Gamecocks face tricky Manhattan squad in return to action Tuesday

Brenton Williams and the Gamecocks return to action Tuesday evening. - Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina played one game in the last 23 days, but now embarks on a schedule that includes eight games in 17 days. It starts with a very challenging match-up against an experienced and talented Jaspers squad.

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The Gamecocks return to action on Tuesday evening after a second lengthy layoff, this time after a disappointing 79-52 defeat at the hands of Oklahoma State.  Tonight, they welcome a Manhattan team favored to win their conference and head to the NCAA tournament at the end of this season, and sporting a 6-0 record on the road this year.  If they don't come to play, the Gamecocks could easily fall to 2-4, with a similarly dangerous USC Upstate team ready to cause even more problems for Carolina less than 48 hours after they finish their match-up with the Jaspers.

Manhattan enters this game looking to avenge a tough 63-57 loss to South Carolina last season.  That team was missing George Beamon, a fifth-year senior who is easily the best player they put on the court.  His absence may have made the difference last season.  His presence may make the difference this time around.

The Four Factors

USC O MAN D MAN O USC D
eFG 46.0 (279) 46.3 (79) 48.0 (213) 44.2 (32)
TO% 21.7 (312) 20.4 (68) 20.0 (253) 18.7 (161)
Oreb% 38.9 (25) 33.3 (227) 36.5 (64) 30.9 (150)
FTR 43.8 (123) 58.3 (335) 59.5 (5) 55.4 (322)
USC O MAN D MAN O USC D
FT% 70.2 (156) 68.8 (193)
2P% 43.8 (303) 45.8 (94) 47.5 (209) 45.0 (76)
3P% 35.3 (122) 32.6 (200)
3PA% 24.6 (324) 31.8 (160) 34.9 (107) 35.0 (246)

This game could take three hours as the Jaspers litter their games with fouls (both getting to the line and putting the other team on it), and while the Gamecocks only excel in allowing free throws, before the night is through we could see the teams combine for well over 50 FTAs, depending on how tight the whistles are on the evening.

That's not news for a Frank Martin coached team.  What's also old news so far in his tenure at South Carolina is that a weakness comes from the Gamecocks' interior players.  USC's roster includes three players with who average over five fouls per 40 minutes played, three of whom  - Chatkevicius (5.3), Henry (5.4), and Ringer (10.7!) - play their minutes in the paint (I cannot explain why Duane Notice commits 7.0 fouls per 40 minutes, but it can't be for a good reason).  Those guys had better be ready to defend against George Beamon, Michael Alvarado, and Rhamel Brown, three of the seniors the Jaspers start, all of whom excel at getting to the foul line.

Beamon and Alvarado are both starting senior guards that spend most of their evenings getting to the line on the drive; Brown is a 6'7" senior who prefers to terrorize teams inside - hitting 50% of his 2s, posting a 64.5 FTR (top 200), blocking 18.4% (!) of opponents' 2PAs, and rebounding 16% of his own team's misses when he's on the court.  Rhamel Brown is ferocious on the interior, and if Henry, Kacinas, or someone doesn't neutralize him on the offensive end of the floor, he could have the best game of his life against the Gamecocks.  He nearly had it last year, where he (and to some extent, his team) were undone by his woeful 2-10 shooting from the free throw line against Carolina (he's shot 65% from the stripe so far this year).

We shouldn't leave Beamon and Alvarado so quickly.  Beamon takes over 30 percent of the Jaspers' shots when he's out there and rarely turns the ball over, which keeps him efficient despite only hitting 44% eFG.  When you're a 90% free throw shooter who sports a 65.9% FTR, you can get away with the low shooting percentage from the field.  Alvarado doles out the lion's share of the assists for this bunch, as over a third of the baskets his teammates make with him out there come from his passes.  Between that and getting to the line, he'll be a handful for Ty or Bruce.

The Jaspers start two other players that are reasonably efficient on offense as well - 6'6" junior Emmy Andujar plays power forward and rebounds on both ends, doles out a surprising number of assists, and makes his 2PAs at a decent clip.  Shane Richards rounds out the Japsers on the wing, where he waits to shoot 3s - he's taken 58 already this year, hitting 23 (a 40% clip).

Fortunately for the Gamecocks, the Jaspers roll out an additional five players on most nights, and they are all significantly weaker players.  This occurs because the Jaspers simply can't avoid fouling, and thus their bench plays 37.1% of their minutes (by comparison, the Gamecocks' bench plays just under 30% of the minutes, boosted heavily by Notice's large amount of playing time in the first three games).  If South Carolina can attack the rim and get the Jaspers in foul trouble, they don't have the bench strength to keep the pressure on when their best five players aren't on the court.

For the Gamecocks, they simply have to figure out a way to start scoring inside.  Right now, South Carolina takes 40% of their shots at the rim (better than D-1 average), which is a great place to make shots and get fouled.  But they're only hitting 49.5% of those shots, compared to a 60% national average.  To put that in context, South Carolina is giving up over five points a game on missed shots at the rim.  Now, they'd obviously have fewer opportunities at the rim if they made more shots, since they wouldn't rebound some of those misses, but this is a huge failing in the current offense, and one that has to improve if Carolina wants to be able to play with the better teams in the SEC, particularly those that can work in the interior.  If improving to average only adds three points a game, that can move this team from an NIT bubble team to a team squarely in contention for an NIT spot (again, we should keep our expectations for this bunch relatively low for the time being).

The issue comes primarily from Tyrone Johnson, who's just 9-23 on those shots thus far this season.  While Ty has been a huge player for South Carolina this season - particularly given who'd be playing behind him - the Gamecocks aren't good enough to have him shooting 41.3% eFG if he's going to take as many shots as he does.  His turnover rate and assist rates are both sound, but we need more players to step up and take some of the shooting pressure off of him, or he needs to find another gear and start finishing at the rim.

You have to assume (well, hope) that the turnovers that plagued Carolina in Stillwater were an aberration, though if they weren't, the Jaspers and their top 75 defensive turnover rate will have no problem keeping the Carolina offense off the board by simply keeping them from ever shooting in the first place.  However, even if you get past that, as you can see above, so far this season South Carolina hasn't made 2s (303rd in the nation in 2P%) and hasn't taken 3s (324th in 3PA%).  The ability to get to the line and make free throws has helped, but the Gamecock offense simply hasn't been good enough often enough to get them over the hump against the three good teams they've played thus far this season.

This is an excellent measuring stick for Frank Martin's young squad, as Manhattan represents the type of good but not great teams that Carolina needs to beat in the SEC if it wants to move up in the conference pecking order.  But make no mistake, the Jaspers are fully capable of grabbing a victory tomorrow evening.  South Carolina has the chance to come out of the break and earn what would be a very solid (if underappreciated) victory over a strong Manhattan squad.  If it wants to see postseason basketball in Frank Martin's second year at the helm, it's a game that they'll want to have come March.

The Gamecocks and Jaspers tip off at 7pm from the Colonial Life Arena.  The game is not available on television, but can be streamed for a fee on GamecocksOnline.com.  Also, tickets are available for those in the Columbia area.

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