Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats go for #20 in a row, taking a tilt at the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia, SC.
South Carolina has been a season-wrecker for the 'Cats over the last couple of years, famously sending Kentucky down a four-game rat-hole last year with a 77-59 neutering of the toothless Wildcats in Columbia in a game which saw Devan Downey emasculate Michael Porter, the then-point guard for Kentucky. Patrick Patterson also struggled mightily, having a ridiculous number of his shots blocked (South Carolina had 16 blocks in all, at least 75% of them on Patterson). It was a game, like the game at Vanderbilt in 2007-08, which will live in infamy in the lore of Kentucky fans for at least a generation.
I have no doubt Patrick Patterson remembers his last trip to face the Palmetto State Poultry (thank you, Kyle King), and I believe that he will be looking to put things right tonight. If anyone is likely to explode in the face of the Gamecocks, my feeling is that it will be Patrick Patterson.
You can find out more about the Gamecock side of things by visiting SBNation's excellent South Carolina blog, Garnet and Black Attack.
Let's take a quick look at the comparison between the Gamecocks and the 'Cats, courtesy of Statsheet.com:
|Rank and Records||UK||USC|
|Strength of Schedule||#117||#48|
South Carolina's best wins have come versus the South Florida Bulls (86), and the Richmond Spiders (77). Significant losses include versus the Miami Hurricanes (49), Clemson Tigers (18), Baylor Bears (19), Vanderbilt Commodores (28), Mississippi St. Bulldogs (31), and a hearbreaker last weekend in Gainesville versus the Florida Gators (52). [Note -- all rankings courtesy of Kenpom.com]
More after the jump. Just like last time, I did the first part and Ken did the second half.
We will begin the analysis by the usual look at the dashboard. Don't forget, this thing is interactive.
Four Factors Analysis
As usual, thanks to A Sea of Blue member sylvar for producing the dashboard application above.
Looking at offensive efficiency overall, it seems that the Wildcats are getting better while the Gamecocks are going in the wrong direction. A closer look at the last four or five games bears out this impression, as Kentucky has consistently been clicking along at 112+ points/40 minutes, while the Gamecocks seem to be in the throes of an offensive malaise, breaking 100/40 only twice in the last four outings.
Defensively, though, the teams are much closer, but UK still has the edge.
For the offensive Four Factors, UK shoots much better on average, turns the ball over only a little more, is much stronger on the offensive glass and buries the Gamecocks in free throw rate percent.
Defensively, it is a little closer, but South Carolina allows a better eFG% than UK by almost 4 points, but does force a significantly greater number of turnovers than UK. South Carolina also allows opponents to cream them on the offensive glass and at the line.
South Carolina is a fair 3-point shooting club, but UK is outstanding. However, the Gamecocks take quite a few more three pointers per attempt than Kentucky does, which makes sense considering they have a very small team. Finally, both teams like to play at a fast pace.
South Carolina Gamecocks Basketball Roster
|Dominique Archie||21||F||Lost to injury||200||6-7||senior|
|Evaldas Baniulis||31||F||Starter, limited role||210||6-7||senior|
|Devan Downey||2||G||Starter, go-to player||175||5-9||senior|
|Ramon Galloway||12||G||Reserve, significant contributor||175||6-2||freshman|
|Mike Holmes||24||F||No longer with team||230||6-7||junior|
|Lakeem Jackson||30||SF||Starter, role player||215||6-5||freshman|
|Johndre Jefferson||32||F||Reserve, limited role||205||6-9||junior|
|Sam Muldrow||44||F||Starter, role player||216||6-9||junior|
|Brandis Raley-Ross||5||G||Starter, limited role player||193||6-2||senior|
|Stephen Spinella||1||G||Reserve, limited role||190||6-5||freshman|
|Austin Steed||25||F||Reserve, limited role||215||6-8||junior|
Position Analysis: Point Guard
As with the Arkansas Razorbacks, the South Carolina offensive attack starts with their point guard, Devan Downey. Downey leads the SEC in scoring, averaging 21.9 points per game, but in South Carolina's last five contests (in which they've posted a 2-3 record), Downey has averaged 31.6 points per game. Downey has led the Gamecocks in scoring in 16 of their 19 contests. In Downey's four previous games versus UK, he has averaged 19.3 points per game, on 31-68 shooting (45.6%), along with making 8-16 three-point attempts (50.0%).
Downey, who made the SEC All-Defensive team in 2009, is an uber-quick point, who can beat a team with his penetration, his outside shooting, or his outstanding defense -- He leads the SEC in steals with 3.2 thefts per game.
Kentucky coach John Calipari, as he did with Arkansas point Courtney Fortson, will more than likely rotate defenders on Downey, using John Wall, DeAndre Liggins, Eric Bledsoe,and possibly Ramon Harris, in an attempt to at least slow down Downey. All of the potential UK defenders will have a serious height advantage on the 5'9" Downey. But, Downey has grown accustomed to being out-sized, and is quite proficient in beating his defender off the dribble, and using his body to shield his shot in the lane.
