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Inside The Chart.pngThe moment couldn't have been lost on the Gamecocks.  Down two points with two minutes to play against LSU, the players huddled around head coach Frank Martin during a timeout.

Carolina's first two SEC games had ended in taut, last-second losses.  Another down-to-the-wire finish was at hand.  But if the Gamecocks expected a sermon about redemption or seizing the moment, they received a different message from their head coach.

"Rarely do I ever look back into negative experiences," Martin recalled of the huddle.  "That moment, all I spoke about was what a great opportunity to step up and get a stop right now.  Let's get a stop right now.  We don't need six stops; we need one." 

The Gamecocks got that stop.  And many more.

Thanks to a ferocious final stretch of defense, South Carolina finally got the ending it wanted.  The Gamecocks left Baton Rouge with an 82-73 overtime victory, giving them a chance to even their conference record against Vanderbilt (6-9, 0-3 SEC) Saturday at Colonial Life Arena.

Pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks and Commodores tip in Columbia (1:30 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):

Trivia Question:  Which SEC team returned the lowest percentage of its points from last year? 

Bet you thought Kentucky, with its raft of players declaring for the NBA Draft.  Try again.

Vandy Stallings-2.jpgThat distinction belongs to Vanderbilt, which lost its top six scorers from last year's SEC Tournament championship team.  Two-time SEC scoring champion John Jenkins, athletic wing Jeffery Taylor, and block-of-granite center Festus Ezeli were all among the first 31 players taken in the NBA Draft.  When preseason camp convened, the Commodores had lost 88% of their scoring from last year.  Their returning roster only had three starts combined.

 

This picture says it all about Vanderbilt's struggle to score under 14th-year head coach Kevin Stallings.  (Courtesy:  AP)

Predictably, Vanderbilt has struggled to score.  The Commodores rank last in the SEC in:

·         Points per game (59.1 ppg)

·         Field goal percentage (40.5%)

·         Free-throw percentage (56.8%, 2nd-worst in the nation)

Those numbers have put the Commodores on pace for their lowest-scoring season since 1949.  The 'Dores have scored 33 points in a game - twice. 

Yet Vanderbilt has also shown flashes of danger.  The Commodores took Kentucky to the wire at Memorial Gymnasium, and fell to Ole Miss after the Rebels needed a 35-footer at the buzzer to force overtime.

Their offense may be erratic, but the Commodores have stayed competitive thanks to an active, hustling, helping defense.  Vanderbilt's defensive efficiency ranks 84th in the nation, compared to an offensive efficiency ranking of 251st.  Of Carolina's opponents to date, only Clemson and Mississippi State -- both losses -- have better defensive efficiency rankings than the Commodores.

Vanderbilt Efficiency Rankings

Offense:              251st NCAA

Defense:             84th NCAA

 

Permission To Launch:  Vanderbilt is the SEC's biggest purveyor of "5-out motion," spacing all five players around the perimeter and running an infinite number of slips, counters, and cuts off their basic set.  That often results in a bulk supply of three-pointers:  the Commodores rank 6th in the nation, getting 39.3% of their offense from three-pointers. 

Kedren Johnson.jpg"They play old-fashioned basketball -- which is the one I like watching, by the way," Martin said on "Carolina Calls."  "They pass, they cut, they share the ball.  It's not a guy dribbling all the time."

Leading scorer Kedren Johnson (left) is constantly in "attack mode," according to Martin.

Martin says his team's ability to defend ball screens will be key to stopping Vanderbilt's long-range barrage.

"I watched that Ole Miss game film.  Ole Miss was late on their ball screen coverage.    That ball got in the paint.  They started getting sucked in.  Next pass made.  Three, three, three," Martin said. 

The Gamecocks need to call out their ball screen defenses early, and prevent Vandy's dribblers from putting them on their heels with attacks to the paint.  Failure to do so could lead to over-helping and late close-outs on three-point shooters.  Sophomore Kedren Johnson (team-high 15.9 ppg) is Vandy's best finisher off the dribble, and guards Kyle Fuller and Dai-John Parker can also shed defenders around screens.  Freshmen Kevin Bright (48.8% 3pt.) and Sheldon Jeter (41.7% 3pt.) lurk on back cuts and three-pointers. 

A team that struggles to score doesn't need any easy baskets.  The Gamecocks don't need to help with any communication-born breakdowns.

Three's Away:  Vanderbilt has made a three-pointer in every game since the advent of the three-point line in 1986, a span of 847 games.  The Gamecocks have held two opponents this year, S.C. State and Mississippi State, without a three-point bucket.  Carolina and Memphis are the only schools nationally with a pair of three-point shutouts over Division I opponents. 

