After the near miss at Tennessee, some in the Big Blue Nation may think that the Cats will be fine at USC. That may be so, but there are a lot of reasons not to think so. We took the Volunteers by surprise running a spread, almost Princeton-style offense with Stevenson acting as the ball screen above the foul line and working off cutters. Tennessee had no time to prepare for that, since they had never seen Kentucky without Patterson. But the Gamecocks have the benefit of Tennessee's experience, and will be prepared for that offense. I'm sure Gillispie has a few surprises in store, but make no mistake -- this game, we no longer have the advantage of surprise.
The Gamecocks have won only 4 SEC games since the last time they met in Rupp Arena, but they are coming off a big win at Auburn. It's always a bit better to face a team like USC coming off a victory, I think, but you have to keep in mind that USC matches up well against our smaller lineup, so we don't really have a quickness advantage that we did against Tennessee at the bigger positions. With Patterson down, there is no way that the Cats can take advantage down low like we did in Rupp, so this will require something different.
The top contributors for the Gamecocks are as follows:
Per Game Averages
|S. Muldrow III||Fr||F||27||10||48.6||0||88.2||14.4||3.2||3.7||0.3||0.7||0.3||1.4|
Expected starters are highlighted, as always.
As I said earlier, matchup-wise, the Gamecocks are happy to see Patterson unavailable. They had no good options against him before, but now, they don't need any. Perry Stevenson is taller than most of the USC players, and more athletic, but his slight frame will make true post play through him difficult.
We do have one big matchup problem against South Carolina, and that is against Devan Downey. At 5'9", he is far too quick for anyone on our roster to guard, and he is a good 3-point shooter at 35%. He single-handedly made the game very winnable for USC at Rupp, and we are just going to have to pick our poison with him. We cannot keep him out of the lane and defend him on the perimeter, so Kentucky is just going to have to try to find out which one we can do best and stick to it. Denying Downey the ball really isn't possible, either, he is just too quick to guard that way.
Last time we played the Gamecocks, Fredrick and Banilius really hurt us from the outside, and Downey hurt us going to the basket. I expect the Gamecocks to continue to attack the basket every time they get the ball, and shoot every 3-pointer available. Day had a poor shooting outing against us last time, and we can't count on that. Also, we out-rebounded USC in Rupp by 9, and if we are going to have a chance tonight, we really need to duplicate that effort.
There is one word to describe Dave Odom's offense this year: Attack. The Gamecocks will attack the rim every chance they get, and shoot every three that looks even remotely open. If they get hot, or if Kentucky messes around and lets them get on a roll, we could not only lose this game, but lose it huge. USC's offense doesn't click all that well very often, but at home with all the support they will have with senior night, there is no doubt that the Gamecocks will come out smoking.
Devan Downey will get out on the one-man break every time there is a defensive rebound, and Kentucky was far too slow recovering on defense last time we played this little speedster to even sniff his vapor trail on the way to the rack. This kid is a blur, and if we do not turn him away from the basket, he will be in the lane constantly, either putting the ball in the basket or kicking out for open shots. This guy is a nightmare, and if we can hold him down, I don't think USC has enough reliable scoring elsewhere to beat us.
Another potential problem for the Gamecocks is their league-leading ballhandling stats. If Kentucky can pry the ball loose from the Gamecocks, their offense will suffer. Unfortunately, we have not been the best in the league this year at causing turnovers.
South Carolina is not a good defensive team. Most teams simply overwhelm them on the inside with size, but that option is no longer available to UK. Somehow, the Cats must utilize their superior skill at most positions to get points, much like they did at Tennessee. Kentucky also has to try to get to the line, particularly Crawford, Bradley and Stevenson. South Carolina will not doubt throw some zone at us, but I don't worry as much about that with the lineup we are likely to have on the floor.
The problem for Kentucky is, we have only two proven scoring options. Stevenson and Jasper have stepped up lately, but they are still a long way from being considered reliable point producers on Kentucky's scoring-challenged squad. If the Cats can find an offensive set that gets them open looks, it bodes ill for the Gamecocks. Perry Stevenson will once again be called on to be a warrior on the boards, and we need him to keep balls alive on the offensive glass.
South Carolina is lousy at guarding the two but pretty good at guarding the three. the Cats have to make sure that they drive the ball to the rim often, as USC is not a good shot blocking team, and they do commit fouls with regularity. The motto for UK in this game should be very much the same as USC: attack the rim.
Intangibles and injuries:
Senior night and Dave Odom's last game at home. 'Nuff said. Big advantage to the Gamecocks.
Kentucky wins if:
- The guards are able to get into the paint often
- Kentucky can pry the ball loose from Downey.
- The Gamecocks shoot the ball poorly from the perimeter.
- Kentucky dominates the glass.
- The Gamecocks are bothered by Kentucky's smaller team.
USC wins if:
- They shoot well from the perimeter
- They force a lot of UK turnovers
- They outrebound Kentucky
- Downey constantly breaks down the defense.
- Kentucky's defensive intensity is not there.
This game could put us over the top in our long-shot quest for an NCAA berth. Combined with the near miss in Knoxville, another road win and an 11-4 record may just be enough to slide off the bubble and into a slot in the field of 65.
Unfortunately, we are going up against a team who has a matchup advantage on us in one critical spot, and it was almost enough to put them over the top in Rupp Arena back in January. Gillispie must find a way to defend Downey, and if Kentucky fails to do that, the Cats could be in for a very long night. I expect this game to be every bit as tough as our last 10 have been (excepting Vanderbilt), and I am positive that the Gamecocks will not go down easy, if at all, especially with the emotions of the night running so high.
We have to also be concerned about a bit of a letdown from the UT game. Gillispie tells us this isn't going to happen, but I will still worry about that. This has the makings of a trap game, even though we are not coming off a big win. What we really cannot afford at this point in the season is for Tennessee to beat us twice.
Against South Carolina, ballhandling will be a big issue. If they get off fourteen more shots against us tonight like they did in Rupp Arena, odds are we will lose. That is just something that cannot continue to happen. The other critical thing tonight will be rebounds. Rebounding is what saved us in Lexington, and if we allow the Gamecocks a rebounding advantage as well as a turnover advantage, this game could be very un-fun.
However, these Cats have proven time and again that they are ready for whatever they face, and I have reached the point where I believe in their preparation and competitiveness. They will be prepared to win tonight, and they will compete for the victory. Given that, I think we will win.