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Gamecock Basketball: Carolina seeks first SEC win against Ole Miss

Marshall Henderson and the Rebels return to Columbia looking to avenge a loss from last season that nearly derailed their NCAA tournament hopes.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina returns home on Saturday to take on the Ole Miss Rebels, who enter this game 2-1 in SEC play and with an outside chance at an NCAA berth.  The Gamecocks also will commemorate the career of Frank McGuire during Carolina Basketball Legends Weekend, and will host a number of top football recruits while they also honor the 2014 Gamecock football season.  The game tips at 4:30pm.

Update: The game tips off 30 minutes after the conclusion of this beer festival, per @PhilKenSaban:

The Four Factors (Pomeroy Rankings)
When USC has the ball When Miss. has the ball
USC Off. OM Def. Edge OM Off. USC Def. Edge
229 81 MISS eFG% 140 113 PUSH
303 70 MISS BIG TO% 68 69 PUSH
17 310 USC BIG OReb% 123 240 MISS
62 185 USC FTR 120 341 MISS BIG
Shooting (percentages)
When USC has the ball When Miss. has the ball
USC Off. OM Def. OM Off. USC Def. NCAA Avg.
68.9% - FT% 68.6% - 69.4%
45.9% 44.3% 2P% 45.8% 49.2% 48.5%
36.4% - 3P% 38.5% - 34.2%
24.9% 35.5% 3PA% 35.8% 34.8% 32.7%

As Frank Martin noted in his press conference this week, thus far the Gamecocks have the right guys shooting 3s this season, as their 36.4% 3P% attests.  The problem is, since the Gamecocks take fewer than 1-of-4 shots from outside, they don't reap the full benefits of that percentage.  The Rebels provide a nice contrast, as they hit 38.5% of their 3PAs, but since they take 10% more of their shots from long range, it results in a much higher output (Ole Miss scores 31.8% of its points from downtown - 58th in the NCAA - while despite their shooting success the Gamecocks only score 21.1% of their points from 3, which is 290th).

With Tyrone Johnson out of the line-up, Duane Notice and Brenton Williams take on increased responsibilities.  Williams remains the best offensive threat on the court for Carolina, with the highest eFG of among those playing at least 10 minutes a game while taking a healthy percentage of shots (25.8% of those while on the court).  Notice normally only takes 17.9% of Carolina's shots when he plays, but with Johnson's 22.7% rate out the window, Duane needs to pick up both his minutes as well as his production.  The assists are there (roughly in line with Ty on a per-minute basis), but Notice needs to create more shots, or else even more pressure gets shifted onto Sindarius Thornwell.

Speaking of Thornwell, he continues to struggle from the field, though he makes up for it in large part by an ability to get to the line (78 FTs against 142 FGAs) regularly enough to compensate.  Currently he takes 2/3 of his 2s as jumpers, where he only makes 33%.  If he can penetrate more often and more effectively, it should help him bolster that percentage just by getting better shots (he shoots 56% on shots at the rim).

In the frontcourt, Demetrius Henry's recent foul struggles have shifted more minutes onto Desmond Ringer, who responded on Wednesday with 9 points in 28 minutes on 3-3 shooting from the field (and 3-6 from the line) to go along with seven rebounds and two assists.  His continued strong play gives Carolina another weapon in the frontcourt, which it seems to need given its foul struggles of late.  Of course, Ringer's extended minutes contribute to those foul troubles, as he commits 7.8 fouls per 40 minutes on the floor.  In fact, no Gamecock frontcourt player commits fewer than 5 per 40 minutes (Carrera has the lowest mark at 5.1), so those guys should continue to rotate.

Speaking of Carrera, he continues to struggle to get minutes (just over 16 a game) but  quietly put together an excellent game against A&M, where he scored 7 points in 11 minutes and added 4 steals with 3 rebounds (1 offensive).  Laimonas Chatkevicius also seems to warrant an increased role, as he's now shooting over 60% on field goals this season.  At that rate of production, he'd score 9 points a game if he played Kacinas' minutes.  With Mindaugas only putting up 5.7 a game in his 24 minutes a game, it may be worth sacrificing some defense to get more points, especially with the loss of Ty pushing more offense onto other players.

As for Ole Miss, you can't talk about the Rebels without discussing Marshall Henderson.  The mercurial senior continues to shoot with abandon (he takes 35.5% of Ole Miss's shots when he plays, 12th in the nation), though he also assists on almost 20% of his teammates' buckets when he's out there.  Basically, the offense goes through Henderson.  His 39.3% 3P% means Carolina has to get out on him and appreciate the lack of risk in doing so - he's only taken 41 2s this year (against 150 3s) and only made 26.8% of those.  Of course, the fact he has so many assists certainly suggests he can be dangerous when he gets inside without shooting, but if Carolina has to pick its poison, I'd go with letting Henderson beat me passing.

The other big player for the Rebels is point guard Jarvis Summers, who regularly finds his way into the lane to either take pull-up jumpers or pass to open Rebels for easy points.  He hits over 50% from both 2 and 3, so whoever draws this defensive assignment needs to stick him.  Given his three-point shooting percentage and Henderson's, it'll likely be a man assigned to him - zone isn't going to work against a team that can shoot like Ole Miss.

The rest of the Rebels contribute at far lower levels of effectiveness - small forward LaDarius White and back-up point guard Derrick Millinghaus both take plenty of shots but can't hit them (43.3% and 41.9% eFG, respectively).

Meanwhile the three-headed frontline of Demarco Cox, Aaron Jones, and Sebastian Siaz each takes fewer than 15% of the shots available while they're on the court, so despite their relative efficiency, they don't make much noise offensively - a great match-up for a Carolina team that struggles to guard at the rim (teams shoot over 60% there and take over 1/3 of their shots there), they'll be happy to face a team that's below the national average of shots at the rim (31.5%, compared to an average of 38.3%) and makes them at a lower rate as well (57.2% versus 60.9%).

However, the big guys do impact the other end of the floor in a big way - they block shots.  Each of the three blocks at least 4.9% of the 2s attempted while they're out there, the primary reason Ole Miss sports a block percentage of 17.8% (6th in NCAA) and a two-point field goal defense of 44.3% (61st).  On offense, the Gamecocks either have to avoid getting their shots blocked or take shots that are more difficult to block - 3s.

The Rebels aren't a fringe NCAA team as it stands, and the home game marks an excellent opportunity for Carolina to secure its first SEC win of the season, despite the absence of Johnson.  Carolina will hope for an enthused crowd to show up to celebrate its past on the hardwood, as well as its present and future on the gridiron.  Tickets remain available for the 4:30 tip, and the game can also be enjoyed on the Fox Sports Network.