December 16, 2011
Say this about the Gamecocks: they don't dodge a fight. Of the 344 teams in Division I, South Carolina is the only school that has scheduled regular-season games against the Associated Press' preseason #1-, #2-, and #3-ranked teams this year. In the middle -- but far from middling -- the #2 Ohio State Buckeyes roll into Columbia Saturday, bringing an impressive catalogue of players and stats. Can a raucous atmosphere at Colonial Life Arena make life unruly - and a Gamecock team coming off its best shooting half of the season make life uneasy - for the Buckeyes?
Pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks and Buckeyes jump center:
A Cat's Cradle Defense: What makes Ohio State's defense (56.2 ppg allowed) so treacherous? The Buckeyes rank 3rd in the nation in Turnover % Defense, forcing turnovers on 29.5% of possessions. When teams do fire off shots, the Buckeyes are ready and waiting: they also rank 7th in the nation in Offensive Rebound % Defense, allowing opponents to grab an offensive board on only 23.4% of their misses.
Statistic % NCAA Rank
Offensive Rebound % Defense 23.4% 7th
Turnover % Defense 29.5% 3rd
Translation: when you're not turning the ball over against OSU, you're not getting second chances on them, either. Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton had the most definitive take on the OSU defense. Last year, the Seminoles - a future Elite Eight team - managed only 44 points in a loss to OSU.
Said Hamilton: "They make you make plays. Some teams overplay and deny and do a lot of things, trap and things of that nature. They're just solid. They don't reach. They don't gamble. They make you earn everything."
The Gamecocks will need to make crisp cuts away from the ball, be strong with the ball, and shy from contact when they penetrate. Can Bruce Ellington (15 pts. vs. Presbyterian) create his
shots against sophomore guard Aaron Craft, acknowledged as one of the better backcourt defenders in America?
Man to Stop: Sophomore forward Jared Sullinger. Back spasms limited Sullinger to 25 minutes against USC-Upstate, but the 6'9," 280-pounder still carries a heavy payload. Beatified by Mike Krzyzewski as "the best player in the country," Sullinger bulldozed for 30 points and 19 rebounds in last year's 79-57 win in Columbus. This year, he ranks 2nd in the nation in Defensive Rebound %, boarding 32% of other team's misses.
South Carolina can't let Sullinger catch in deep post position, and must force him to shoot over top. Otherwise, he may launch into a foul-inducing frenzy like last year, when he was responsible for drawing 6 Gamecock fouls in the first 7:50 of the game.
"I think the big thing is always being alert and staying down and not losing sight of your man and letting him slide in there. We tell our guys it's going to be a fistfight down on the block,"
Darrin Horn said on "Carolina Calls." "And good post defense actually begins on the perimeter. We have to have good ball pressure so they can't throw it in there too easily."
Defending The Buckeyes: Unlike Ohio State, which plays an orthodox man-to-man, the Gamecocks should play plenty of their new-look, 2-3 matchup zone. The zone will need to be effective against Ohio State's 6'6" senior guard William Buford, who shoots a team-high 40% from three-point range. Buford loves to go right, and has shown a greater knack for scoring off the dribble this year.
Against a zone, Ohio State likes to start Buford from the corners, where 6'5" Lakeem Jackson and 6'6" Malik Cooke generally station themselves. The Gamecocks will need Jackson and Cooke to play their rugged, bulldog perimeter defense.
Inside Job: Give Carolina credit for attacking into defenses more, rather than settling for long-range shots. In South Carolina's four wins, only 26.2% of its field goal attempts have come from three-point range (56 of 213). In Carolina's five losses, a whopping 42.7% of its field goal attempts have been triggered from three (123 of 288).
3pt. FGA Overall FGA %
Wins 56 213 26.2%
Losses 123 288 42.7%
I asked Jackson for the reason behind the upswing. He says it boils down to a simple philosophy: just because you're open, doesn't mean it's a good shot.
"We're not settling. We're working the ball around, looking to drive the ball but shooting the open shot. We're not forcing our shots," Jackson said.
And Finally... A day before the Presbyterian game, senior Malik Cooke had other business to tend to at Colonial Life Arena. The Charlotte, N.C., earned his degree in Sociology, becoming the latest Gamecock basketball player to earn his cap and gown. Afterwards, Coach Horn had some good-natured ribbing at Cooke's expense.
"I joked with him afterwards that he looked pretty serious for a guy that should be happy. He said, 'I was just thinking about not falling, Coach. I don't want to fall in front of all those people,'" Horn said.
The Gamecocks don't plan on any trip-ups tomorrow. In fact, they hope they've hit their stride.
Our pre-game coverage versus Ohio State begins at 11:30 a.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network. See you at Colonial Life Arena.