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"Inside The Chart" with Andy Demetra (@GamecockRadio) - February 24, 2012

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February 24, 2012


Pretty only counts in pageants.  In basketball, ugly works.


Think you're watching an "ugly" game?  Look a little closer.  Maybe that opponent, which loves getting into the open floor and knocking down three-pointers , has been dragged out of its comfort zone.  Suddenly, it has to scavenge for baskets off free throws and putbacks.  Maybe an opponent, which relies on motion and passing in the halfcourt, has been sped up, and sucked into a choppy, turnover-prone game. 


Is that ugly basketball?  Or solid execution of a game plan?


Harris vs. Vanderbilt.jpegSouth Carolina may have lacked the aesthetic that mattered most - the scoreboard - against Vanderbilt.  But the Gamecocks forced the normally polished Commodores into engaging them in a rock fight.  Vandy, which entered the game shooting an SEC-high 40.2% from three-point range, only made 4-16 three-pointers en route to an SEC season-low 59 points.  The same applied to Georgia - the Bulldogs' triangle offense relies on spacing, cutting, and constant motion.  Yet the Gamecocks rushed them into 13 turnovers, setting the tone for a rough-around-the-edges victory February 15.


In both cases, South Carolina played the way that gave itself the best chance to win.  "Uglying" the game worked.

 At this point, South Carolina makes no pretenses about itself.  Games will be grinds.  The floor will become a junkyard.  But when a team ranks 11th in the SEC in field goal percentage, it's a fool's paradise to believe you can win by out-gunning an opponent.  The Gamecocks need to steer teams to their style - one that's high on hustle, low on glamor, and built around valuing possessions.


It may not produce the most eye-pleasing basketball.  To the naked eye, it might look ugly.  But as long as it produces wins, the Gamecocks won't mind.  In fact, they'll see plenty of beauty in it.


Pre-tip reads before South Carolina (10-17, 2-11) and Tennessee (15-13, 7-6) tip off at Colonial Life Arena:    


Oh By The Way:  Incidentally, Tennessee has rallied around head coach Cuonzo Martin's motto "Stay Ugly."  Keep your pageant sashes at home Saturday. 


SEC-ond Coming:  What did we learn from South Carolina's last meeting with Tennessee, a 69-57 Volunteers win in Knoxville?  Pay attention to these four factors Saturday:


1.)      The three-pointer is Tennessee's barometer.  Since its win over the Gamecocks, Tennessee has won four of its last five, catapulting into a tie for 4th place in the SEC (and a potential first-round bye). 


Skylar McBee.jpegLooking through the splits, the three-point line has been a dividing line in the Volunteers' SEC wins and losses:


Three-Point FG% - SEC Games

Wins:                      38.2%

Losses:                    27.2%


Individually, the Gamecocks can't lose sight of guard Skylar McBee (right).  The junior, late of the Sonny Bono mustache, burned Carolina for a career-high 18 points in Knoxville.  He also owns one of the more remarkable streaks I've seen in college basketball this season:  his last 36 field goal attempts have all been three-pointers.


2.)     Getting inside wasn't the problem.  Finishing was.  South Carolina only scored 8 of its 57 points in the paint, for a season-low "PiP Percentage" of 14.0%. 


Lowest "Points In Paint" Percentage - 2011-12

1.)      @ Tennessee                               14.0%  (8 of 57)

2.)       vs. Kentucky                                26.9%  (14 of 52)

3.)      @ Vanderbilt                               29.1%  (14 of 48)


South Carolina's SEC average:  39.2% (259 of 759)


The problem wasn't settling for jump shots, or failing to find driving lanes against UT's man-to-man defense.  The Gamecocks did plenty of that.  But Damontre Harris and Anthony Gill shot a combined 1 for 13 from the field, a repugnant percentage for a center and power forward.  South Carolina's low-post players need to "finish through" their defenders, whether on entry passes or off of offensive rebounds.


Which leads to....


