The juxtaposition jumps out immediately. Against the SEC's three fastest-paced teams, South Carolina is 3-1 - and all three of those teams have winning conference records. Against the three slowest teams they've faced, the Gamecocks are 0-4.
SEC Adjusted Tempo Rankings* (Possessions/Game) Result
1. Arkansas W 75-54
2. Ole Miss W 63-62
3. LSU W 82-73 (OT), L 64-46
7. South Carolina
11. Georgia L 67-56, L 62-54 (OT)
12. Alabama L 68-58
13. Texas A&M Saturday
14. Vanderbilt L 58-51
*-Tempo stats courtesy of KenPom.com. "Adjusted tempo" takes into account a team's schedule, the preferred pace of the opponent, and the date that game was played.
An "Inside The Chart" Unsolved Mystery: why does South Carolina fare better against faster-paced teams?
Associate head coach Brad Underwood may have the best insight. More than anyone on the Gamecock coaching staff, Underwood believes in the value of tempo-free statistics. He offered his theories.
"When you play faster, you play less physical," Underwood explained on "Carolina Calls." According to kenpom.com, South Carolina has the smallest average height (6'3 1/4") of any team in a BCS conference. For undersized teams, it's hard to win a battle in the trenches over 40 minutes. An open-floor game hides that weakness better than a halfcourt game, where opponents can deliberately target a team's height mismatch. Underwood attributed several of the Gamecocks' late-game slides to the "grinding down" effect of facing taller, more physical teams.
If a team can't exploit its height mismatch, it also can't rack up as many foul shots. Look at South Carolina's free-throw differential against the fastest teams compared the slowest teams in the SEC:
FT Margin - Wins FT Margin - Losses
Arkansas: +2 Vanderbilt -8
Ole Miss: -1 Georgia G1 -3
LSU G1: +21 Alabama -20
LSU G2: -3 Georgia G2 -22
Wins: +20 Losses: -53
It's no coincidence that fewer free throws - and less foul trouble - keep South Carolina more competitive.
In general, Underwood says a faster pace suits the coaches' preference. Dating back to their Kansas State days, they aim for an average of 75 possessions per game (Carolina is averaging 67.6/game this year).
Eric Smith and Shane Phillips (right) celebrate during the Gamecocks' 63-62 win over Ole Miss. The Rebels rank 12th in the country in Possessions/Game (72.1).
"Our team is getting to the point where we're starting to think less. Basketball is such a reactionary game, and it's a game of anticipation. When you're comfortable, you see the floor open up," Underwood said.
Carolina's opponent Saturday, the Texas A&M Aggies (16-12, 6-9 SEC), ranks 327th in the nation in Adjusted Tempo (61.2). The Aggies don't play with much haste, and they feature a supernova scorer in senior guard Elston Turner, who exploded for 40 points at Rupp Arena and 37 points against Ole Miss.
Based on what the numbers show, the key to a victory may be as simple as one phrase.
Our pre-game coverage at Texas A&M begins at 6:30 p.m. Saturday on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network. See you in College Station. -AD--