Since we last saw South Carolina, the team has had some losses. Eight in their last 10 games to be exact.
The Gamecocks' scoring woes have dropped them all the way into last place in the SEC this season. In 12 conference games, they've failed to crack the 60 point threshold seven times. Their average scoring margin in the league this season has been a 10.5 point loss. In short, it's been a bad year for Darrin Horn's team.
Still, guys like Bruce Ellington and Malik Cooke will pose a legitimate challenge for the Commodores. Vanderbilt has split their home and home series with South Carolina for the past three years despite often fielding the favored team. This game had all the makings of a trap until Vandy stumbled against Georgia in the first half of their Sunday matchup. Hopefully that dry spell will get this team prepared for a team that is entirely capable of handing them their second bad home loss of the season.
Vandy needs a win Wednesday night with games against Kentucky and Florida looming. A victory over the Gamecocks would ensure a winning record in league play and likely seal up a first round bye in the conference tournament. More importantly, it would be another confidence inspiring step for a team whose mental lapses have played a greater role in their disappointments this season than their physical abilities.
Let's look at how Providence beat South Carolina to see how the Commodores can capitalize.
South Carolina (10-16, unranked, #157 in the Pomeroy Rankings)
Other Losses: at Elon, vs. North Carolina, vs. Southern California, vs. Tennessee State, vs. Ohio State, at Kentucky, vs. Vanderbilt, vs. Florida, at Auburn, at Ole Miss, at Florida, vs. Kentucky, at Tennesse, at Arkansas, vs. LSU
There were several choices that could have been made for this article, but a home loss to Providence stuck out to a Rhode Island native like myself. The Friars are bad, but they've got a great point guard. Vincent Council led PC to a big win in which the Friars led for the final 38:40 of play. Five players scored in double digits for a team that has currently lost 13 of their 15 Big East games so far.
Key to Destruction: Backcourt defense. South Carolina is loaded with quick guards who can beat you if they're given the space to heat up. Providence was able to extinguish that fire early and challenged shots all game, limiting the Gamecock guards to just 11-41 shooting from the field. This included a 6-30 three-point mark as a team. Vanderbilt will have to put John Jenkins's on-and-off defensive skills to the test and use him as an agent of change on both sides of the court. If he can put together a good game against SC's guard corps it could create some momentum for the junior guard's man defense heading into the postseason.
Keys to the Game:
- Close out on shots instead of crashing the boards. Providence gave up 18 offensive rebounds to a small team, but a big part of why that number was so high was because the Friars' defense forced Carolina in to several bad shots. South Carolina is shooting just 38.7 percent from the field in SEC play, and a smothering defense will only make that worse. Even if the Gamecocks get second chances, they've proven that they have difficultly converting those into points. Vandy can afford to let a few long rebounds go South Carolina's way - but they can't afford to let a torrid three-point shooting streak sink them again.
- Strong ball movement. Behind Council's play, the Friars had assists preceding 67 percent of their baskets. Providence distributed the ball so well that every player who logged 15 minutes or more scored in double figures. These are holes that the Commodores can exploit; South Carolina is allowing opponents to shoot nearly 48 percent against them. While a big-time performance from Jeffery Taylor or Jenkins would be nice, Vanderbilt can turn this game into a blowout if they get everyone on the team involved on the offensive end.
- Draw fouls. South Carolina attempted a whopping 22 more shots in their matchup with PC but still trailed by double-digits late in the game. The disparity at the free throw line helps explain that. Providence attempted 17 more free throws than their opponent and capitalized on the opportunity, going 22-27 from the line. While eight of these attempts happened as time wound down and the Gamecocks got desperate, it was still a major advantage for the Friars in their upset(ish) win.