The ever-dangerous Devan Downey comes to Nashville on Saturday, and he'll try to lead his Gamecock squad to a rare SEC East win in the regular season finale. At stake for South Carolina is a chance to dig themselves out of the division's basement with a win and a Georgia loss heading into the postseason. The difference would mean a match-up with the West's number four squad at the Sommet Center for the conference tournament rather than the third ranked team, which could end up being a dangerous Ole Miss squad.
While Vanderbilt has their tournament seed all locked up, they'll play for something with more sentimental value - the chance to send Jermaine Beal off with a win in his last game at Memorial Gym. Saturday will be Senior Day, and with Beal and Chris Meriwether being the team's only seniors, the rest of the Vandy crew will be looking to earn them a win with their families watching. The student section will be rooting for a blowout, because big leads seriously increase the chances of seeing some quality court time for Meriwether, the 6'0 walk-on guard from Father Ryan High School in Nashville.
(EDIT: Though Meriwether is a senior, this is only his second year of eligibility, and he plans on staying at Vandy for post-grad studies, so he won't be honored. Thanks to DoreDarling for the tip.)
South Carolina (14-15, AP NR, Coaches NR)
Worst Loss: at Arkansas (RPI #137, KenPom #100) 79-92
Other Significant Losses: vs. Miami, vs. Alabama, at Boston College, at Georgia, at Wofford
South Carolina (RPI #96, KenPom #92) is having a season to forget. In October, the Gamecocks were considered a peaking team with a shot at a NCAA Tournament bid. By December, their expectations had been greatly diminished. After fifth-year senior Dominique Archie was lost for the season due to injury, Devan Downey became the team's only impact player. Despite his efforts in big wins against Kentucky and Richmond, his scoring alone hasn't been able to carry the team; they've slumped to a disappointing 5-10 in SEC play.
Thanks to Wofford's strong play and Arkansas's wavering basketball abilities, the Razorbacks have convincingly moved into the "worst loss" spot on SC's resume. For most Vandy fans, the most notable aspect to the loss is the sheer number of points Arkansas put up. This was an offense couldn't get anything going in Fayetteville against Vanderbilt, but was able to put up 92 points against South Carolina just ten days earlier . This game showcased some holes in the Gamecocks' defense, and upon further review, these lapses have become a trend in losses:
If Vanderbilt can run this team off the floor, they'll be in serious trouble trying to catch up. Against the SEC's elite (Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee), the Gamecocks have broken the 65 point barrier just once - a 79 point outing against Vandy in a game that was out of reach for most of the second half.
Unfortunately, South Carolina has shown that they can win the kind of game that the 'Dores have made the mistake of getting trapped in - a sloppy, low-scoring affair. Their upset over Kentucky showed that these guys are dangerous if you let them disrupt you offense. Hopefully the Commodores will realize that and run them out of Memorial Gym with crisp offensive action. If the Vandy team that showed up against Arkansas is in Nashville Saturday, they should be able to take care of business with ease. If the team that played inconsistent ball against Georgia and Florida shows up, South Carolina will turn this game into a dogfight.
Keys to the Game:
- Offense is the primary weapon - run hard, run fast, and score in bunches: See above - South Carolina has trouble hanging around in explosive games. Their defense is suspect and gave up 92 points to a ragged Arkansas team. If Vanderbilt can execute a high-tempo offense while protecting the ball, they'll put SC in a situation where they have yet to win a SEC game this year.
- Make someone over than Downey step up for the Gamecocks: if there's one player that can swing the balance of the game on either side, it's Devan Downey. The diminutive guard scores in bunches, and gets much of the credit for the team's upset against UK earlier in the year. He's South Carolina's biggest threat and they don't have much depth behind him. If the Commodores can stop him, SC will be relying on role players to take down one of the league's deepest teams on their home court on Senior Day. Good luck with that.
Start Chris Meriwether - not essential to the game, per se, but it would be great to see the walk-on's hard work rewarded with a start at Memorial. Give him a chance to see the tip, play some defense, and maybe even get a shot off before taking him out at the first dead ball. Will it hurt the 'Dores? Maybe, but not substantially. Granted, Meriwether doesn't have the talent of John Jenkins or Brad Tinsley or even Joe Duffy, but I could live with seeing him get torched for two points if it means he gets the start.
Step back, and watch Dolla get it done: The last meaningful Senior Day was Shan Foster's night of Glorious Sharpshootery. If Beal can absorb some of the good feelings and shooting magic that Foster left behind in 2008, he could set a new career high in scoring.