For the second time this year, the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Kentucky Wildcats clash in an SEC East contest. The last time in Columbia, SC, the Gamecocks handed the Wildcats their only loss of the season so far, and look to reprise that upset with another tonight in Rupp Arena.
Of course, the Wildcats have different ideas. Kentucky has been almost unassailable at home this season, especially in the SEC, with the exception of a very close game by the Georgia Bulldogs. Tonight, the Wildcats face what has been their most difficult nemesis in the last couple of years, South Carolina guard Devan Downey. As a matter of fact, Kentucky has not beaten South Carolina since March of 2008.
Let's take a quick look at the comparison between the Gamecocks and the Wildcats, courtesy of Statsheet.com:
|Rank and Records||UK||USC|
|Strength of Schedule||#45||#32|
|RPI Top 50||8-0||3-3|
South Carolina has top 50 losses this year to the Clemson Tigers (19), the Baylor Bears (17), The Vanderbilt Commodores (24), the Florida Gators (45), and the Tennessee Volunteers (33) twice. The Gamecocks have top 50 wins against the Richmond Spiders (50), Kentucky Wildcats (7), and the Florida Gators (45). South Carolina has had no especially bad losses this year, just a lot of them [all rankings courtesy of Kenpom.com]
More after the jump. Just like last time, I did the first part of this analysis and Ken did the second part starting with the position analysis. For more on the South Carolina Gamecocks, be sure to check out the excellent SB Nation Gamecock blog, Garnet and Black Attack.
We will begin the analysis by the usual look at the dashboard. Don't forget, this thing is interactive.
Four Factors Analysis
I'll be looking only at the SEC season, so move the slider bar to display the last 12 games.
Both defensive and offensive efficiencies belong to Kentucky. South Carolina has the third lowest offensive efficiency in the SEC, just above the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers. Kentucky has the third highest behind the Vanderbilt Commodores and Florida Gators. Defensively, South Carolina is better with the 7th best DE in the SEC, and UK has the #1 defensive efficiency in the league right now, allowing opponents only 92.5 points/100 possessions.
Moving down to the Four Factors, the Wildcats shoot better, are better on the offensive glass (although they got beat in OR% in Columbia, 43.5-36.8), and Kentucky gets to the line much more than the Gamecocks (although they also bested us in that stat when we played them last). UK still turns the ball over more than all but 3 teams, while South Carolina is the best ballhandling team in the league at 16.5% miscues.
Defensively, Kentucky has really improved since the last time the two teams met, and UK is getting much the best of the Gamecocks in this stat, holding opponents to 42.8% eFG, while South Carolina is allowing 52.6% eFG. The 'Cats and the Gamecocks force roughly the same number of turnovers, USC allows more offensive rebounds and puts teams on the line the third most of any team in the league, while UK is second best at keeping opponents off the line.
Kentucky and South Carolina are both shooting below overage from three in the league, while Kentucky enjoys an advantage overall. In the SEC, though, the Wildcats are only shooting 31% from the arc. South Carolina attempts the third most threes in the SEC behind the Mississippi St. Bulldogs and Auburn Tigers, while Kentucky is mid pack in 3-point shots attempted. Both teams utilize their bench about the same, and both teams like to run up and down the floor as much as possible.
Kentucky's biggest advantage right now is in defensive efficiency, where the 'Cats have been extremely stingy giving up points, particularly of late, and the Gamecocks have not. If that is any indication of how this game will go, South Carolina may find that scoring in Rupp Arena is much harder than it normally is.
South Carolina Gamecocks Basketball Roster
|Dominique Archie||21||F||Out for season||200||6-7||senior|
|Evaldas Baniulis||31||F||Reserve, limited role||210||6-7||senior|
|Devan Downey||2||G||Starter, go-to guy||175||5-9||senior|
|Ramon Galloway||12||G||Starter, role player||175||6-2||freshman|
|Mike Holmes||24||F||No longer on 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, role player||193||6-2||senior|
|Stephen Spinella||1||G||Reserve, almost invisible||190||6-5||freshman|
|Austin Steed||25||F||Reserve, limited role||215||6-8||junior|
Position Analysis: Point Guard
South Carolina's mighty-mite, Devan Downey, has become the scourge of Wildcat fans around the globe. Last time out, Downey torched the 'Cats for 30 points, but made only 9-29 field goal attempts. But, revealing how much trouble UK had in guarding the ultra-quick point guard are the 11 free throws Downey attempted (making 10), which is considerably more charity strip tries than his 6.4 season average.
UK coach John Calipari tried Eric Bledsoe, John Wall, and DeAndre Liggins on Downey last game, obviously, without much success. Downey got into the lane with ease, as well as having no trouble creating his own shot. So simply put, UK must do a better job tonight of containing the dangerous Downey, or this game will be much closer than it should be.
