South Carolina takes on its second major opponent of the season on Saturday afternoon, and tries to grab its first win major out-of-conference win since 2009, when they beat Baylor on the road. The game on Saturday offers them another chance to take down a major Big XII opponent, as Oklahoma State comes to Columbia looking to continue its undefeated season, a record built up primarily against weaker opposition.
|The Four Factors (Pomeroy Rankings)|
|When USC has the ball (KP Rk.)||When Ok. St. has the ball (KP Rk.)|
|USC Off.||Ok. St. Def.||Edge||Ok. St. Off.||USC Def.||Edge|
|228||169||Push||FTR||22||248||Ok. St. Big|
|When USC has the ball||When Ok. St. has the ball (KP Rk.)|
|USC Off.||Ok. St. Def.||Ok. St. Off.||USC Def.||NCAA Avg.|
The fact Oklahoma State has started the season playing less formidable opposition certainly skews these numbers, but make no mistake - the Cowboys are an excellent basketball team.
When they have the ball, Oklahoma State does a great job of avoiding turnovers and getting shots off. Typically, those shots are 3s - they are 20th in the nation with a 44.3% 3PA/FGA ratio. Despite that, they actually do a better job of hitting shots from inside, where they're knocking down 58% of their 2s (11th in the nation). Of course, the fact that teams spend so much time defensively trying to guard the Cowboys out on the line opens up space on the interior, which helps explain their solid 2P%. Still, that's easier said than done.
The Cowboys also do a great job when they do get inside of getting themselves opportunities at the free throw line, with an FTR of 50.9% (22nd). That's an issue for Carolina, who have otherwise been very strong on defense this year in basically all phases except for avoiding fouls. Between giving away easy points on the defensive end and potentially crippling an already short rotation - there's no word yet if Michael Carrera can play - the ability to avoid fouls may decide whether USC can stay in the game on Saturday.
However, the bigger concern for Carolina comes primarily on the offensive end, where they continue to struggle, at least relative to their defense. USC's done a much better job this season of hitting 2s, but their woeful 3P% (28.3%, 289th in the nation) holds their offense back. They've also not done as good a job as they have in prior years of creating additional chances from the free throw line, which is the one area where Oklahoma State has exhibited at least some weakness this season. Of course, the Cowboys haven't faced a murderer's row of opponents, so some of these strengths are inflated, but if their defense is as good as it looks, South Carolina may struggle to score enough to stay in the game.
It's no surprise to see Sindarius Thornwell taking up a lot of space on the left-hand side of each of these charts. The issue is that he's taking too many shots for someone who's only scoring 18% of the team's points. Right now, when Sin's on the court, over 30% of Carolina's shots come out of his hand. That's putting too much pressure on him and limiting his ability to be effective.
That comes from a few issues, but I think the primary one is pairing him with Marcus Stroman and Mindaugas Kacinas at the same time. Stroman and Kacinas each take just 13% of the team's shots when they're on the court, so that means the other 74% of shots need to be spread among just three players. That makes life a lot easier on a defense, especially considering that, of Kacinas' 25 two-point attempts this year, eight have been putbacks, which means he's even less of a threat to shoot when we're simply running our offense.
While fewer minutes from Stroman may hurt in some ways, it could create more opportunities to play a line-up with Thornwell, Notice, and Johnson, the three players everyone expected would lead this team coming into the season. So far, Johnson hasn't really gotten going offensively, but Notice has been excellent in every game but for his disappearing act against Baylor. Still, it's only been on the floor together about 20% of the time the last five games, and it seems like that should tick up at least a bit against such a quality opponent.
In the post, Laimonas Chatkevicius continues to break out with his post play, and Mindaugas Kacinas - despite his desire not to shoot - has played very capably. The big issue for the Gamecocks is that they can only rotate three guys through the post, and Demetrius Henry hasn't picked it up yet on the offensive end, shooting just 49% and turning the ball over far too often for a post player (then again, so are the other post players but for Carrera). He's also only half figured it out on defense - his 6 blocks (a 5.5% rate) are fine, but the 7.5 fouls per 40 minutes means he can't stay on the court or defend without giving up free shots.
For the Cowboys, returning guard Phil Forte leads the charge, stroking a 38% rate on 3s so far. He gets a lot of his shots from LSU transfer PG Anthony Hickey, a senior who's capably stepped into the role vacated by the departed Marcus Smart. Oklahoma State also rolls out senior Le'Bryan Nash, a 6'7" senior that dominates the ball and the paint, as he's already taken 45 free throws (hitting 38) and shooting 54% from 2. He'll be a nightmare match-up for anyone in the post for the Gamecocks.
All in all, it's not an easy match-up at all for the Gamecocks, but they'll certainly have a chance against one of the best teams they'll face all year, in part because they'll have a home-court advantage in the Colonial Life Arena. Carolina's had three close games this year, and not been able to pull any of them out. They should be in this one late - can the worm finally turn?