0 Three-Point Field Goals Allowed - NCAA Leaders

1.            South Carolina                   (S.C. State, Mississippi State)

    Memphis                             (UAB, Oral Roberts)

 

 

 

Bruce Alert:  A revolving door of backcourt players have stepped up their scoring in SEC play.  Could Bruce Ellington be next?  Check out his career numbers against Vanderbilt:

Bruce Ellington vs. Vanderbilt (4 games):  17.5 ppg, 46.4% 3pt.  (13-28 3pt.), 3.0 apg, 2:1 Assist/TO ratio

 

Lakeem Jackson vs. Alabama.jpegIn Praise of Jackson:  With his team leading by 2, LSU head coach Johnny Jones called timeout, hoping to draw a play that would give his team a two-possession lead.  While he slashed away on a whiteboard, the Gamecocks were ready with a curveball.  When they re-took the floor, Carolina switched to a 3-2 zone, with 6'5" Lakeem Jackson joining the top line at small forward.

Despite limited reps at his position, Lakeem Jackson's job in Carolina's 3-2 zone helped swing the game against LSU.

The gambit paid off.  Jackson's length bothered LSU point guard Anthony Hickey, and the Tigers' offense sputtered with him.  Over the last seven minutes, Carolina held LSU to 2-of-12 field goal shooting.  They also outrebounded the Tigers 8-1.

LSU Offense vs. 3-2 Zone - Final 7:00

FG:                                         2-12

3pt.                                         0-6

Running a set                         0-10

Turnovers                               1

Rebound Margin                     -7

 

"I have not given Lakeem as many repetitions as he needs to be comfortable in that spot. Yet he acted like a senior, went out there, and took care of business," Martin said.

Given Vanderbilt's penchant for three-pointers, could we see more of the 3-2 Saturday? 

 

Notable Quotable:  "I had somebody ask me the other day ask me how I was sleeping and I told them I was sleeping like a baby.  I was waking up every two hours and crying."

-Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings during the pre-season, on concerns over his team's youth, to Nashville City Paper

And Finally:  The Gamecocks spied a visitor during their closed practice at Pete Maravich Assembly Center Tuesday night.  A stray cat was seen roaming around the concourse (and no, it wasn't Mike the Tiger).

Our pre-game coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you at Colonial Life Arena.  -AD--

March 7, 2012

 

Welcome to the postseason, where odds are a suggestion, the past does not define you, chaos always lurks at the scorer's table, and everybody stakes an equal claim to cutting down the nets.  Regular-season records may not lie, but for four days, they can definitely be ignored.

 

Thumbnail image for Ellington vs. Alabama.jpegThe SEC Tournament begins Thursday for South Carolina, and with it, a chance to redefine the ending to a difficult season.  Carolina's first-round matchup brings five-seed Alabama (20-10, 9-7 SEC), the Gamecocks' first postseason date with the Tide since 2010.  Of all the regular-season baggage the Gamecocks would like to leave behind, though, there's one thing they'd like to keep:  their 56-54 victory over the Crimson Tide January 25. 

 

Let's go beyond buzzer-beater and analyze the reasons why Carolina defeated Alabama January 25.

 

Pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks try to wreak havoc on the brackets in New Orleans:

 

SEC-ond Coming:  There was much more to Carolina's Jan. 25 win than a last-second Bruce Ellington layup.  What did we learn from South Carolina's first encounter with Alabama?  Pay attention to these four factors Thursday:

 

JaMychal Greem.jpg1.)  Carolina kept JaMychal Green in check.  Despite its reputation as a low-scoring team, Alabama has one of the trickier matchups in the SEC in Green, a 6'9," 228-pound forward.  The SEC's active leader in career double-doubles, Green only managed 6 points (on a season-low 4 field-goal attempts) with 4 rebounds against Carolina.  Even more shocking: he finished the night with a -7 plus-minus.

 

Alabama 2nd Team All-SEC forward  JaMychal Green (right).

 

"We did a pretty good job of pushing him off the block," assistant coach Neill Berry told me at New Orleans Arena Wednesday.  "We also did a good job double-teaming him and forcing some turnovers.  The way our defense is set up, if we can communicate on the back line we can limit a big man's touches."

  

2.)  Carolina made the game an "inside job."  The Gamecocks attacked the rim vigorously against Alabama, taking advantage of a paint that lacked Green's intimidation.  Carolina scored 32 of its 56 points in the paint (57.1%), which tied for the highest percentage by a Crimson Tide opponent all season.

 

Gill vs. Alabama.jpegEven though Carolina shot 32.4% from the field, the Gamecocks offensive-rebounded actively - Anthony Gill and R.J. Slawson combined for 10 offensive rebounds, one less than the entire Alabama team.  Offensive rebounds are the perfect antidote for a team with such stifling defensive numbers as the Crimson Tide's.  The Gamecocks need that same tenacity from their power forwards Thursday. 