UK's John Wall, who scored 19 points on 6-16 shooting (2-3 threes) against SC in Columbia, will look to continue his recent scoring surge: Since scoring six points on only nine shots versus LSU four games ago, Wall has averaged 19.3 points per game, and he's increased his free throw attempts per game from 4.7 per game, to 9.8. This is a direct result of Wall taking his defender off the dribble, and driving into the paint. Wall, over the last four games, has also nearly doubled his rebound per game average over last four games, going from 4.1 boards per game, to 7.3.
The downside of Wall's game over the last four contests, is his shooting percentages, which have dropped precipitously from 46.3% on the year, to 41.8% in his last four. Wall's three-point shooting has likewise suffered, dropping from his season average of 34.7%, to 23.1% (3-13) over the last four contests. Dishing the dime has not been done as frequently either: Wall is averaging 6.3 assists per game on the year, but only 3.5 over the last four games (3.8 turnovers per game in the same time-frame).
Position Analysis: Two-Guard
Brandis Raley-Ross put together one of his best game of the year against the 'Cats in Columbia: 5-10 shooting (2-7 threes), 5-6 free throws, five rebounds, two assists, two steals, and 17 points for the 11.4 points per game scorer.
Raley-Ross is capable of not only making the open look, he is capable of putting the ball on the floor and creating his own shot. Proving this the last time the two teams met; he dropped a couple of mid-range jumpers on the 'Cats.
Kentucky's Eric Bledsoe has been struggling lately (5-16 fg's, 1-7 threes, 4-10 ft's, two rebounds, three assists, five turnovers, and 7.5 points per game over the last two games), and considering he played poorly in UK's first meeting with South Carolina (2-7 fg's, 0-1 threes, two boards, five turnovers, five assists, four points), he should be highly motivated to show Raley-Ross why he's considered a much better player.
Another troubling Bledsoe trend: Since the Auburn game, 10 games ago, Bledsoe has made only 19-36 free throws (52.8%), after making 79.2% (38-48) over UK's first 17 contests. Bledsoe's sudden ineffectiveness from the free throw line goes a long way in negating his ability to get points out of driving to the rim.
Bledsoe's inability to make the three recently has greatly effected UK's offensive attack. Tonight would be a good time to restart his engine, showing why he has been considered one of the best combo guards in the country.
Position Analysis: Off-Guard
SC head man Darren Horn utilizes a third guard, 6-2 freshman Ramon Galloway. Galloway averages 21 minutes per game, but played only 10 minutes versus the 'Cats in the earlier game. A game in which Galloway was relatively ineffective: 0-2 from the field (0-1 threes), one rebound, two turnovers and two points.
On the season, Galloway hasn't been much of a shooter, making only 38.1% of his shots, and 31.6% of his trey tries (30-95), while averaging 7.1 points per game.
UK"s Darius Miller, who started in the 'Cats last game after not starting for five straight games, will look to continue his recent mini-uptick in production: Miller has scored 12 points in UK's last two games (6.0 ppg), after scoring only seven points in the previous six games (1.2 ppg).
For Miller it's all about asserting himself into the offense. He has, alternately throughout the season, passed up open shots, and refused to drive to the lane and shoot his patented floater. But, it's possible him losing his starting spot, as well as several minutes per game, has given him the resolve to make himself more a part of the team's offensive sets.
In UK's last game with SC, Miller played 14 minutes, was 0-2 from the field (both shots threes), grabbed one rebounds, and turned the ball over twice.
Position Analysis: Small Forward
SC's Lakeem Jackson, a 6-5, 215 lb freshman, plays the role of small forward for Darren Horn's Gamecocks. Jackson, who plays close to the basket, is very athletic, and capable of scoring second chance points, something SC did quite effectively last time out against UK. Jackson contributed to SC's board battering of the 'Cats earlier in the season by grabbing two offensive rebounds. He made only 1-5 shots from the field, and blocked one shot.
Jackson averages 25.5 minutes per game, and scores 6.7 points per game, while being a solid defender, especially for a freshman.
Kentucky's Patrick Patterson, if one remembers, took only four shots in UK"s last outing against SC. He scored merely five points, but he did snag eight rebounds, five of which were of the offensive variety.
In the seven games since the SC game, Patterson has taken an average of 10.3 shots per game, making 47.3% of his tries (9-20 threes, 45.0%). Over his last two games, Patterson has averaged 11.5 rebounds per game, compared to the 25 previous games' average of 7.3 per game.
Patterson has become much more aggressive offensively as well, and his increased focus on the scoring end of the floor is bore out in his numbers: Patterson has averaged 16.0 points per game over the last two games; the previous seven games Patterson averaged 10.4 points per game.
Patterson, considering the size advantage he owns over the smallish Gamecocks, should be set-up to have a big game tonight.
