With a 1-5 start to SEC play already behind them, South Carolina needs a run just to best last season's SEC effort, where a team far inferior to the group currently taking the floor for the Gamecocks finished the season 5-13 in the conference. South Carolina needs just a 4-8 mark to top that, but given the way the season is starting to spiral, even that starts to seem ambitious when you realize there are still two games left against both Georgia and Arkansas as well as one more at Rupp Arena, not to mention all the other potential landmines along the way.
The first of those landmines is up tonight, in Baton Rouge, as South Carolina travels to face a surging LSU squad that finds itself 4-2 in the SEC and in the thick of the race for an NCAA Tournament bid. Can Carolina grab a win against the favored Tigers?
1. For a fast-tempo team, the Tigers sure don't sub a lot. LSU is oddly the sixth-fastest team in adjusted tempo in the nation (per KenPom.com). When you think of teams like that, you typically think of a team like Arkansas, which heavily rotates its players to keep fresh legs on the floor as they get up-and-down the court.
And yet, LSU's bench plays the fifth-fewest minutes of any team in the nation, with just 21.5% of their minutes coming from someone other than Jarell Martin, Jordan Mickey, Tim Quarterman, Josh Gray, and Keith Hornsby. In fact, aside from Jalyn Patterson (who averages almost 20 minutes a game), no one else on the Tigers averages over five minutes a contest. That's shocking.
2. It hasn't really mattered, because those six LSU players are very good. If you could run LSU off the court due to its lack of depth, someone would've done it already. LSU actually looks a lot like South Carolina - they're average on offense but very good on defense, and they play games that are typically not settled by three-point shots - the Tigers take just 26.7% of their field goals from beyond the arc, and allow opponents to take just 27.8% of theirs from that distance. Given LSU doesn't foul or get fouled much - in part because contact could leave to foul trouble which could compromise their six-man rotation - that means this game should be settled from two-point range.
3. South Carolina needs to figure out a way to hit shots. It hasn't been their only problem - remember, this team went to Auburn and shot over 50 percent in a losing effort very recently. Still, it's been their main issue on the season. One of the bright spots about tonight's match-up is that LSU wasn't going to give the Gamecocks any chances from distance anyway, so Carolina's refusal to take threes won't matter as much this evening as it might against other teams.
That leaves the Gamecocks in need of guys who can make twos, and right now, only two players on the roster have hit over 50 percent of their shots from that distance - Laimonas Chatkevicius and Mindaugas Kacinas. For a team that relies on its three guards (Tyrone Johnson, Sindarius Thornwell, and Duane Notice), they need those guys to get more efficient if they're going to have a chance.
That said, the recipe for scoring against LSU seems pretty navigable for USC tonight - get twos up and crash the boards against an LSU team that doesn't kill people on the defensive glass. Sometimes what you can't get in efficiency you can make up for in volume, and that's likely the way Carolina will win tonight if they grab a victory.
Game time: 7pm ET
Location: Baton Rouge, LA
Preview: Right here.
Network: SEC Network