Gamecocks try to take last chance for road win in Starkville

The Bulldogs haven't flown very high against SEC opponents this season. - Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina, led by Matt Figger, tries to grab their first road win of the year and lock in 13th place in the SEC on Saturday afternoon against Mississippi State.

South Carolina finishes its regular season on Saturday afternoon with a 4pm contest against the last-place Mississippi State Bulldogs in Starkville, Mississippi. The winner of the game will be the 13th seed in the SEC tournament and face off against the 12 seed, most likely Auburn. The loser finishes last in the conference and takes on the 11 seed next Wednesday, most likely Alabama. Also, Carolina faces it last chance to grab a win in a true road game this season, as it's so far gone 0-11 in such contests, losing 8 conference games as well as 3 non-conference tilts (Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Clemson - all potential NCAA tournament teams, to be fair to the Gamecocks).

With such low stakes, it's a bit of a surprise that Carolina basketball's been on the tip of a lot of tongues over the last 24 hours. Though that has a lot less to do with the actual game, and a lot more to do with the fact that their head coach, Frank Martin, won't be around to coach it.

The Four Factors (Pomeroy Rankings)
When USC has the ball When MSU has the ball
USC Off. MSU Def. Edge MSU Off. USC Def. Edge
287 230 Push eFG% 231 164 Push
321 46 MSU Big TO% 276 70 USC Big
12 145 USC OReb% 271 308 Push
59 44 Push FTR 111 346 MSU Big
Shooting (percentages)
When USC has the ball When MSU has the ball
USC Off. MSU Def. MSU Off. USC Def. NCAA Avg.
70.5% - FT% 66.2% - 69.8%
43.9% 52.8% 2P% 49.4% 49.5% 48.5%
36.4% - 3P% 30% - 34.5%
27.7% 35.3% 3PA% 28.3% 35.7% 32.9%

As for the action on the court, Carolina actually stands a decent chance of grabbing a win on Saturday against a very weak Mississippi State team. State's offense is woeful, averaging just 0.939 points per possession in SEC play (last in the conference) and only eclipsing the national average of 1.045 points per possession in 4 of their 17 SEC contests. And on the other side of the ball, they've only held SEC opponents below that national average, again, in 4 of their 17 SEC games.

Unsurprisingly, that means the Bulldogs haven't won many SEC games (3, one of which was against a Marshall Henderson-less Ole Miss squad), and they enter Saturday's match-up with a 12-game losing streak. There's a bit of bad luck required to lose 12 in a row, but not much - the average margin of defeat is 13 points, and only 3 of those 12 losses came by less than 10 points.

The Bulldogs struggle on offense almost completely, with their primary strength coming from a reasonable ability to get to the free throw line. That's an ability they - and frankly, anyone - can press against the Gamecocks foul-prone defense. State boasts 4 players with at least 98 free throw attempts this season, and they shoot both a low number of 3s (28.3% of their field goals, 282nd in the nation) and a low percentage on those shots (30%, 328th), so they have to find their points from either 2-point shots or free throws.

Trivante Bloodman and Craig Sword lead the Bulldogs from the guard spot, with Sword as State's leading scorer with 13.2 points per contest. Bloodman shoots effectively when he shoots (a 51.6% eFG, second-best on the team) but struggles to get his shot, with his 122 field goals ranking 7th on the team, despite playing 25 minutes per game.

The other feature player for the Bulldogs is sophomore Gavin Ware, who shoots 59.8% from the field to score just over 10 points a game in the post. He's joined in the post by 6'7" junior Roquez Johnson, who like Ware does a fine job rebounding the ball, but does a much worse job of shooting (a 47.2% eFG). That said, Johnson has taken over 100 free throws this year, so he represents yet another method for State to find points from the free throw line.

Freshman I.J. Ready rounds out the Bulldogs' current starting line-up. He also can't really score, shooting 37.7% from the field to average 5.8 points a game in 24 minutes of action. And yet, his 36.4% rate from 3-point range represents the best percentage of any of State's players. The Bulldogs can't really shoot, can't really score, and can't really play offense. For a Carolina team that hasn't held a team under one point per possession since they hammered Texas A&M at home back on January 29, it represents as good a chance as they'll have to get right defensively before they head to the SEC tournament next week.

The Gamecocks and Bulldogs tip off at 4pm on Saturday afternoon. The game can be seen on SECTV.

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