Advantage: Big Kentucky
Position analysis: Power Forward
Six-nine, 216 lb Sam Muldrow fills the power forward spot for the Gamecocks. Undersized a bit, he held his own on the glass against the 'Cats earlier in the year, grabbing 11 rebounds (four offensive). He also blocked five shots, with most of those coming against the bigger DeMarcus Cousins. Considering he averages only 6.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game, his effort versus UK stands out as one of his best performances of the season. Muldrow, who will venture out to shoot the three, is a highly mobile, athletic "4," who must have a body put on him on the shot, or he will create problems once again for the 'Cats.
Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins had a huge game versus SC in their earlier meeting: 27 points on 9-17 shooting, 12 rebounds (three offensive), and three blocks. Cousins recorded zero assists and three turnovers, though; Two areas going in opposite directions, stat-wise: Since recording zero assists versus SC, Cousins has delivered nine assists in the last seven games (three versus Vandy last weekend). On the downside, Cousins committed five turnovers versus the 'Dores in UK's road win.
Over his last two games, Cousins is averaging 19.0 points per game on 13-22 shooting (59.1%), 9.5 rebounds per game (5.0 offensive rebounds), 2.0 assists, and 4.0 turnovers. He's also made 12-17 free throws (70.6%).
Cousins should once again be a load for SC to handle down on the blocks. SC will collapse on the catch, as they did in Columbia, so Cousins, instead of forcing up a shot, should continue to look for the open man, whether it be his paint-mate Patterson, or a perimeter shooter.
Six-eight forward Austin Steed, 6-9 forward Johndre Jefferson, 6-4 guard Stephen Spinella, and 6-7 forward Evaldas Baniulus come off the bench for SC.
Jefferson, who is very active around the basket, put together a very nice effort against UK in Columbia: In 17 minutes, he grabbed eight rebounds, with five of those being offensive -- The fact that he snagged five offensive rebounds in only 17 minutes should be offensive to the 'Cat; On the year, Jefferson is averaging 3.3 rebounds per game in 13.3 minutes per contest. Steed, in only 20 minutes in the earlier game, grabbed six rebounds (he averages 3.3 per game).
DeAndre Liggins and Daniel Orton will lead the Wildcat relief corps. In the earlier game, Liggins played only 12 minutes, which is the last time he recorded less than 17 minutes of floor time. In those 12 minutes, Liggins grabbed 3 rebounds (one offensive), and dished out one assist. In the seven games since, Liggins has made 7-18 three-point shots (38.9%), and grabbed 3.7 rebounds per game, while averaging three floor burns per contest.
Daniel Orton played only eight minutes against SC in the earlier contest, but grabbed four offensive rebounds. In the last six games, in which he's averaged 14.5 minutes per game, Orton has made 8-12 shots (66.7%), grabbed 21 rebounds (3.5 pg), blocked eight shots (1.3 pg), and scored 15 points (2.5 pg).
Advantage: Slight Kentucky
The last time these two clubs met, a 68-62 Carolina victory, the Gamecocks feasted on the boards, and Downey swallowed the 'Cats whole: SC snagged 20 offensive rebounds on 42 missed shots, a 43.5% off. reb. rate, which resulted in an SC advantage in second chance points, 22-9. On the year, SC grabs offensive rebounds at a 34.4% rate (123rd in the nation). SC grabbed 24 defensive rebounds on 35 UK misses (+6 free throws), good for a 63.2% rate, on the year SC snags defensive rebounds at a 61.8% rate (339th in the nation).
For comparisons sake: UK is second in the nation with a 42.7% offensive rebounding rate, and 107th in the nation with a 68.9% defensive rebounding rate.
UK's size, and the stats dictate the 'Cats should smother SC on the boards, something that didn't happen in Columbia. Perhaps now, the 'Cats attention will be undivided.
Kentucky, via John Wall, will try to push the tempo (in league play, UK averages 72.1 possessions per game, SC averages 68.3), and Devan Downey will want to slow the pace to a crawl, as he did so successfully in the last meeting.
Tonight in Rupp, UK must pressure Downey, after forcing only two second half turnovers in Columbia. Easier typed than done, but Calipari and his guard corp must find a way. Downey is very difficult to face-guard, but trying to trap the elusive point might be the avenue the 'Cats take tonight.
Also, Horn will play a zone, and UK must answer with made threes, or finding the seams in the zone, something UK did not do Saturday against the 3-2 of Tennessee until the last 10 minutes of the game. Adding concern is the fact that UK has made only 22-92 three-point attempts (23.9%) over the last five games, a figure that simply must improve if the 'Cats harbor hopes of winning-out ... hopes which must be fulfilled beginning tonight.
Point of Interest -- Darren Horn, as an assistant at Marquette, and heach coach at South Carolina, is 4-0 versus the 'Cats.
Projected Score: Kentucky 74 South Carolina 61