Vanderbilt had their four-game winning streak snapped on Saturday, but the Commodores can get back on track when they travel to South Carolina to face a team that has just one win in the SEC this season.
Vandy lost to Arkansas on the strength of a game-winning three from Razorback Michael Qualls, who buried a monster shot with just three seconds to go. That erased an offensive effort that saw the 'Dores shoot better than 50 percent from the floor - but also give up 77 points to the 'Hogs. Arkansas connected on 54 percent of their attempts on the afternoon to defeat a Vandy team that had relied on stellar defense to climb to 5-4 in league play.
The 'Dores will have the opportunity to get that defense back on track against a 1-9 South Carolina team that has struggled to score efficiently in conference play. USC's lack of height could lead to big performances from Vandy players like Damian Jones, Shelby Moats, Luke Kornet, and James Siakam. To get the most out of this matchup, Kevin Stallings's team could stand to learn from a team that conquered the Gamecocks back in December. Here's how South Carolina-Upstate handled Carolina, and how the Commodores can capitalize on that.
South Carolina (8-15, 1-9 SEC, unranked in the Coaches' Poll, #133 in the Pomeroy Rankings)
Worst Loss: vs. South Carolina-Upstate (15-11, #164 KenPom,#185 CBS RPI), 68-74 Other Losses: at Florida, at Oklahoma State, at Tennessee, at Missouri, vs. Ole Miss (2x), vs. LSU, at Baylor, at Clemson, vs. Boise State, vs. Manhattan, at Georgia, at Texas A&M, vs. Auburn
The Gamecocks got the worst of this under-publicized in-state rivalry back in December. USC lost to fellow state school USC-Upstate to cap a three-game losing streak that dropped the 'Cocks to 2-5 early in the season and applied heat to Frank Martin's seat on the Carolina bench. South Carolina represented Upstate's second major-conference victory of the season after a season-opening win against Virginia Tech.
Carolina led by as many as eight points in the second half, but Upstate used a 15-5 run late in the game to open this one up. Bruce Ellington helped Frank Martin's team claw back into the game in the final minute, but his costly and-1 foul on Fred Miller allowed Upstate to pull ahead by four points with a minute left, effectively sealing the Spartan win. Burly forward Ricardo Glenn had a huge performance in a spotlight game for USC-Upstate, hanging a career-high 21 points and 14 rebounds on the undersized Gamecocks.
Key to Destruction: Advantages in the Frontcourt. South Carolina has a pair of gritty forwards with Michael Carrera and Mindaugas Kacinas, but while that duo won't be out-hustled, they can be pushed around the paint. This happened back in December against USC-Upstate, where the Spartans' starting forwards combined for 38 points and 27 rebounds in their upset win. That happened without Carrera on the court, and while he's listed as a probable starter on Wednesday, he played only five minutes in last week's loss versus Tennessee.
Damian Jones and Luke Kornet will have an opportunity to polish their inside-out game as the biggest men on the court Wednesday night. If they can follow the Spartans' lead, they will have every opportunity to guide the Commodores past South Carolina. They'll have to do a better job cleaning the glass, however - USC Upstate allowed the Gamecocks to pull down 17 offensive rebounds in their matchup, including a pair late in the game that nearly completed a Carolina comeback.
Keys to the Game:
Drive, drive, drive. South Carolina doesn't have the consistent shot-blocking presence in their frontcourt to deny drives into the paint. This led to four different Gamecocks earning four fouls or more against South Carolina-Upstate. Upstate had USC's forwards averaging a foul every 5.2 minutes they were on the court. If the 'Dores can do the same, they'll have plenty of opportunities to slow this contest down to a pace of their liking.
Take advantage of the Bruce Ellington-sized hole in the Gamecock backcourt. Ellington, currently in what seems like at least his seventh season with the Gamecocks, has a history of pestering the Commodores. The speedy combo guard averaged 17.5 points against Vandy in his first two seasons, and he's stood out as Carolina's most dynamic scorer in the backcourt. However, he'll be preparing for the NFL Draft instead of playing with the Gamecocks this spring. He had played ineffectively against Upstate, scoring eight points despite taking 13 shots from the field. His absence will free Dai-Jon Parker and Kyle Fuller up to focus their defensive efforts elsewhere.
Make your free throws. USC-Upstate left a ton of points at the line, making just 20 of their 35 free throw attempts. Players like Rod Odom, James Siakam, Kyle Fuller, and Damian Jones are going to see plenty of shots at the charity stripe on Wednesday. Converting those could be the difference between a big win and an upset loss.
Vanderbilt will be the more talented team on the floor on Wednesday, despite having just seven scholarship players to call on. That doesn't mean that Frank Martin's team will just roll over for them, however. The Commodores will have to play smart in order to secure a key road win, but South Carolina's style plays into Vandy's preferred avenue of victory - a grinding slopfest. If they can attack the basket and take advantage of the skill differential in the paint, the 'Dores can win big in Columbia.
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