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Gamecock basketball returns home to face Vanderbilt

South Carolina begins a two-game homestand with a match-up against a Vanderbilt squad it's favored to beat. Can Carolina seize the opportunity to grab its second SEC win of the year and begin its climb out of the SEC cellar?

South Carolina needs more Brenton Williams on Wednesday night.
South Carolina needs more Brenton Williams on Wednesday night.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Coach of the year awards work pretty predictably - the coach whose team out-performs expectations by the largest amount wins the award, with one caveat. The award winners normally coach winning teams.

Which means that, despite his excellent work this season, Kevin Stallings likely won't find his name at the top of any SEC Coach of the Year ballots. However, despite the loss of two significant contributors in Josh Henderson (lost to a season-ending injury) and Eric McClellan (dismissed from the squad after nine games), Vanderbilt enters the Colonial Life Arena with a 5-5 SEC record, including a home win last week over arch-rival Tennessee, who just thumped the Gamecocks on Saturday, 72-53.

Yet, despite the 5-5 conference record, the Commodores enter the game against South Carolina slight (two point) underdogs. What do gamblers see in the 1-9 Gamecocks that leads them to believe they'll beat a team that's .500 in SEC play?

The Four Factors (Pomeroy Rankings)
When USC has the ball When VU has the ball
USC Off. VU Def. Edge VU Off. USC Def. Edge
229 40 Vandy BIG eFG% 104 189 Vandy
317 290 Push TO% 295 61 USC BIG
19 292 USC BIG OReb% 231 260 Push
44 39 Push FTR 80 344 Vandy BIG
Shooting (percentages)
When USC has the ball When VU has the ball
USC Off. VU Def. VU Off. USC Def. NCAA Avg.
69.5% - FT% 65.6% - 69.7%
45.5% 45.9% 2P% 51.8% 51% 48.5%
37.2% - 3P% 33.2% - 34.4%
27.1% 33.1% 3PA% 35.6% 34.7% 32.8%

As noted, Vanderbilt lost two major contributors earlier this season, and as such, they run an incredibly short bench. In fact, the starting line-up of Kyle Fuller, Dai-Jon Parker, Rod Odom, James Siakam, and Damian Jones play AS A GROUP approximately half the Commodore minutes in SEC play. As in, 20 of 40 minutes a game, Vanderbilt plays its starting line-up. That's preposterous. Unsurprisingly, they all average 24 minutes a game (with three over 32), and each played over 30 minutes in their most recent outing against Arkansas.

If you want to pull this off, you have to adjust your defense, and Vanderbilt does. They don't foul, and they accomplish that goal by not going for steals and conceding a lot of things at the rim, where they do a horrific job of offensive rebounding.

Surprisingly, despite their low foul rate, they still manage to block over 1 out of every 8 two-point shots taken against them, so the Gamecocks will still need to be wary of the 6'10" freshman Jones (who blocks 5% of two-point shots taken while he's on the floor) and 6'7" junior Siakam (6.3%). But the 'Cocks struggles with turnovers likely won't cost them against the Commodores. Of course, both those guys average over 5 fouls per 40 minutes, so Carolina can hurt the Commodore offense by getting these two in foul trouble and off the court, as Vanderbilt does not have quality depth behind either player.

The Commodores rely heavily on Siakam and Jones defensively, but on offense look to the frontcourt combination of Odom and Jones. Odom is the far better of the two, thanks to a healthy field goal percentage (eFG of 59.6%, top 100) while avoiding turnovers. Odom hits 44% from 3-point land in over 150 attempts on the season, and it'll be imperative that the Gamecocks prevent him from getting too many outside shots. As for Jones, offensively he gets a ton of shots when he's on the court (26%) and makes them (FG of 54.5%). Unlike Odom, Jones focuses his game solely on the interior, as he's yet to take a 3 this season.

On the perimeter, Fuller makes the offense tick by doling out assists on 36% of Vandy's makes that involve shots he didn't take. Combined with shooting on over 20% of possessions where he has the chance, Fuller's involvement in the offense can't be understated. The 6'1" senior does turn the ball over a good deal, so Duane Notice will have the chance to disrupt him, despite the fact that Notice hasn't racked up a ton of steals so far his freshman year.

When Carolina has the ball, they'll continue to look to Sindarius Thornwell, who had a rough game despite his 15 points against Tennessee on Saturday, where he went 5-18 from the field as he looked for others to shoulder some of the offensive burden. With Brian Steele, Mindauguas Kacinas, and Desmond Ringer playing a combined 55 minutes despite their limited offensive ability, and with Brenton Williams bottled up by the Tennessee defense, Thornwell was left to attempt to do just about everything. Unsurprisingly, it didn't end well for the freshman from Lancaster.

Frank Martin announced Michael Carrera had found his way into his doghouse on Saturday, seeing only 5 minutes of action. Without Carrera on the floor, the Gamecocks are forced to rely on four interior players, two of which (Kacinas and Ringer) simply don't bring enough to the offensive end of the court to play together. South Carolina's also struggled to find a suitable replacement for Duane Notice, as Jaylen Shaw's playing time has significantly decreased over the last few games. With so many minutes and so much of the offensive burden lying on freshmen, it's not surprising that Carolina's struggled to keep up on defense, where tired legs show themselves against SEC competition (five of the last six opponents have scored over 1.1 points per possession).

South Carolina has a good enough collection of talent to beat Vanderbilt on Saturday, but the team and the coaching staff need to get back on the same page. With an active Michael Carrera and Jaylen Shaw providing sparks (as both did in the rout of Texas A&M), it's easy to imagine the Gamecocks taking down a short-handed opponent. But when Carolina continually hamstrings itself by shortening its bench and limiting its options, it's no surprise that it simply can't withstand a 40-minute onslaught from the better SEC teams.

The Gamecocks and Commodores tip off at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday afternoon. The game can be watched at at no cost.