3.)     Carolina could crack the offensive glass.  Perhaps it correlates with South Carolina's low finishing rate around the rim.  But the Gamecocks had success offensive-rebounding against Tennessee, finishing with their second-highest Offensive Rebounding Percentage (OReb%) in SEC play.


                Highest OReb% - SEC Games Only

1.)      Florida                           1/14                       43.7%

2.)      Tennessee                     2/8                         43.2%


Thumbnail image for Gill vs. Alabama.jpegOffensive rebounds serve as the ultimate rally repellent.  They extend possessions, and can lead to fouls on stickbacks.  South Carolina spoiled its comeback bids against LSU and Vanderbilt by not offensive-rebounding effectively enough.  If thrust into a similar situation, can the Gamecocks bang the boards like they did before against Tennessee?


Anthony Gill (left) will need to be a presence against Tennessee. 


One other thing to contend with:  Tennessee did not play with its 6'8," 250-pound bull-in-a-china-shop freshman forward Jarnell Stokes (wrist).  Alongside leading rebounder Jeronne Maymon, Stokes (8.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg) has returned to the Vols' lineup. 


   4.)     The Gamecocks got "Smoke-Screened."    Tennessee rained a fusillade of three's on Carolina, making 10 of 20 from behind the arc in KnoxvilleCoach Horn said his team did not defend the three-point line well enough to win.


"That's so important with this defense that we're playing," he said on "Carolina Calls."  "We're not way out on the floor, by the hashmarks, defending and denying.  If the ball gets moved too easily, too quickly, it makes some of our switching and matching more difficult."

Here's the good news:  South Carolina played perhaps its best conference game switching and defending through screens against Vanderbilt.  Will that carry over to Tennessee?  In particular, the Gamecocks need to get matched early against point guard Trae Golden, a physically strong creator who sets up his teammates well.  


Wild Bill Free Throw.jpgFree Advice:  Most glaring in Wednesday's box score was Vanderbilt's 28-4 edge in free-throw attempts.  Historically, South Carolina has not shot a high volume of free throws under Darrin Horn.  In fact, in nine seasons as a head coach, Horn's teams have ranked an average of 280th in the nation in Free Throw-Point %, or the percentage of a team's points that come from the foul line. The numbers indicate it's a function of a coach's style, not a hapless weakness of this year's team.


It'd be worth seeing this guy for a few more trips to the free-throw line. 


I asked Coach Horn for a player who could reach the foul line more.


"If I had to pick one, and think he's capable of it with his game, I'd say Anthony Gill," he replied.  "Anthony Gill's a strong, physical player.  He's got a good skill level."


More free-throw trips may suit the Gamecocks for another reason:  Tennessee ranks 2nd in the SEC in FG% defense  (39.3%).  Carolina needs to cash in on "easy" ones as often as they can.


Stat of the Week:  Tennessee forward Dwight Miller came out of nowhere Wednesday, delivering 10 points in 16 minutes in a 73-60 win over Ole Miss.  Miller did not play against South Carolina, and had scored just two points in 12 prior SEC games.  He also kept alive his rigorous - and humorous -- avoidance of the assist.  In 132 minutes this year, Miller has yet to record an assist.  Even Carlton Geathers has managed 1 assist in 172 minutes.


Sadly, Miller's miserliness pales in comparison Florida Atlantic's Kelvin Penn.  According to Ken Pomeroy, Penn leads the nation in minutes played without an assist - 520 minutes and counting.  That's the equivalent of 13 regulation games!  Godspeed, you two.


And Finally...  Casey Manning, our radio crew's resident gadabout, chatted up the father of Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins after Wednesday's game.  Jenkins leads the nation with 3.8 three-pointers per game.


Jenkins' father told Casey something interesting.  "I'm actually John, Jr.  My son is John Jenkins III."


Yes, the nation's leading three-point shooter is a "Third." 


Now that we're prepared, we hope you are as well.  Our pre-game coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you at Colonial Life Arena.

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