Given their reliance on Sindarius Thornwell and Brenton Williams, South Carolina can't begrudge Auburn its reliance on two players. Given the make-up of these two teams, Wednesday night's game likely will come down not to a 5-on-5 game, but a 2-on-2 match-up between four stellar guards.
The last time these two teams met, Chris Denson and K.T. Harrell outscored Thornwell and Williams 50-37, with Thornwell putting up just 8 points, one of only three times in the Gamecocks' 14 SEC games where the freshmen failed to score 10 or more points. If the Gamecocks want a different result down on the Plains, they need to do a better job of defending Auburn's electric duo, and make sure both of their guys come to play.
A win would be the Gamecocks' first true road win of the season, and depending on results elsewhere (Mississippi State hosts Tennessee on Wednesday) could get them out of last place in the SEC, where they are currently tied with the Bulldogs from the Magnolia State. Given that Carolina is four games back of 10th place in the SEC at the moment (the top 10 teams in the SEC get first-round byes in the SEC tournament), this mostly matters for pride, but it can't hurt a young team looking for things to build on as they finish out the 2013-14 season.
|The Four Factors (Pomeroy Rankings)|
|When USC has the ball||When Aub. has the ball|
|USC Off.||Aub. Def.||Edge||Aub. Off.||USC Def.||Edge|
|60||314||USC BIG||FTR||80||343||Aub. BIG|
|When USC has the ball||When Aub. has the ball|
|USC Off.||Aub. Def.||Aub. Off.||USC Def.||NCAA Avg.|
Offensively, over 49% of the field goals the Tigers' have hoisted this season have come from either Harrell or Denson (687 of 1392). That's stark - even though Carolina relies on two players for most of their offense as well, Williams and Thornwell only take 38% of the Gamecocks' shots (560 of 1477).
Denson scores 20.3 points a game with all those shots, doing most of his damage from inside the arc, where he hits 53% of his 2s (against 25% of his 3s) and from the foul line, where 156 of his 508 points have come (31%). In fact, Denson draws 8.2 fouls for every 40 minutes he plays - a rate second in the nation. If you thought Charles Mann from Georgia got to the line a lot, Chris Denson's even better.
Harrell does his damage from a wider array of locations, namely 3-point range. He's taken 133 free throws (86%), 154 threes (36%), and 182 twos (51%), which spreads his 18.7 points per game around. He's also the Tigers' only legitimate outside threat, as no other Auburn player makes more than one-of-three 3-point attempts.
Auburn doesn't rely much on their bench, so expect to see these two along with point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen and power forward Allen Payne on the floor most of the evening. Shamsid-Deen does a very nice job as a freshman point guard of protecting the basketball (a 15.6% turnover rate) and scoring relatively efficiently (9.6 points a game), while Payne mostly contributes through defensive rebounding and a surprisingly high steal rate (1.2 per game as a forward).
Center Asuhn Dixon-Tatum doesn't play quite as many minutes as those guys (just over 20), but he contributes in big ways - he rebounds 14.5% of Auburn's missed shots when he's on the court and blocks nearly 1-in-10 two-point shots taken by opponents while he's playing. When he's in foul trouble (which he is regularly), freshman Matthew Atewe steps in and provides a similar presence - little scoring, but tons of blocks (9.8% of opponents' 2s) and offensive rebounds (over 10%). Auburn only gives you one big man to worry about normally, but you need to worry about him.
The Tigers enter the game at 12-13 (4-10 in the SEC) with almost no wins of note this season except for a huge upset of Clemson at home earlier this year, a game that may keep Brad Brownlee's bunch out of the NCAAs. Currently, they're on a two-game losing streak, coming off an 8-point home loss to Vanderbilt and a brutal loss in Gainesville, a game where Auburn literally threw away a chance to win the game late.
As for the Gamecocks, they continue to solider on with primarily a three-man rotation in the three guard spots (Duane Notice, Williams, and Thornwell) and an inconsistent rotation of post players to finish out the line-up. Williams continues to have an outstanding senior season, scoring 14.3 points per game backed by a 56.2% eFG while only turning the ball over 1.5 times per every 40 minutes.
In the post, the Gamecocks' best offensive weapons are Michael Carrera (who is now grabbing 14% of his team's misses on the offensive end, 37th-best in the nation) and Laimonas Chatkevicius , who has hit 61.4% of his field goals on the season, a number that would place 44th nationally if he played enough minutes to qualify (20 minutes per game). However, those guys continue not to play major minutes (21 a game for Carrera, 13 for Chatkevicius), leaving the Gamecocks mired in long stretches with at most three scorers on the floor, all guards. Without production from Demetrius Henry, Mindaugas Kacinas, or Desmond Ringer, the Gamecocks likely can't produce enough elsewhere to consistently win.
However, consistently winning and being able to beat Auburn are two different standards. The Tigers enter the game as slight favorites thanks to home-court advantage, but given their performances earlier this season in Oxford and Fayetteville, there's no reason to think South Carolina can't come out with a win. The game tips off at 9pm from Auburn, Alabama on Wednesday evening. Fans can catch the action on FSN.