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The SEC's Worst Losses: South Carolina (Part I)

Vanderbilt will hit the road and attempt to recover from Tuesday's heartbreaking loss against Ole Miss. Can the Commodores follow Mississippi State's blueprint and earn their first SEC win of the season?

Expect a similar turnout when Vandy and South Carolina meet to determine the pecking order in the lower half of the SEC East.
Expect a similar turnout when Vandy and South Carolina meet to determine the pecking order in the lower half of the SEC East.

One Saturday after trying to bounce back from a disappointing loss, Vanderbilt is going to hope they can recover more strongly than they did last week against Arkansas.

That time, Vandy responded to a two-point loss to Kentucky with a 23-point loss to Arkansas. The Commodores scored only 33 points and matched a school record for futility in the humiliating defeat.

This week, Kevin Stallings will have to rebound from an overtime loss to Ole Miss with a road trip to Columbia, South Carolina. Vandy will take on the Gamecocks on the heels of a heartbreaking 89-79 defeat that saw Marshall Henderson snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with a buzzer-beating 35-foot three-pointer.

Vanderbilt will have a strong chance to recover against a lowly-rated Carolina team. While Vanderbilt sits at 167th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, the Gamecocks are even worse at 197th. South Carolina's 11-5 record has come with few credible wins and a handful of embarrassing losses. According to the RPI rankings, their best win came against a currently free-falling LSU team last week, and if trends continue they may not beat a top 150 team all year.

Vandy isn't doing much better, and without a conference win they're looking up at the Gamecocks in the standings. A win on Saturday would change that, but there are no guarantees with this team - especially not after a pair of 33-point performances already this season. Can the Commodores rally and beat South Carolina at home? They can look at one of the 'Cocks earlier SEC losses to find some guidance along the way.

South Carolina (11-5, 1-2 SEC, unranked)

Worst Loss: at Mississippi State (KenPom #224, CBS RPI #239) 54-56
Other Losses: vs. Elon, at St. John's, vs. Clemson, vs. Auburn

Mississippi State got the first SEC win of the Rick Ray era last week, coming from behind against South Carolina in the second half and holding on for a key victory in the midst of their rebuilding effort. USCe led by six points with just over five minutes to play, but allowed the Bulldogs to go on an 8-0 run that put MSU in the drivers seat in the last two minutes. While Carolina was able to tie the game late, the Bulldog defense held tight against the sloppy Gamecocks and held on for a two-point win.

Key to Destruction: Exploiting sloppy play. The Gamecocks committed 24 turnovers in the loss, including a back-breaker with 32 seconds to go when Bruce Ellington was pickpocketed by Craig Sword, robbing USCe of an opportunity to tie the game. South Carolina doesn't take great care of the ball. They're averaging over 17 turnovers per game. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, has been opportunistic on defense this year, and has the perimeter defense to make Carolina anxious all night. If Vandy can generate steals and extra possessions, they'll be in great shape against a team that doesn't have the horses to play efficient come-from-behind basketball.

Keys to the Game:
  • MAKE YOUR FREE THROWS. State almost blew this game when Fred Thomas missed a pair of free throws that would have given MSU a four point lead with 11 seconds to play. Thomas was absolved when Carolina couldn't convert with their final possession, but the point is one that easily applies to the Commodores. Vanderbilt let Ole Miss back into Tuesday's game by missing five straight free throws as the clock wound down. If they fail like that again, they'll be primed for another late-game letdown and could be headed back to Nashville 0-4 in the SEC.
  • Be persistent. State slopped up the court in the first half, shooting just 30.8 percent from the field and trapping the Gamecocks in an ugly game. They came back to shoot nearly 50 percent in the second half and rallied to win this game behind a hot streak that Vanderbilt has proved that they are capable of replicating. South Carolina will frustrate the 'Dores in spells on Saturday, but if Vandy sticks to their guns they'll find openings in the SC defense.
  • Score in the paint. If Mississippi State had a historic three-point streak, it would have been broken last Wednesday. The Bulldogs went 0-10 from three-point range, getting all their points through jumpers or at the rim. Much of Vanderbilt's game will be the opposite - the 'Dores shoot almost exclusively from long range - but getting into the paint might be the change that this team needs to exploit USCe's weaknesses. That means that guys like Sheldon Jeter, Shelby Moats, and Josh Henderson will have to spend more time as shot-creators inside the arc than they did on Tuesday against Mississippi.