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Gamecock Basketball: Carolina tries to score a win against LSU

The Gamecocks face their second straight elite defense on Saturday in their SEC home opener, but with LSU reeling from two straight losses due to sub-par offensive performances, can they grab their first SEC win against an NCAA tournament hopeful?

Brenton Williams flies into the paint against the Florida Gators.
Brenton Williams flies into the paint against the Florida Gators.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Gamecocks won four in a row heading into Gainesville, and after falling behind 14-1 in the first six minutes, acquitted themselves quite well in Gainesville, though ultimately falling 74-58.  But they head home this weekend with a chance to add a second quality win (after St. Mary's) to their season ledger.

South Carolina takes the court on Saturday trying to bounce back from its loss against Florida on Wednesday evening against the LSU Tigers, a team with NCAA tournament goals that have taken a hit of late.

The Tigers come to Columbia on a disappointing two-game losing streak, both of which came in Baton Rouge - against a not very good Rhode Island squad 74-70 and a 68-50 shellacking at the hands of Tennessee on Tuesday night.  Before that, aside from two good losses to UMass and Memphis, the Tigers strung together a strong non-conference season littered with wins over sub-standard competition and four wins over some above-average squads (at Texas Tech, at home over UAB, and St. Joseph's and Butler at a neutral site), if not any NCAA tournament teams.

This game is important for both teams.  Each will be trying to avoid starting conference play 0-2, and both will want the win to help bolster their chances at post-season play, with the Tigers angling for a spot in the NCAAs, while Carolina hopes to go .500 in SEC play so that they can end the season with a winning record, which would qualify them for any tournament that will have the Gamecocks.

The Four Factors (Pomeroy Rankings)
When USC has the ball When LSU has the ball
USC Off. LSU Def. Edge LSU Off. USC Def. Edge
235 8 LSU BIG eFG% 135 101 PUSH
267 93 LSU BIG TO% 276 77 USC BIG
13 237 USC BIG OReb% 38 240 LSU BIG
89 85 PUSH FTR 340 327 PUSH
Shooting (percentages)
When USC has the ball When LSU has the ball
USC Off. LSU Def. LSU Off. USC Def. NCAA Avg.
68.6 FT% 66.5 69.4
45.4 40.2 2P% 50.6 49.2 48.6
37.2 3P% 33.1 34.1
24.2 26.6 3PA% 30.8 34.7 32.7

When Carolina has the ball, they'll try to recover from their turnover issues in the game against Florida.  Luke Winn of posted this exceptional chart of South Carolina's first 33 possessions the other night, where it took Carolina 25 possessions to get under a 50% turnover rate overall (they'd finish with a 32% rate thanks to strong ball security over the last 10 minutes).

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LSU brings in about as strong a defense as Florida's, allowing over one point per possession in only four of their first 13 games, where three of those performances came against strong offensive teams - Tennessee in their last game, Massachusetts in their first game, and Memphis over Thanksgiving.  But while the Gators mostly stifled Carolina with their ability to create turnovers, LSU beats teams the most basic way possible - it stops you from making shots.

The Tigers have been hellish to score against this year.  They don't allow you to make 2s (that 40.2% rate is 8th in the nation) and don't allow you to take 3s (only 26.6% of opponents' shots come from there, 31st in NCAA), all while doing a pretty solid job of keeping you off the line.  And that's if you get the shot off at all - a fifth of LSU defensive possessions end in turnovers.  While they give away offensive rebounds - an area Carolina can exploit - this is a team that makes every offensive possession hard.

