So far, they're off to a lousy start.
South Carolina struggled mightily in a disappointing loss to Ole Miss on Saturday, turning the ball over far too often and falling victim to poor shooting on their own part, while the Rebels filled it up from outside and from the free throw line. The disparities resulted in a 65-49 loss and an 0-2 start to SEC play for a team whose postseason hopes are quickly slipping away.
|Advanced Box Score
|PPP = Points per poss.
|Non-TO = PPP on non-turnover poss.
|eFG = (2PM+(1.5*3PM))/FGA
|FTR = FTA/FGA
|3PA% = 3PA/FGA
Three Team Thoughts
1. Too many turnovers. The Gamecocks gave the ball away on nearly a quarter of their possessions, taking a poor offense and rendering it downright woeful. What's worse, Ole Miss only recorded five steals on the evening, leaving Carolina to rue far too many unforced errors. That type of sloppy play can be overcome, but not when you combine it with....
2. Gamecocks outshot. Carolina went 20% from three-point range and shot a putrid 56% from the free throw line. Meanwhile, the Rebels went 50% from downtown and hit 82% of their free throws.
If you adjust Carolina's three-point and free throw percentages to the same rates that Ole Miss hit, Carolina wins this game 71-65. But a team that doesn't shoot threes very well went to Oxford and hurled up 20 of them, and it's not terribly surprising that they only saw four go in the basket. Meanwhile, they ignored the paint, which was particularly frustrating given that the Gamecocks shot 50% on the inside and could've used those opportunities to get more shots at the free throw line.
At times, this team could probably stand to take a few more threes, but if they're not going to make them, it's not going to bring a huge benefit. And if the other team is hitting 50% of their efforts from long range, it's always going to be a tough night at the gym.
3. Even ignoring the turnovers, an uninspiring offense. Despite Ole Miss shooting the lights out, the Gamecock defense still had a solid game, holding the Rebels to just over a point per possession. But the offense failed to show up in any meaningful way - even when the Gamecocks weren't turning it over, they were still scoring just over one point per possession, a decent mark overall, but terrible if we're only looking at non-turnover possessions.
South Carolina has the kind of defense that can take it to the NCAA Tournament. It needs an offense to match if they want to actually get there.
1. No one played well. Seriously, there's not a solid night to be found among any of those efforts. Sindarius Thornwell ended up taking 11 shots and making just three, and while he put in a strong effort, no one else was able to step up when he couldn't rise to the occasion. Duane Notice was 3-10, and even Ty Johnson's 5-9 effort was soured by five turnovers.
2. This team still needs someone else to step up. We knew coming into the season that we'd rely primarily on the big three (Thornwell, Notice, and Johnson), but last night in Oxford it seemed like all the progress we'd seen from players like Laimonas Chatkevicius just went away. The Big Melon went just 1-3 in 23 minutes and never really asserted himself offensively, not to mention a rather disappointing four rebounds and zero blocks given his lack of production otherwise.
And so it goes on down the line. Michael Carrera was at least active in his 27 minutes and did a nice job on the defensive glass with six rebounds, but only took three shots in all that time on the floor. Too often, South Carolina couldn't rely on five guys to be offensive threats, and that makes it easy on a defense.
3. We picked our poison defensively. You known coming into Oxford that either Jarvis Summers or Stefan Moody will probably go off, and the plan has to be to either limit it to those guys or stop one of them. But we couldn't defend Summers without sending him to the line, where he did most of his damage, and Moody shot 5-8 from the field.
Carolina probably could've survived that, but giving up 10 points and four offensive rebounds to Sebastian Saiz was very disappointing. If the big men aren't able to contain a relatively mediocre inside threat like Saiz, they're going to have some long nights when LSU, Kentucky, and other SEC teams with really good big men come into the gym.
Carolina could suffer a loss this week, but two puts them in very bad shape. We'd assumed they were going to need to win 12 of their last 20 games, and they started that off with a nice win over Iowa State. But with these two losses, they're looking at needing something like an 11-6 finish to the season, and two of those games are going to be against Kentucky, who despite their recent poor form remains the best team in college basketball. And if we can't get a win in either of those two games, all of a sudden they need to go 11-4 against a schedule that only has a couple of games where Carolina will be overwhelming favorites (home games against Missouri and Mississippi State).
With that said, the Gamecocks will be small favorites in their next two games, at home against Alabama on Tuesday and on the road Saturday against Auburn. If they can claw back to 2-2 in conference, they'll have a great chance to get over .500 in the SEC when they host Tennessee the next week. That'd put them right back into the thick of the NCAA Tournament bubble, with a chance to jump squarely into the field if they can reel off their fourth straight win at home, that next Saturday... against Kentucky.