UK point guard John Wall will be facing the best defender he has yet to encounter in his short collegiate career. Therefore, Wall must be mindful with the ball, as Downey has incredible anticipation skills, hence the above-mentioned 3.2 steals per game. Although Wall will look to push the pace, Downey will counter that strategy with a ball-control game-plan. The result of the battle of the two point guard's pace preference, will go a long way in determining whether the game stays close, or if Kentucky is able to build a cushion.
The key to stopping, or at least minimizing Downey's impact on the game, lies with UK's ability to make the talented point initiate the Gamecock offense as far away from the basket as possible ... push him out of his comfort zone. If Kentucky is successful in this endeavor, the 'Cats should have their way defensively, but allow Downey to penetrate, and it could be an unnecessarily long night for Big Blue.
Position Analysis: Shooting Guards
Darren Horn, with the unfortunate injuries suffered by forwards Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes, has been forced to start a three guard lineup.
The top off-guard in the Gamecock offense is 6'2" senior shooting guard Brandis Raley-Ross. Raley-Ross, the SEC's Sixth Man of the Year in 2009, has one job offensively, and that is to make three-point shots: Out of Raley-Ross' 154 shots taken this season, 89 have been of the long range variety, resulting in 38 made threes (42.7%).
Raley-Ross is a spot-up shooter, and has trouble creating shots on his own. Ball denial, and closely guarding Raley-Ross will be the key to ensuring he doesn't keep the Gamecocks in the game with his reliable stroke. Eric Bledsoe, when he's not guarding Downey, should be able to control Raley-Ross with is size and superior athleticism.
The other off-guard Horn will utilize is 6'1" freshman Ramon Galloway. Galloway has not shot the ball particularly well from long-range, having made only 30.1% of his three-point tries (22-73). Still, he's an athletic player with the talent to put the ball on the floor and penetrate.
UK, with Eric Bledsoe and Darnell Dodson sharing time at the shooting guard, holds a big advantage at this spot.
Position Analysis: Small Forward
With the loss of forwards Archie (6.4 rebounds per game in '09) and Holmes (7.7 rpg in '09), Horn has looked to 6'5" 225 lb freshman small forward Lakeem Jackson to help fill the void. Jackson, who plays almost exclusively close to the basket, is an athletic small forward in possession of solid ball-handling skills, enabling him to create his own shot. He's been effective around the basket, as he is making 51.8% of his two-point tries (0-8 on treys).
Kentucky's Darius Miller will counter Jackson's skill-set by staying at home on defense, and not allowing the athletic wing man to get to the rim. Jackson will utilize the ball/shot fake quite effectively, and Miller must fight the urge to block Jackson's shot.
On the offensive side of the ball, Miller must continue to play his game, as he did against Arkansas over the weekend, by taking open shots in transition, and penetrating, allowing him the opportunity to get off his nice floater.
Position analysis: Power Forward
Sam Muldrow has been the man left on an island, all alone, with the absence of Archie and Holmes. He's experienced mixed results in his attempt to control the paint area for the Gamecocks -- The 6'9" 240 lb Muldrow is second in the SEC, averaging 3.3 blocks per game, to go along with his 5.4 rebounds per game (20th in the SEC). But he's not connecting with his shots at a high rate, making only 43.2% of his field goal tries (28.2% of his threes).
Kentucky's big men, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson, should have ample opportunity to work their collective magic in the paint tonight. There will really be no excuse for both of UK's paint warriors to excel tonight.
Three Gamecock backups are averaging at least 12.8 minutes per contest: 6'7" senior forward Evaldas Baniulus, 6'8" junior forward Austin Steed, and 6'9" juco transfer Johndre Jefferson.
As one can see, all three of the major Gamecock backups are bigs, but Baniulus prefers to play away from the basket, witness his 58 three-point tries. Last season, Baniulus made his threes at a 48.0% rate, but this season he has seen his long-distance effectiveness wane with a precipitous drop in his three-point makes to 31.0%.
Considering UK's presumptive advantage in the paint, Steed and Jefferson may find themselves playing more minutes than they are accustomed to this evening. Both can bang on the glass, especially Steed, and Jefferson is an effective shot blocker -- He blocks 1.7 shots per game, while playing only 12.8 minutes per game.
South Carolina is in the unenviable position of being a fairly one-dimensional squad -- They seem to be relying more and more on the talents of Downey to propel them to victory. The Gamecocks don't seem to possess anyone who will/can challenge UK's big boys down on the blocks, setting up Patterson and Cousins for a big game.
If Kentucky can keep Downey from scoring 40+ points the 'Cats should find victory at the end of the evening, but allow Downey and Raley-Ross to get into a shooting rhythm, and the 'Cats will find themselves in a legitimate fight.
Offensively, the word for Kentucky is push, as in push the ball up the floor at every opportunity. Carolina simply does not have the horses to stay with the UK thoroughbreds.
Projected score: Kentucky 85 South Carolina 69