 

Anthony Gill (left) rebounded ferociously against Alabama at Colonial Life Arena.

 

Another reason why Carolina needs to play inside-out:  Alabama allows 27.8% shooting from three-point range, tied for 2nd-lowest in the nation.  Bruce Ellington has stepped up down the stretch, driving to the rim and finishing with more frequency.  Will Alabama's artful dodger, SEC All-Defensive point guard Trevor Releford (a league-leading 2.2 steals per game), be a shutdown defender on Bruce, and force him to live on the outside?

 

3.)  South Carolina prevented easy fast-break baskets.  A particular sore spot for South Carolina lately (see Friday's "Inside The Chart").  Alabama only managed 8 points off turnovers against the Gamecocks, a season low for the Tide.  Make them earn their points in the halfcourt.

 

4.)  Carolina prevented the big run.  Unlike their recent history, South Carolina stubbornly refused to let Alabama go on a run.  The Crimson Tide's largest spurt was 5-0 -- their smallest run in a game all season.

 

Alabama ranks 9th in the nation in Points Per Possession Allowed (0.88), a more accurate indicator of a team's defensive prowess than scoring defense or field-goal percentage defense.  South Carolina was the only opponent to beat Alabama whose Points Per Possession was below the Crimson Tide's average.

 

Alabama Losses                   Opps Pts./Poss.

Dayton                                   1.23

Kentucky                               1.17

LSU                                       1.05

Georgetown                            1.02

Vanderbilt                               1.00

Ole Miss                                1.00

Kansas State                          0.99

Florida                                    0.97

Mississippi State                     0.94

Opps. Season Avg.                0.88

SOUTH CAROLINA                 0.85

 

Why was that the case?  Because Carolina never allowed Alabama to metabolize their defensive stops into a long, game-breaking run.   The Gamecocks have had trouble stanching runs lately, especially at the ends of halves.  It reared its head in Athens Saturday, when Georgia closed the first half on a 9-1 run and never relinquished its lead.  In New Orleans, a protracted run could surge the Gamecocks straight out of the season.

 

Other notes, quotes, and anecdotes ahead of the Gamecocks' SEC Tournament opener:

 

Missing Mitchell:  Since their January 25 contest, Alabama head coach Anthony Grant suspended jumping-jack forward Tony Mitchell for the remainder of the season.  It cost the Tide a dynamic, slashing wing, but after two shaky losses following his suspension, Alabama closed the regular season winning 4 of its last 5. 

 

In Mitchell's absence, Grant has started to press more, mix his man-to-man and zone defenses, and play smaller lineups.  Nonetheless, the Gamecocks may applaud Grant's enforcement of discipline:  in four career games, Mitchell averaged 12.0 ppg and 9.2 rpg against South Carolina.

 

Tony Mitchell - Career

vs. South Carolina:                 12.0 ppg, 9.2 rpg

Career:                                    14.4 ppg,  7.0 rpg

 

Alabama.jpegWho has stepped up most in Mitchell's absence?  Pay attention to freshman Rodney Cooper, a 6'6," 205-pound swingman who only played 3 minutes against Carolina.  He may not have the ceiling-scraping athleticism of Mitchell, but Cooper has more range (40% 3pt. last 4 games), and his confidence has grown down the stretch.

 

Alabama finished the regular season winning four of its last five, relying on a mix of players to fill the void of forward Tony Mitchell. 

 

Record Watch:  South Carolina finished the regular season shooting 69.912% from the free-throw line (316 of 452).  They could become the first Gamecock team to finish with a FT% of 70% or better since 1987-88. 

 

And Finally...  Does a last-place seed in a conference tournament consign a team to "one-and-done" hell?  Far from it.  In fact, l researched all the last-place seeds that won their first-round conference tournament game in the last five years (major conferences only).  It happens almost annually:

 

Year              Team                      Conf.           Record                   1st -Round

2007              Miami (FL)                ACC            4-12                        W-Maryland

2008              Georgia                  SEC             4-12                        W-Ole Miss*

2009              DePaul                     Big East      0-18                        W-Cincinnati

2010              Nebraska                  Big 12         2-14                        W-Missouri

2010              Miami (FL)                ACC            4-12                        W-Wake Forest

 

*-Won SEC Tournament

 

Further proof that in the postseason, anything can happen.  And in a city as colorful and unpredictable as New Orleans, the Gamecocks have a fitting final backdrop to make chaos of the SEC Tournament.

 

Now that we're prepared, we hope you are as well.  Our pre-game coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you Thursday.

 

(And hopefully beyond that.)

