Gamecocks favored to grab first SEC win on Wednesday night

Michael Carrera's improved his play over the last few games. - Jamie Squire

Vegas installed South Carolina as a slight favorite to beat Texas A&M in Columbia on Wednesday. Can the Gamecocks finally get over the hump?

Fourteen short days ago, the Gamecocks led Texas A&M 37-34 with just over one minute to go in the first half.  Tyrone Johnson streaked down the left-hand side of the court and toward the lane.  In that moment, we stepped on the foot of an official who lurked into play when he quickly changed direction.  Johnson suffered a broken foot, the official cruelly awarded the basketball to Texas A&M, and the Aggies outscored the Gamecocks 41-30 in the last 21 minutes of the contest to take a 75-67 victory.

Despite the loss of Johnson, the loss to the Aggies, and the other five conference losses, Vegas installed Carolina as 1.5-point favorites over A&M on Wednesday night.  Can Carolina grab its first SEC win?

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
239 37 A&M BIG eFG% 176 171 Push
310 59 A&M BIG TO% 143 62 USC
23 135 USC OReb% 258 242 Push
42 98 USC FTR 122 350 A&M BIG
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.
69.2% - FT% 65.5% - 69.7%
45.1% 44.9% 2P% 49.7% 50.5% 48.5%
37.1% - 3P% 32.3% - 34.3%
26.7% 35.4% 3PA% 32.1% 35.3% 32.8%

In their game two weeks ago, Carolina got beat because it only forced one of eight Aggie players that saw the court to shoot less than 50% from two-point range.  More damningly, they coupled that performance with giving up 41 free-throw attempts, which means that the Gamecocks gave up a 15-24 shooting performance from two despite committing well over a dozen fouls that served no purpose but stopping A&M from making two-point shots.  While it's frustrating to see the Gamecocks foul so much, you sometimes wonder how bad things would be for their interior defense if they didn't.

There's no shame in getting beat by Texas A&M, but losing because you can't stop them is nearly inexcusable, and it the previous meeting is rated as one of the Gamecocks worst defensive performances of the season.

The good news is that Carolina put up one of its best offensive performances of the season, scoring over a point a possession against a very strong defensive unit.  Sindarius Thornwell struggled, the team shot a lackluster 28% on 3-pointers (5-18), and put up a terrible turnover percentage (17, or 27% of possessions).  So how were they around at the end?

Simply stated, South Carolina had a chance late because of its interior play. It coupled 18-31 shooting from the inside - helped along by a 13-19 conversion rate at the rim - with voracious offensive rebounding (grabbing 12 of 31 opportunities) to dominate the paint on that side of the floor.  While the post players have taken deserved grief of late, the five post players went 12-15 in College Station.  It might be asking too much to repeat that performance, but anything close that's paired with improved defense, a better turnover rate, or a slightly higher 3-point shot percentage, likely gives the Gamecocks their first conference win of the season, a shot in the arm that both the program and its fan base could use at this point in the season.

Since their match-up in College Station, the Gamecocks and Aggies have combined for six SEC losses.  While Carolina lost at home to Ole Miss, got blown out in Athens, and fell by 8 to Missouri, A&M dropped road contests to Mississippi State (in overtime) and Kentucky (by 17), as well as an 11-point loss to a very mediocre Vanderbilt team.  Frankly, there's a reason the Gamecocks are favored to win - A&M isn't very good.

As we covered in our last preview of the Aggies, A&M at its best is slightly above-average on offense and a lock-down defense.  At their worst, they give up 66 points to Vanderbilt in just 59 possessions while scoring only 55 themselves.

The Aggie defense has one weakness that sticks out - it lets teams hoist 3s and hopes they miss.  If you buy the theory that 3-point shot defense doesn't really exist, that means A&M plays the lottery on a nightly basis.  With Brenton Williams coming in off a 32-point performance where he went 7-14 from long range, that may not be a recipe for success for the Aggies on Wednesday night.

The Gamecocks and Aggies tip off at 7pm ET from the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, SC.  The game can be viewed on ESPN3.

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