Gamecocks head to Athens to take on surging Bulldogs

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina's struggled in close games thus far in conference play. Meanwhile, Georgia enters the game 3-1 in the SEC thanks in part to two overtime wins. If the game is close late, will form hold?

South Carolina makes the quick drive across the Savannah River on Wednesday to take on the Georgia Bulldogs in SEC play.  The Gamecocks continue to hunt for their first conference win of the season, while Georgia hopes to build on their surprising 3-1 start in SEC play.

Georgia surprised many observers over the last two weeks by jumping out to their early-season record in conference play, given they went 6-6 in non-conference action earlier this season.  Out of the SEC, the Bulldogs lost not only to decent opponents like Colorado and George Washington on the road, but also got swept in their three-game trip to Charleston, SC by average opposition (Nebraska, Davidson, and Temple - none of whom will play in the NCAA tournament), while also dropping a home game against rival Georgia Tech.  Western Carolina likely represented their best non-conference win, as the Dawgs did go 4-0 against the Southern Conference (Wofford, Appalachian State, Chattanooga, along with their win over the Catamounts).

Despite their poor non-conference play, Georgia opened SEC play strongly, with a road overtime win over Missouri and two home wins against Alabama and Arkansas (the latter also in overtime).  In the middle, Florida smoked them by 22 in Gainesville, a score not that different from Carolina's 16-point loss to the Gators.  There doesn't seem to be much separation between these teams except for good fortune late in conference games - can such an even match-up give Carolina it's first SEC win of the year?

The Four Factors (Pomeroy Rankings)
When USC has the ball When UGA has the ball
USC Off. UGA Def. Edge UGA Off. USC Def. Edge
248 65 UGA BIG eFG% 197 110 USC
314 304 PUSH TO% 248 55 USC BIG
14 107 USC OReb% 56 231 UGA BIG
49 189 USC FTR 26 342 UGA BIG
Shooting (percentages)
When USC has the ball When UGA has the ball
USC Off. UGA Def. UGA Off. USC Def. NCAA Avg.
68.8% - FT% 65.7% - 69.5%
45.6% 43.1% 2P% 49.1% 49.8% 48.5%
35.7% - 3P% 31.9% - 34.2%
25.5% 34.7% 3PA% 24% 35.2% 32.8%

Georgia may look a lot like South Carolina on offense on Wednesday night, as both teams struggle to make shots and take care of the basketball, but try to make up for that with additional scoring opportunities created by extra possessions (on offensive rebounds) and extra shots (from the free throw line).  The Bulldogs also don't take a lot of 3s, though unlike South Carolina, their aversion stems from a woeful shooting percentage from outside - under 32%.

One thing Georgia does do is slow it down offensively - they only take 1-of-6 field goals in transition and their offensive possessions last on average almost 19 seconds, one of the slowest in the nation.  In conference play, the Gamecocks have played at the fastest pace in the SEC so far (in large part due to playing in games with tons of turnovers), so it will be interesting to see if either team can force its pace on the other.

Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines play the majority of the minutes for Georgia in the backcourt.  Mann struggles with turnovers but loves going to the rim and getting to the line - he's taken 115 free throws already this season.  South Carolina's guards and big men have to keep him away from there, because while his 66% rate from the line isn't lethal, he makes up for it with volume of attempts.

On the wing, sophomore Brandon Morris has seen increased minutes, and deservedly given he hits almost 60% of his shots from the field.  Post players Nemanja Djurisic, Marcus Thornton, and Donte' Williams (all between 6'8" and 6'9") man a somewhat undersized post for the Dawgs.  Djurisic steps out frequently to hit 3s on offense (he's 19-38 outside) while Thornton and Williams stay inside for rebounds - each grab over 10% of those available to them, both top 300 rates in the nation.

Defensively, the Bulldogs do defend the rim well - they only let teams shoot 32% of shots there (against a 38% national average) and hold teams to 58% from that range, again under the national average.  The Bulldogs get beat defensively because they let teams shoot from 3 and give up lots of shots - they're woeful at forcing turnovers and not exceptional at defending the glass on defense or keeping teams off the line.  It may be hard to hit shots against Georgia, but you'll get plenty of chances.

For the Gamecocks, Georgia coach Mark Fox singled out Sindarius Thornwell for praise on the weekly teleconference, saying "he's a better player as a freshman than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was for us."  Given that Pope was a top ten draft pick in the NBA Draft after his sophomore season, that's very high praise.

Thornwell remains efficient offensively despite his youth and the heavy load the Gamecocks ask him to carry - he uses 25% of our possessions offensively (top 400 in the nation and most on the team) and still scores efficiently thanks to a combination of a decent eFG (45.6%) with a great FTRate (55.7%, top 300 in the nation) and a decent stroke from the line (68.2%).

Brenton Williams looks to bounce back from an 0-10 performance from the field against Mississippi, but despite that he still represents a strong offensive player because even in a performance like that, he scrambled for 9 points thanks to his ability to get to the free throw line and convert.  It's likely he'll find his shot soon, and when he does, he'll continue to be a weapon for the Gamecocks.

The rest of the Gamecocks remain the same story - guys who mix in strengths and weaknesses.  It will be interesting to see if Jaylen Shaw continues to get major minutes in Tyrone Johnson's absence, and if he can continue to convert 3s at the incredible rate he's hit them at thus far (10-22, 45%).  Coupled with his 50% shooting from 2 and 82% shooting from the line, he's playing a lot like a better-shooting Duane Notice offensively, as both continue to combine strong assist rates with weak turnover rates (each is between 25-30% on both numbers).

For the fourth straight game, the Gamecocks walk into an arena matched up just about evenly with their opponent.  It seems likely that, for the fourth straight game, they'll likely enter the last 10 minutes in a tight game and with a chance to make a play to get a win.  On Wednesday, they'll try to change the way the story ends for the first time in SEC play this season.

The game tips off at 8pm on SECTV from Athens, Georgia.

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