Pre-tip reads before South Carolina and the Missouri Tigers (19-8, 8-6 SEC) take their show to the other Columbia (9:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):
SEC-ond Coming: What did we learn from Carolina's last game with Missouri, a gritty, 71-65 loss January 22? Pay attention to these four factors:
1. Missouri is a different team in personnel - but maybe not in personality - from that first meeting. Back in January, Missouri was in a funk, dogged by questions about its intensity and ability to handle adversity. They were also playing without a pair of key starters, guard Keion Bell and forward Laurence Bowers (more on them later).
One month later, the Tigers still haven't escaped head coach Frank Haith's scrutiny. "Our effort, and what we needed to do on the defensive end, wasn't there," Haith said following Missouri's 90-83 overtime loss to Kentucky, calling his team's display "disturbing" and "extremely frustrating." Missouri enters Colonial Life Arena with a 1-7 record in true road games. Like they did at Mizzou Arena, can the Gamecocks challenge Missouri's intensity and discipline early, and force the Tigers to respond?
2. Beware the pick-and-roll. The Gamecocks held Missouri point guard Phil Pressey in check, limiting the SEC's Preseason Player of the Year to 6 points (2-8 FG), 7 assists, and 4 turnovers. Little of the Tigers' offense came on Pressey's forte, the screen-and-roll from the top of the key.
The reason was twofold: first, Carolina jammed Missouri's screeners, preventing them from rolling easily to the basket. Carolina also "flattened out" the screens, forcing Pressey to move laterally or backwards. Unable to turn the corner at his desired speed, Pressey couldn't get into the lane - and put the Gamecocks on their heels. "If you keep him out of the lane, you have a chance," Frank Martin said on "Carolina Calls."
Missouri point guard Phil Pressey (#1) setting up a screen-and-roll at the top of the key with junior Earnest Ross (#33).
The Gamecocks' 3-2 zone was also an effective screen-and-roll deterrent. Carolina could make guard-to-guard switches on Pressey up top, so they wouldn't lose any quickness in defending him. Meanwhile, their back-line defenders could sit back, and wait on Missouri's forwards to roll to the rim.
Pressey exploded for a career-high 27 points (12-24 FG) and 10 assists against Kentucky, the Tigers' first 20-10 game since 1993. When he's on, he's one of the most dazzling, dynamic guards in college basketball. When he's off, Missouri's offense can unravel with him. The key to which Phil Pressey shows up may rest in how well South Carolina defends the pick-and-roll.
3. Missouri's guards are hard to stop north-south. Sophomore Jabari Brown and junior Earnest Ross, both 6'4" and 200-plus pounds, use their body well. Against South Carolina, they consistently lowered their shoulders and drove to the rim, resulting in 17 points for Brown and a team-high 21 points for Ross. Those attacks helped Missouri to a 28-11 edge in free throws. To pull the upset, the Gamecocks need to put the brakes on their fouls.
4. Offensive rebounds weren't the problem. Cashing in off them was. South Carolina held its own against Missouri's mammoth front line, equaling the Tigers with 16 offensive rebounds. However, Missouri outscored South Carolina by 10 points off its offensive rebounds.
January 22 ORebs Pts. off OReb
Missouri 16 20
South Carolina 16 10
Between 6'9," 255-pound Alex Oriakhi and 6'9," 240-pound Tony Criswell, Missouri has arguably the SEC's biggest "grown man" front line. Like they did against Ole Miss, the Gamecocks need to avoid foul trouble and take the ball up fearlessly.
Bowers Power: He watched the game at Mizzou Arena in a blue button-down, a gold tie, and khaki slacks, an unassuming ensemble better suited to an insurance salesman than one of the SEC's most gifted inside-outside threats. Redshirt senior Laurence Bowers, sidelined by a knee injury in the Gamecocks' first meeting, returns to his normal uniform tonight. The senior from Memphis, Tenn., leads Missouri with 14.1 points per game and ranks second with 6.1 rebounds per game.
"He's long. He's athletic," Martin said on "Carolina Calls." "He's got an ability to block shots. He impacts the game in a positive way on both ends of the floor."
Missouri leading scorer Laurence Bowers (right) did not play vs. South Carolina January 22.
He'll also be joined by Bell, another starter who was sidelined by a sprained ankle against South Carolina. A 6'4" pure scorer, Bell averages a team-high 14.5 points per game in SEC play while shooting 58.0% from the floor. He'll try to improve a ghastly 5-of-27 three-point shooting night by the Tigers.
Another Note On Pressey: Pressey's game against Kentucky erased a spate of poor outings on the road. Can the Gamecocks make him regress Thursday?
Phil Pressey 3pt. FGM/FGA Assists Turnovers
At Kentucky 3-7 10 4
Prev. 6 SEC road games 1-23 30 33
Fate of Free Throws: The fact that a team attempts more free throws in wins isn't exactly groundbreaking news. But the disparity in free throw attempts between Carolina's wins and losses is startling.
South Carolina Opponents
Wins: 20.7 13.3
Losses: 17.2 27.9
In six of their 11 losses, the opponent made more free throws than the Gamecocks attempted.
And Finally... Carolina's first game against Missouri hatched an odd superstition. Over the course of the game, Missouri head coach Frank Haith shed his jacket, then his necktie. He joked afterwards that he almost took everything off. Haith's gradual disrobing continued the next game against LSU, when the Tigers again needed a second-half rally.
The superstition inspired one of the funniest headlines in college basketball this year, courtesy of the Columbia-Star Tribune:
Our pre-game coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network. See you at CLA. -AD--