In its first eight SEC games, linesmaker have favored South Carolina once and its opponent seven times. In the seven games it entered as underdogs, Carolina is 0-7. The other one? An 80-52 blowout in a mid-week game against a weak SEC opponent that plays its football in the SEC West. Can Carolina run it back?
The differences are superficial, but Auburn and Texas A&M represent similar teams with regard to quality. However, A&M entered Columbia on a three-game losing streak (which has since blossomed to five). Auburn enters the Colonial Life Arena on the back of a two-game winning streak, which helped the Tigers wash away the bad taste in their mouths from an 0-6 start, the same way South Carolina started SEC play.
|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|
|34||297||USC BIG||FTR||73||350||Aub BIG|
|When USC has the ball||When Aub. has the ball|
|USC Off.||Aub Def.||Aub. Off.||USC Def.||NCAA Avg.|
When on offense, Auburn does its best to score by getting to the hoop and either getting baskets or getting fouled, and they do that through exactly two guys - Chris Denson and K.T. Harrell. In the first 19 games, those two have taken 334 two-point shots. The rest of the Tigers have combined for 341.
The two guards both shoot the ball well, avoid turnovers, and get to the line. Particularly, Chris Denson has taken 176 free throws this season - that's tied for 18th most in the nation. Carolina's struggled at times this season with interior defense against quick guards - the game in Athens most readily comes to mind - so Martin and his staff will need to devise a plan that helps his guards protect the rim against Auburn's two big slashers.
At the point, Tahj Shamsid-Deen, a 5'10" freshman plays most of Auburn's minutes, and has had a very productive freshman season, shooting the ball efficiently from both inside (55% from 2) and outside (33% from 3), while handing out over 3 assists per game against 1.4 turnovers per game in 28.3 minutes per game. He's not the focal point of the Tiger offense, but he keeps it running.
Auburn uses an interesting mix in the post, where it pairs undersized power forward Allen Payne (a 6'6" senior) with Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (a 7'0" senior). Payne focuses his game primarily on defense, where he grabs a ton of rebounds and a surprising number of steals (1.2 per game, a great rate for a big man).
Dixon-Tatum is a monster on the interior, grabbing 15.6% of offensive rebounds available to him (top 20 in the nation) and blocking nearly 10% of shots opponents take while he's playing. Not while he's guarding his one particular man - for every 10 shots taken by an Auburn opponent from inside the arc while Dixon-Tatum is on the floor, he blocks one. That's a lot of blocks. A 6'9" freshman named Matthew Atewe - whose playing time has increased since junior forward Chris Griffin went down with an injury - also does that job on the defensive end, blocking over 11% of opponents' shots taken when he's out there. Twos will be tough to find against Auburn.
So how does Carolina respond? The way it normally does. All five of USC's big men rebound at least 10% of the offensive rebounds available to them when they're out there, and Auburn doesn't hammer the glass particularly hard. The Gamecocks will also aim to get to the line against a Tiger defense that sends you to the line. Aside from blocking shots, Auburn doesn't do anything incredibly well on defense, so the Gamecocks should have plenty of chances to score points.
Unless, of course, they don't get shots off. Given their strength of offensive rebounding, turnovers hurt Carolina more than most teams, because a large part of their offense comes through second-chance opportunities. Duane Notice will need to improve on his 8-turnover performance against Ole Miss on Saturday, as will Sindarius Thornwell, who coughed the ball up 6 times in an otherwise fine performance.
Carolina will also continue to look to Brenton Williams to lead the way. The only upperclassmen that still sees minutes (thanks to injuries and attrition at the point guard spot), Williams has stepped into his role as the offensive spark plug that drives this team over the last four games, averaging 22.8 points per game during that stretch.
Their effectiveness will depend in part on the post play, which has wavered over the last few games. One thing has become clear - when the Gamecocks play Chatkevicius and/or Carrera, the offense works better. At this point, Henry isn't efficient enough, and Kacinas and Ringer don't take on enough responsibility. Carrera's started the last four games and Carrera's played at least 15 minutes in each of those as well, signaling that Martin thinks that increased minutes from those guys are good for the team. While it hasn't always turned into great defense - the four-game sample includes Georgia - the offense has scored at least one point per possession in each of those games. In the first four SEC games, Carolina only topped that mark once, in its 75-67 loss to Texas A&M.
Vegas puts Carolina as four-point favorites as of this writing. The game can be viewed on ESPN3 for those of you outside the Columbia area and with internet capabilities (which, if you're reading this, you likely have). For those around the Colonial Life Arena, this marks an excellent opportunity for the Gamecocks to grab another SEC win, and for you to go see the future of this program, as it plays only one guy past his sophomore season (Brenton Williams). The game tips off at 7:30pm.