South Carolina upended the Appalachian State Mountaineers last night at the Colonial Life Arena, 74-69. Although USC occasionally built a solid lead and looked like it might pull away a few times throughout the game, App. St. always managed to stay in the game, which ended up being fairly close throughout. Lakeem Jackson led USC in scoring with a season-high 16, while Minda Kacinas added 12 points and 12 boards for a double-double.
This was the first of the past handful of games that I've watched, and I saw a little good and a little bad. First, the bad. Turnovers are this team's biggest problem, which shouldn't surprise anyone if you've been reading Frank Martin's comments to the press. We turn the ball over a lot, and oftentimes in very ugly fashion. There were a lot of stolen lazy passes in the back court, which are the worst kinds of turnovers because they often lead to easy scores on the break for the other team. It seemed like that's how ASU scored an inordinate number of their points; every time it looked like we might pull away, the Mountaineers stole a couple of passes and scored easy buckets to get back in it. My impression is that fundamental ball-handling and passing are problems for this Carolina team. One of the positives in contrast to the Horn years is that we're now more patient and intent on running our offense and trying to create a high-percentage shot, but the team, perhaps due to poor training in fundamentals by Horn and his staff, doesn't seem to be able to run the offense with the necessary precision. Turnovers are always a problem, but they're a particular problem for this team. At best, this is going to be a meat-and-potatoes team in SEC play that wins a handful of games with gritty defense, taking care of the ball, and chipping together points however it can. We simply don't have the offensive firepower to overcome giving up easy points to the other team, and the turnovers could very well be the difference between something in the vicinity of a .500 conference record or a dismal 2011-12-like record.
One of the things that I liked in this game was the play of Jackson. Martin is using Jackson as more of a post player, and it seems to be working fairly well. You'll recall that Horn kept Jackson on the wing a lot and even tried to play him at point guard at times. Jackson has the athleticism and ball-handling skills to do that, but he's completely useless as a shooter away from the basket, which negates his worth on the wing. Around the basket, though, he seems fairly adept at using the glass to make shots. He also displays a variety of post moves and uses his strong frame well to create shots. The major liability, of course, is that he's an awful free-throw shooter (he was 0-3 last night and is currently shooting less than 30% for the year), which means that he has to score the ball from the field, but even given that liability, it still seemed to me that Jackson in the post is about the best thing we have going for us offensively right now. I would look for Martin to continue working this and trying to create matchup problems.
USC takes on Manhattan at the Brooklyn Hoops Invitational this Saturday.