games, all in one game at Kentucky on Feb. 25. Steed and Baniulis meanwhile have seen their minutes evaporate, though Baniulis did start against Alabama in place of Jackson. Jackson quickly returned to the floor, though, after only four minutes.

Keys to the Game

1) Make Galloway and Raley-Ross non-factors.
Teams have tried a variety of formulas to stop Devan Downey, whether it was man, numerous zones, box-and- ones, etc. Remember that despite his 35 points in the first game against VU, South Carolina still lost. Let Downey get his shots and numbers on SportsCenter; just do not let the other two guards make plays that could earn the Gamecocks a road upset and take some air out of the Vandy balloon before the SEC Tournament. Jermaine Beal is more than capable of containing Downey and balancing his scoring with points of his own. Vanderbilt simply cannot allow Raley-Ross numerous wide-open looks off of Downey's dribble-drive.

2) Make South Carolina pay for its lack of depth. Horn has only one post player – Muldrow – who is remotely capable of impacting the game, especially against a frontline of Ogilvy and Taylor. Kevin Stallings needs to do offensively what he has done repeatedly throughout the season: attack the rim with his posts and get to the foul line. There is a reason VU now has a national reputation for getting to the foul line – it's due to the high number of shots being taken on or near the low block. If that strategy does not get lost in the enthusiasm surrounding Beal's Senior Day, there should be much to celebrate in Nashville when postseason play begins next week in the SEC Tournament. Top Stories