Why does it work?  Because LSU makes sure you miss over 1-of-7 shots by blocking them, and it makes you take hard 2s - the jumpers.  Here's a breakdown of the percentage of shots taken from each area of the court.  The top row shows the average of LSU's opponents on offense; the latter shows the NCAA average for shot location:

At Rim 3-pointers 2P jumpers
LSU Opp. 33.8% 26.6% 39.6%
Nat'l Avg. 38.3% 32.3% 29.3%

This could be a bad match-up for South Carolina, given on its current insistence at trying to score inside.  Despite shooting 45.4% from 2 (278th in the nation), South Carolina takes over 3-of-4 FGAs from there, even though it shoots over 37% from 3 (65th in the NCAA).  The Gamecocks already run their offense through their weakness, and doubling-down on that choice against LSU seems a poor idea.  Given that LSU only allows teams to take just over a quarter of their shots from 3PA (31st-lowest in the nation), Carolina may not have a choice.

So why does Carolina have a chance?  On the other end, the Tigers struggle.  Of their eight key players, LSU relies on the only three who shoot over 50% from 2PA - 6'9" junior Johnny O'Bryant, 6'8" freshman Jordan Mickey, and 6'5" senior Chavon Coleman - despite the fact that 58% of their points (32nd in the nation) come from 2s.  While Coleman mixes it up by taking plenty of 3s as well, O'Bryant and Mickey are volume scorers who each take about 50% of their shots at the rim and 50% as two-point jumpers - and each makes over 50% from either spot.  Once again, Carolina's defense will have its hands full in the paint, but

LSU's starting guards stand out for their ball handling - each is rated in the top 500 players in the nation in both assist rate as well as turnover rate.  It's a good thing, for multiple reasons.  Junior Anthony Hickey and senior Andre Stringer both shoot under 50% from 2P (though both are over 35% from downtown), which means if you have to have someone on LSU shooting, it's better them than the big guys, although it's not a fool-proof plan - Stringer averages 11.5 ppg and Stringer adds 9.1 points.

But from the Tigers perspective, they need these guys avoiding turnovers, because the guys in the post don't - each of them turns the ball over three times per 40 minutes played, which means over ten turnovers a game are coming from players other than your guards.  It's especially important because the three guys who see the most minutes off LSU's bench - sophomore Malik Morgan, and freshmen Jarell Martin and Tim Quarterman - all turn the ball over on over 20% of their possessions.

Speaking of avoiding turnovers, the Gamecocks will once again try to figure out a way to improve their ball security, which currently results in a turnover on over 20% of possessions (across the NCAA, teams average 18.6%).  The main culprits are Duane Notice, Sindarius Thornwell, and Mindaugas Kacinas, who all give the ball away over three times every 40 minutes, and combined for 12 of Carolina's 21 turnovers in Gainesville.

However, they remain three of the seven guys who really play most of the minutes for Carolina right now, along with Tyrone Johnson and Brenton Williams up top and Michael Carrera and Demetrius Henry in the post.  And that line-up may struggle against Of those seven, no one is shooting over 50% from 2PA, which is cause for concern against this ferocious LSU defense.

While many of the match-ups don't appear to favor South Carolina, it's not as if LSU is indestructible.  In their four losses, no one has managed to shoot over 50% from 2 against them, so a tough outing there doesn't preclude victory.

However, each team that beat LSU did shoot an effective field goal percentage (measured as (2P+(3P*1.5))/FGA, to properly credit 3-pointers for being worth more) of at least 47%, and found success in at least one other area offensively - Memphis and UMass kept their turnover rates under 16%, while Rhode Island and Tennessee got tons of shots by rebounding over 43% of their misses.  Defensively, three of the four teams that beat the Tigers did so by keeping their eFG under 50% and not getting smoked anywhere else.  Of course, Memphis being Memphis, they just forced turnovers on 33% of LSU's possessions, because that's how the Tigers from west Tennessee roll.

LSU is beatable, and the Gamecocks can beat them, though it'll be a tough match-up.  It certainly wouldn't hurt if the Gamecocks had a strong home crowd to back them up, as this will be just the third time LSU takes to the road this season (they lost by two at UMass, and beat Texas Tech when its students were away on winter break in Lubbock).  The game tips off from the Colonial Life Arena at 1:30pm on Saturday, and can be watched on SEC TV or WatchESPN.