South Carolina is one of those games that always concern me. The record says we have only lost to the Gamecocks three times in the last ten years, but the last time was a mere three games ago at the SEC tournament. This year, South Carolina comes into Rupp Arena a pedestrian 9-9, but still one game ahead of Kentucky overall. The Gamecocks are coming off a very tough loss earlier this week to Florida, in which they gave a great effort but came up just short.
Of course, Dave Odom has recently announced his retirement, and that has undoubtedly changed the atmosphere around the young Gamecocks. It is said that they are playing with a "win this one for Coach" attitude, and it's never good when a team comes into Rupp Arena with extra motivation. Witness what the extra motivation did for Ramel Bradley's game against mighty Tennessee.
The top players for the Gamecocks are as follows:
Per Game Averages
|S. Muldrow III||Fr||F||18||10||52.5||0||86.7||17.8||4.3||4.8||0.4||0.6||0.4||1.8|
The normal starting rotation is highlighted above. Unlike most teams that UK has faced this year, South Carolina is a very small, quick team who doesn't have a starter over 6'7" tall. The biggest offensive threat for the gamecocks is sophomore point guard Devan Downey, a small, lightning-quick player who can beat you in every possible way. He has been compared to the likes of Ty Lawson of North Carolina. Downey is a good ballhandler on a good ballhandling team. Downey is second in the SEC in scoring, third in assists and first in steals, and is a pretty good three point shooter. In other words, he is a handful.
Dominique Archie and Zam Fredrick are two other gamecocks who can score. Archie is a slasher who can get to the hole and finish. Fredrick is the Gamecock's leading three-point threat, and even though his percentage isn't as high as Downey's, he is more likely to go nuts from out there.
South Carolina as a team is the second-leading three-point shooting team in the conference, behind Vanderbilt. In conference, the Gamecocks are shooting 40% from behind the line, and although they don't put it up as much from there as Vandy does, they are more athletic than the Commodores and much quicker off the dribble.
South Carolina is more efficient offensively than Kentucky, which should surprise nobody. Fortunately, our defense is much more efficient than that of USC, so we will have to see who wins out in the end.
The main thing Kentucky will have to guard against from USC is dribble penetration. Downey and Archie are both capable of beating us off the dribble and getting into the lane, and when that happens, Kentucky really struggles. We must keep their ballhandlers out of the painted area, or this game will not be any fun.
Defensively, the Gamecocks are just average. They are quick, which is always an advantage, but we do have a significant advantage in size. South Carolina will undoubtedly zone us most of the time, and if our perimeter game isn't there it could lead to long stretches without a basket.
South Carolina does not match up well at all with Kentucky size-wise. They have limited man post-defense ability, and if they don't zone Patterson or come with quick double-teams, he will run amok on them. In man sets, Perry Stevenson should be able to get a lot of dunks off double-teams. We will see.
Intangibles and injuries:
As usual with a home game, the intangibles favor Kentucky, but only slightly due to continuing injury problems. Crawford is questionable for today due to aggravated plantar fasciitis, and Meeks and Jasper are still less than 100%.
Kentucky wins if:
- We defend dribble penetration.
- We are able to consistently enter the ball into the post.
- We shoot a reasonable percentage from three.
- We limit turnovers to 15 or less
- We continue to keep the pace low.
South Carolina wins if:
- Downey gets into the paint
- The Gamecocks shoot lights-out from three.
- USC is able to get the pace above 70 possessions.
- They take the ball away from Kentucky.
- They keep the ball out of Patterson's hands in the low post.
The biggest concern for the Cats is Crawford's health and defending dribble penetration, something we have not done well all year. Devan Downey is too small and quick for any of our guards, so we must use a shadow defender to turn his drives to the basket away. Downey in the paint is the way that USC can beat us, and the biggest danger we face from the opposition. We do have to be concerned about hot 3-point shooting, but if we keep Downey out of the lane, the danger of that happening is somewhat lessened.
However, we know that Kentucky has often been its own worst enemy, and carelessness with the basketball a chronic problem. Kentucky can beat itself in several other ways, such as a blizzard of turnovers or failure to get the ball to Patterson down low. Patterson doesn't have to score to beat USC, but he does have to touch the basketball. This is one the Cats should win, but I am wary of a letdown.