For the second time in as many games, the Kentucky Wildcats go on the road to face an SEC opponent, this time the South Carolina Gamecocks at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina. The Wildcats are coming off a tough loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide this Tuesday, and the Gamecocks are coming off two straight victories over SEC opponents, the Florida Gators in Gainesville and the Arkansas Razaorbacks in Columbia.
Here is a comparison of the two teams' season so far, courtesy of Statsheet.com:
South Carolina, as you can see, has been excellent at home, and therein lies the conundrum for the Wildcats today. Kentucky, so far, has won only one true road game against three losses. That is a troubling stat going into a place like South Carolina, who despite early-season predictions of a poor season is playing very well right now.
Historically, Kentucky has a huge advantage over the Gamecocks in basketball, 42-10 since their first game in 1928. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the Gamecocks have won 3 out of the last four meetings with Darrin Horn as coach, and Calipari is only 1-1 versus Horn as Kentucky coach.
More after the jump.
South Carolina Gamecocks Basketball Roster
|Malik Cooke||15||F||Major reserve, leading rebounder
|Bruce Ellington||23||G||Starter, leading scorer, 40+% 3-pt, assist leader
|Ramon Galloway||12||G||Major reserve, 2nd leading scorer, good 3-pt shooter
|Murphy Holloway||31||F||Transfer from Ole Miss, year in residence||234||6-7||sophomore|
|Johndre Jefferson||32||F||Minor reserve||215||6-9||senior|
|Sam Muldrow||44||F||Starter, 2nd leading rebounder, 3.4 blocks/game
|RJ Slawson||33||F||Minor reserve||196||6-8||freshman|
|Eric Smith||5||G||Major reserve||211||5-11||freshman|
|Stephen Spinella||1||G||Minor reserve||201||6-4||sophomore|
Darrin Horn had a very impressive recruiting class last year, and it is making an impact in the form of freshman point guard Bruce Ellington and power forward Damontre Harris. Both players have found themselves starters in their freshman year, and Ellington is having an outstanding season from the point, leading the team in scoring, assists, and 3-point shooting. Harris isn't making quite the splash Ellington is, but he provides size and quickness, allowing Malik Cook to come off the bench and bring energy with him.
Sam Muldrow is having an outstanding season, particularly defensively, where he leads the team in both steals and blocks, as well as being among the top rebounders on the team. Ramon Galloway and Lakeem Jackson are both capable scorers and good defenders.
No injuries to report for either team.
The four factors for this matchup look almost exactly like they did versus the Crimson Tide. Kentucky shoots better, takes better care of the ball, is equally good on the offensive glass and gets to the line more on the season.
South Carolina matches up very well against Kentucky, and unlike the Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide, do not have a big team capable of physically dominating opponents. But unlike Georgia and Alabama, this Gamecock team is a good three-point shooting team who can get perimeter scoring from multiple positions. They also have a dynamic point guard who can really hurt teams off the dribble and with the pass in Bruce Ellington
Where the Gamecocks are weak is that they allow teams to rebound well against them on the offensive glass, shoot the ball relatively poorly from 2-point range and don't make free throws. The problem is that the two teams are going different directions -- South Carolina is shooting a better FT% in conference than in the pre-conference season, and Kentucky is going the other way. Kentucky is also shooting 5% worse from the line on the road.
The Gamecocks are 2nd in the SEC in 3-point attempts. They get a lot of their scoring from outside the arc, just like Kentucky does, so UK must find a way to force the Gamecock shooters to put the ball on the floor. The Gamecocks do not handle the ball particularly well, so if UK is aggressive on defense it should be able to force turnovers from the young South Carolina guards. South Carolina is also not a particularly aggressive defensive team, which is why their steals% is so low, worst in the SEC.
What the Gamecocks have done very well is offensive rebound. They are currently leading the SEC in that statistic, as well as in the team rebounds stat. What that tells you is that these guys will play very hard and will go hard after every lose ball. These are the primary hustle stats, so the talent advantage Kentucky enjoys in this game will only show up if UK plays as hard as South Carolina, and given what we saw in the last two road games, I think that's cause for worry.
But what will ultimately decide this game for Kentucky is how well they shoot the ball, not just from three, but overall. Poor shooting has been the root cause of both Kentucky's road defeats, which forced the Wildcats to play better defense, and they simply did not rise to that occasion. To win at South Carolina, Kentucky must make shots. They also must take care of the defensive glass because of South Carolina's rebounding prowess. Finally, Kentucky must take advantage of USC's desire to block every shot and help on defense, which should leave Harrellson and Jones in a position to find each other open.
In the final analysis, this Kentucky team must shoot the ball better, make their free throws, and play very hard to beat the Gamecocks. South Carolina is not a particularly talented team, but Darrin Horn gets everything out of them, and if Calipari and the 'Cats fail to match that, Coach Cal may have his first 2-game losing streak on his hands as Kentucky coach.