When they landed in Columbia, Mo., it was 18 degrees. And dropping.
Some cold snaps, they can't avoid. Others, they hope to shed. After suffering through their poorest shooting game in 15 years Saturday, the Gamecocks look for kinder rims and better results when they visit Mizzou Arena to face the #22 Missouri Tigers (13-4, 2-2 SEC).
Talented but enigmatic, Missouri has battled inconsistency all season, especially on the offensive end. After an 83-52 blowout loss to Florida Saturday, head coach Frank Haith questioned his team's ability to handle adversity. To add to the fog, best all-around big man Laurence Bowers (team-high 16.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg) will miss a fourth straight game with a sprained MCL. Senior guard Keion Bell (8.9 ppg) may also not play because of a sprained ankle, and fellow guard Earnest Ross (9.6 ppg) could miss action with a back injury.
The Gamecocks hope it becomes ideal conditions for a road win. Pre-tip reads before the first-ever showdown between the Gamecocks and Tigers (7:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):
What's New Is Old Again: While at Kansas State, Frank Martin and his staff coached five times at "The Zou," racking up a record of 1-4. That may not sound like much, but consider: Missouri has gone 87-4 on its home floor since the '08-09 season. Last year, Martin's team dealt Missouri two of its four regular-season losses. Associate head coach Brad Underwood was recruited by Missouri before opting to play at K-State.
Glass Warfare: South Carolina's most consistent strength has been its offensive rebounding. Entering Saturday's game with Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks ranked 2nd in the nation in Offensive Rebounding % (OReb%), grabbing a board on 44.1% of their misses.
That number nosedived against Vandy. Unable to seal their defenders inside or win long caroms, the Gamecocks only grabbed 26% of their misses in a 58-51 loss. For the first time all season, an opponent had a higher OReb% than South Carolina.
A more imposing task awaits them in Columbia. Helped by an Effective Height that ranks 8th in the nation (compared to the Gamecocks' 291st), the Tigers rank 11th nationally in OReb%.
Offensive Rebounding % - NCAA Rank Effective Height - NCAA Rank
3. South Carolina (42.6%) 8. Missouri
11. Missouri (40.1%) 291. South Carolina
With injuries robbing them of size - forward Tony Criswell has also been playing with a broken finger - the Tigers have fallen to 13th in the SEC in OReb% in conference games-only (26.5%). Look for 6'9," 255-pound UConn transfer Alex Oriakhi (team-leading 8.2 rpg) to play an increased role Tuesday. Haith warned that South Carolina "is going to test your manhood." Can the Gamecocks test the Tigers' intensity on the glass early?
Speaking of Rebounds... Senior Lakeem Jackson pulled down a team-high 10 boards against Vanderbilt. It marked the first time that Jackson had consecutive games with double-digit rebounds.
The Art of Su-"Press"-ion: Missouri's Phil "Flip" Pressey may not be the best point guard in college basketball, but he certainly makes a case as its most electrifying. The SEC's Preseason Player of the Year, Pressey runs the Missouri offense with ball-on-a-string aplomb, ranking 8th nationally with 7.2 assists per game. He's especially deadly on screen-and-rolls, slicing to the basket or making sleight-of-hand passes with deadly timing. Earlier this year, Pressey tied an SEC record with 19 assists in an overtime loss to UCLA.
Yet in two games against Missouri last year, Martin's Kansas State teams throttled Pressey, holding him to 3-of-17 field goal shooting with 10 assists and 10 turnovers. K-State handled Missouri, an eventual NCAA Tournament 2-seed, in both games.
Phil Pressey vs. Kansas State Last Year
Game #1 (W 75-59): 0-6 FG, 0-2 3pt., 3-4 FT, 3 pts., 3A, 4 TO
Game #2 (W 78-68): 3-11 FG, 2-6 3pt., 0-0 FT, 8 pts., 7A, 6 TO
Why did Pressey struggle against Martin's defense? The tape reveals this:
· They forced Pressey out high. Kansas State's defenders crowded him on the dribble - "crawling up in him," in coaching parlance. Pressey had to continually break five-second counts, expending precious energy while dribbling farther away from the rim.
· They jammed screeners. Pressey accepts the majority of his screens in the middle of the floor, above the top of the key. By jamming the screener, K-State prevented Pressey's screen-and-roll mate from running toward the rim. Meanwhile, Pressey's defender would jump underneath the pick, re-establish contact, and continue extending his pressure.
· They denied wing passes. Missouri is stocked with shooters, waiting to take advantage of drive-and-kicks from Pressey. Kansas State's wing defenders never let them drift too far from sight. Without those passes available, Pressey often had to create one-on-one, where he occasionally gets reckless.
Can the Gamecocks duplicate that Tuesday? Unlike Kansas State, Carolina doesn't have a true "goaltender" center, waiting to deter drives to the basket. Also, Missouri's wings are much taller this year - even with pressure, they could raise up and rain down three's. Watch for Oregon transfer Jabari Brown, who leads the Tigers in scoring in SEC play (16.5 ppg) while shooting 45% from three-point range. Other than Brown, Missouri has struggled to find a reliable scoring option from outside.
Bruce Ellington will need his matchless athleticism against Pressey, and not get clipped on screens. A player like Brian Richardson, whom Martin calls his "most understanding perimeter defensive player," could also factor on the wings. We'll see if the same principles apply, even if the personnel has changed.
Finish Him: Vanderbilt's long guards repeatedly clogged driving lanes and denied clean looks at the basket. Missouri has a similar silhouette - besides Pressey, the Tigers can send out 6'5" Earnest Ross, 6'5" Jabari Brown, and even 6'7" Negus Webster-Chan to recreate "Hands Across America" around the arc.
Brenton Williams has gone 16-of-18 from the FT line over the last 2 games, mainly from driving to the basket.
That shouldn't scare off the Gamecocks, though - the Tigers are also the second-most foul-prone team in the SEC, averaging 15.1 fouls per game. If Carolina attacks the rim with conviction, or gets inside the paint before Missouri sets its defense, they could get rewarded. Brenton Williams has been excellent lately, attempting 18 free throws in the last two games off runs to the rim.
And Finally... In what may be a college basketball first, Tuesday's game features a pair of sons of former pro handball players. The fathers of Missouri forward Stefan Jankovic and South Carolina forward Mindaugas Kacinas played the sport professionally in Europe.
Our pre-game coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network. See you in the other Columbia. -AD--