Gamecock Basketball: Carolina heads to College Station

Frank Martin leads the Gamecocks into College Station on Wednesday night. - Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Gamecocks take on a surprising Texas A&M team that's one of the last two undefeated teams in SEC play. Can Carolina find its offense against the third straight elite defense it faces?

For a four-game stretch, the Gamecocks appeared to figure it out on the offensive end.  In its last four non-conference games, South Carolina scored over one point per possession and reeled off four straight victories.

Unfortunately for them, the SEC boasts three elite defenses.  South Carolina couldn't score enough at Florida or versus LSU to come away with a victory.  As luck would have it, the schedule-makers decided that Carolina should open with the three best SEC defenses.  So can the Gamecocks head down to College Station and score enough to overcome the suddenly resurgent Texas A&M Aggies on Wednesday night?

The Four Factors (Pomeroy Rankings)
When USC has the ball When A&M has the ball
USC Off. A&M Def. Edge A&M Off. USC Def. Edge
245 16 A&M BIG eFG% 145 93 PUSH
288 67 A&M BIG TO% 175 63 USC
21 115 USC BIG OReb% 197 254 PUSH
63 45 PUSH FTR 157 333 A&M
Shooting (percentages)
When USC has the ball When A&M has the ball
USC Off. A&M Def. A&M Off. USC Def. NCAA Avg.
68.7% - FT% 66.6% - 69.4%
45.3% 42.2% 2P% 50.9% 48.8% 48.5%
37.2% - 3P% 31.9% - 34.2%
24.2% 35.5% 3PA% 32.5% 34.5% 32.7%

Where the Gamecocks find balance between being average on both ends of the court, A&M offers a stark contrast in the way it plays.  The Aggies excel on the defensive end - they've only let two opponents score over a point a possession - but their anemic offense has held them back, which is why they carry losses to Missouri State and North Texas (the latter by 20 points).  After a home win over Arkansas and a one-point 57-56 victory in Knoxville, they come into this game looking to be a very surprising 3-0 in SEC play.

For South Carolina, the Aggies look a lot like the LSU Tigers - they make it difficult to score inside in large part by blocking over 15% of the shots opponents take from inside the arc.  One key difference is that A&M allows three-point attempts - their opponents' have taken over 35% of their shots from beyond the arc (compared to a national average of 32.7%).  The problem is that Carolina doesn't take the bait even when offered - the 24.2% of field goals it takes as 3s ranks 335th of 351 NCAA teams this season.

Given that, the Gamecocks need to figure out a way to score enough points to keep it close and then lock in on the defensive end.  For USC, that means forcing a team without many strengths to play without them, and to avoid their own weaknesses.  One of the few areas A&M plays well is in hitting two-point baskets - the Gamecocks will need to play strong enough interior defense to keep the Aggies from hitting a high percentage of two-pointers, but also need to make sure they either force turnovers or keep A&M off the glass.  Given how good the Aggies play defense, Carolina can't hope an average defensive performance will be good enough to get a win.

South Carolina is likely to continue its 10-man rotation in College Station, and will once again hope that Duane Notice and Mindaugus Kacinas - both playing over 20 minutes a game - can avoid turnovers at their current rates, given that turnover rates of 31.9% and 25.0% in their last two games have submarined Carolina's chances of winning.

The Gamecocks also need to find a way to avoid the high number of two-point jumpers they continue to take - 42.5% of their shots (versus a national average of 29.3%).  Given that the 'Cocks only shoot 37.7% from this range, these shots simply aren't efficient enough to be worth their while.  Carolina needs to either get the ball outside to take 3s (where they can hit shots, as four major contributors in the backcourt - Notice, Thornwell, Williams, and Johnson - all shoot over 36% from downtown) or get to the rim, where they can get either higher-percentage shots, free throws, or both.

In each of their first two SEC wins, A&M has shot over 40% from beyond the arc while shooting below 41% from two-points.  If the Gamecocks can keep the Aggies at the latter percentage, there's a good chance their three-point shooting comes back to Earth, which could well mean a Carolina victory in College Station.  The Gamecocks continue to knock on the door for their first SEC win of the season.  Come 8pm Wednesday night, they have another chance to walk through it.

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