From this point on, the games all matter, and they won't be easy. But the games matter, and it's been a long time since they have this late in the year in Columbia, SC. But before they matter in Columbia, one matters in Brooklyn.
South Carolina heads to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY for a match-up with Iowa State, a top-ten team from the Big XII with conference and (potentially) national title aspirations. The Gamecocks have been hammering teams on their home floor of late, including Clemson and fellow Big XII members Oklahoma State. But they struggled in neutral site match-ups earlier this year, with two losses in Charleston. Can they continue their impressive run of form against the best opponent they'll have faced so far this season?
|The Four Factors (Pomeroy Rankings)|
|When USC has the ball (KP Rk.)||When ISU has the ball (KP Rk.)|
|USC Off.||ISU Def.||Edge||ISU Off.||USC Def.||Edge|
|When USC has the ball||When ISU has the ball|
|USC Off.||ISU Def.||ISU Off.||USC Def.||NCAA Avg.|
The match-up when Carolina has the ball is fascinating in that Iowa State doesn't really expose USC's weaknesses, but they also counter their strengths. It'll be tough for Carolina to rebound their way to offensive success as they so often do, and the opportunity for easy buckets at the foul line shouldn't be there against the Cyclones. The Gamecocks will need to do things well they haven't really done well all year - score the basketball and take care of it.
In particular, South Carolina could really use a few 3s in this game. They struggle to hit them and so they don't really take them, but the best chance of really opening up Iowa State on defense may come from stretching the floor. Duane Notice continues to be on fire with a 44% hit rate from long range, but it'd be great to see Sindarius Thornwell re-find the form he had from beyond the arc last year.
On defense, stopping transition opportunities is paramount. Iowa State gives lie to the logic that you can't rebound defensively and get out in transition, as they are bears on the defensive glass but also one of the fastest teams in the nation in getting the ball up the court and to the hoop.
That's actually a bit of a mis-statement - they get shots up, not necessarily at the hoop. Iowa State doesn't mind the transition 3 at all, nor do they avoid 3s in general, taking over 40% of their shots from long range. If they're hitting from out there, there may not be much Carolina can do defensively. It's easy to say "stop a team in transition," but Iowa State does this and does it well. It's not an easy task.
That's the key to this game - can Carolina keep the Cyclones from running out on them? If yes, then the game likely comes down to how well Iowa State shoots from outside. It should be a ferocious battle when ISU has the ball, as each team does a great job of scoring (or preventing scoring) on the interior. But if Carolina holds its own in the paint, and prevents second-chance buckets through its own defensive rebounding, then they have a good chance of getting out of Brooklyn with a win.
The game tips at 6pm on CBS Sports Network.