February 10, 2012
Assistant coach Cypheus Bunton has a big day planned Saturday. And it doesn't even involve going to Home Depot (or Bed Bath & Beyond if he has time).
"I'll be turning the big 4-0 on Saturday," Bunton told me on "Carolina Calls" Thursday. "My birthday wish is to get a win."
The Gamecocks hope to oblige.
Pre-tip reads before South Carolina (9-14, 1-8 SEC) and Arkansas (16-8, 4-5 SEC) lock horns at Bud Walton Arena:
To "Hell" And Back: Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson spent 17 years as a Razorback assistant under Hall of Famer Nolan Richardson. In his first season back, Anderson has resurrected the famed, frenetic "40 Minutes of Hell" style made popular by his mentor. It has helped the Razorbacks to a conference-leading 8.8 steals per game (16th NCAA) and a gasping-for-breath 71.4 adjusted possessions per game according to Ken Pomeroy. No other SEC team averages more than 66 possessions per game.
Adjusted Tempo* - SEC
1. Arkansas 71.4
SEC average 65.8
12. South Carolina 62.0
*"Adjusted tempo" takes a team's possessions per game, and weights it against the preferred pace of opponents and when the game was played.
Arkansas' full-court pressure isn't technical, or tactical, or loaded with principles. It's meant to be chaotic, and predatory, and panic-inducing. Find someone as fast as you can, and don't let him get through. The Razorbacks will double-team on the inbound - often face-guarding the inbounder - and suffocate the lead guard into committing a turnover.
Even if a team breaks Arkansas' press, it comes with collateral damage. Once teams get past midcourt, they need a few extra seconds to collect themselves. That leaves less time to run their offensive sets.
Can Bruce Ellington deflect Arkansas' pressure on the dribble?
Two areas to watch Saturday:
- Will Bruce Ellington be too quick for Arkansas' traps off the inbounds? How will his stamina hold up fending it off for 32-35 minutes?
Saturday's game shapes up to be a classic tempo tug-of-war.
Coaches generally aim for an Offensive Rebounding Percentage (OReb%) of 40%. In other words, they want their team to grab a rebound on 40% of their missed shots. In a 4-minute span in the first half against Tennessee, Carolina grabbed just 1 offensive rebound on 10 missed FGA. It rendered the Gamecocks unable to stop Tennessee's three-point binge, and left them with a 35-27 deficit at halftime.
Opportunities await for Damontre Harris and R.J. Slawson to crash the offensive glass vs. Arkansas.
Here's the good news: Arkansas' breathless pursuit of traps and steals often leaves them vulnerable to offensive rebounds. Arkansas ranks 309th in the nation in offensive rebounding defense (36.4%). On Wednesday, Georgia outrebounded Arkansas by an absurd 44-21 margin (+23), including defensive rebounds on 29 of Arkansas' 31 missed field goals.
The Razorbacks lost their top rebounding maulers from last year, forwards Marshawn Powell (torn ACL) and Delvon Johnson (turned pro). On top of that, 6'8,"236-pound forward Michael Sanchez is doubtful for the South Carolina game with a shoulder injury. Offensive rebounds can caulk any dry spell from the field. The Gamecocks will need to "crash in and cash in" against the Razorbacks.
And Another Thing... Get the easy ones against Arkansas. South Carolina's frontcourt players shot a combined 26.9% FG (7-26) against Tennessee.
reshman B.J. Young (right). John Pelphrey may have been fired following the 2011 season, but he left behind a nice parting gift: an incoming recruiting class of three Top-100 players. Young, the highest-rated of the group, has validated the hype. A 6'3," 175-pound combo guard, "Young Money" leads Arkansas in scoring (13.9 ppg) and trails only Florida's Brad Beal as the highest-scoring freshman in the SEC.
(Incidentally, Beal and Young both hail from St. Louis. Young eliminated Beal in the quarterfinals of the Missouri state tournament last Spring.)
Young is crafty, athletic, long-armed, and blessed with a jet-quick first step. He also represents a bigger point: behind Florida, no team has a more perimeter-oriented offense than the Razorbacks. Anderson will occasionally trot out a four-guard lineup, playing Young alongside Mardracus Wade (an SEC-leading 50.0% from three-point range), Rickey Scott (10.1 ppg), and Julysses Nobles (9.0 ppg, team-high 3.3 apg).
Arkansas runs lots of ball screens, and tries to break down defenders off the dribble. According to Bunton, the Gamecocks had several breakdowns communicating through screens against Tennessee, allowing the Volunteers to get open looks from three. The Gamecocks should have plenty of opportunities to make amends Saturday.
Three-Guard Night? Damien Leonard continued his strong play, dropping 11 points against Tennessee. Brenton Williams sparked Carolina's comeback, scoring all 11 of his points in the 2nd half. With their offenses heating up together, and Arkansas often rolling out three guards, it begs the question: would Carolina consider using a Williams-Leonard-Ellington backcourt?
Bunton says no. "For one, I think we have to have Malik Cooke out there. Malik Cooke plays the '3' spot for us. We need that senior leadership and toughness," he said.
Coming alive? Damien Leonard has averaged 15 ppg (7-12 3pt.) his last 2 games.
The lineup would also force Leonard to play on the back line of the 2-3 zone. "It's something he's not used to. We don't want to put him in an unfamiliar situation."
Free, but Costly: It's hard enough to stare down a deficit on the road. Not making free throws makes the task even more arduous. In its last two road games, South Carolina - a 69% free throw-shooting team -- has shot an uncharacteristic 60.8% from the foul line (14-23) in the 2nd half. Florida and Tennessee shot a combined 82.5% (33-40).
Free Throws - 2nd Half
Team FTM/FTA FT%
South Carolina 14-23 60.8%
Ole Miss & Florida 33-40 82.5%
Particularly stricken has been Anthony Gill: the freshman has missed 7 of his last 10 FT, after making 12 of his previous 13. If the Gamecocks and Razorbacks are locked in late, can Carolina make its trips to the line count?
Cruel and Unusual: With a win Saturday, Arkansas would move to 16-0 at Bud Walton Arena, tying the arena record for wins in a season. Including Arkansas, the Gamecocks have faced 5 of the SEC's top 6 teams in home-court winning percentage. Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, Auburn, and Ole Miss have gone a combined 75-6 at home this year (.926).
And Finally... Arkansas' Mardracus Wade gets the award for most creative Twitter handle.
Now that we're prepared, we hope you are as well. Our coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network. We'll see you in Fayetteville.