 

And with that, it's time to close the book on "Inside The Chart" for 2011-12.  I hope you enjoyed taking a peek at the research, stats, and anecdotes that I collect weekly during my preparation for broadcasts.  For a voluntary blog, it gave me tremendous satisfaction to write (despite a few too many late nights finishing it).  I hope it gave you some different perspectives on the Gamecocks, and I hope it encourages you to listen to our broadcasts more.  No matter what, my duty to you will always remain what happens between the lines.  Thank you for reading!     -AD 

March 2, 2012

 

Nothing offers greater salvation than the five sweetest words in college basketball.

 

March.

 

Trap vs. Vanderbilt.jpegThe calendar has now turned to college basketball's most glorious month, and South Carolina hopes it can also turn the page.  Hearts broken on a Mississippi State buzzer-beater, the Gamecocks can mend them with a strong finish against the Georgia Bulldogs (13-16, 4-11 SEC).  Pre-tip reads before Carolina rolls into Stegeman Coliseum (1:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network).

 

Turnabout on Turnovers:  Football coaches preach it religiously:  win the turnover battle, win the game.  The Gamecocks have just done that, hoarding possessions for their slow-tempo style. 

 

South Carolina has won the turnover battle, but not the points-off-turnovers battle.

 

So why have they wound up on the short end?  Despite committing 15 fewer turnovers than its opponents over the last 3 games, South Carolina has been outscored 50-38 in points off turnovers.

 

Opponent                Rebound Margin                  Pts. off TO's

Mississippi St.        +2  (14-12)                            -11  (19-8)

Tennessee               +12 (21-9)                               +6  (23-17) 

Vanderbilt                +1  (12-11)                            -7  (14-7)

____________________________________________________

South Carolina:    47 TO, 38 points off TO

Opponents:           32 TO, 50 points off TO

 

Georgia already struggles to score.  The Bulldogs' effective FG% of 45.0% ranks 300th in the country, and last in the SEC.  South Carolina doesn't need to help them out.  The Gamecocks need to prevent the casual turnovers - coughing up dribble handoffs, getting stripped above the three-point line, etc. -- that can lead to easy transition baskets. 

 

KCP.jpg"KCP" - Keep Caldwell Pacified:  In its Feb. 8 win, Carolina held down 6'5" freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, one of the more multifaceted scoring guards in the SEC.  "KCP" managed only 9 points, and suffered through one of his more frigid three-point shooting nights in SEC play (1-7 3pt.).  

 

Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (right) averages 13 ppg. 

 

Just as impressive, South Carolina forced Caldwell-Pope into 3 turnovers.  That may not sound significant, but Caldwell-Pope ranks 20th in the nation (2nd SEC) in Turnover Rate (9.1%).  Turnover rate is an estimate of the number of turnovers a player commits per 100 plays.

 

Against South Carolina, Caldwell-Pope had a Turnover Rate of 21.1%, well above his season average of 9.1%.

 

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - Turnover %

Season:                                  9.1%

Vs. South Carolina               21.1%

 

Like they did against Vanderbilt's Jeffery Taylor, the Gamecocks never let Caldwell-Pope catch comfortably, especially when he curled around baseline stagger-screens (where they like to run him).  Caldwell-Pope and senior Gerald Robinson Jr. are Georgia's most dynamic scorers.  Take away one, and it could be difficult for Georgia to sustain its offense.

 

Dustin Ware.jpgWhat Not To Ware:  Georgia celebrates Senior Day Saturday, and like all teams, it will try to deliver a fitting send-off.  The Bulldogs will honor a pair of mainstays in its backcourt, point guard Dustin Ware and shooting guard Gerald Robinson, Jr.  Robinson, the Bulldogs' leading scorer, has an explosive first step, polish off the dribble, and an ability to affect every aspect of the floor (11 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists vs. South Carolina).

 

He may not post the gaudiest numbers, but senior guard Dustin Ware (left) has been a barometer for Georgia's success.

 

But don't sleep on Ware.  The 5'11" guard from Powder Springs, Ga., led all SEC games in three-point percentage last year (49.3%), but has been mired in a season-long shooting slump.  When he makes three-pointers, though, he clearly transforms Georgia's offense.

 

Dustin Ware 3pt. FG%

Wins:                       28-65 3pt.             43.1%

Losses:                   22-100 3pt.            22.0%  

 

Under the proud lights of Senior Day, will Ware have one final, crowning performance on his home floor?  And will he lift the Bulldogs' offense with him?

 

Huh?  In its two SEC wins, the Gamecocks have shot 19.6% at the three-point line (10-51)... and 87.5% at the free-throw line (21-24).

 

Damontre Harris LSU.jpegDamontre Needs to Dominate:  Damontre Harris collected his 2nd career double-double against Mississippi State, tallying 14 points and 11 rebounds.  He'll try to carry that attitude into Athens, where Georgia's most physical post player, sophomore Marcus Thornton, has been bothered by balky knees.  No other Bulldog low-post player, such as Donte' Williams and John Florveus, prefers a crash-and-bang style.

 

How can Damontre Harris merge his strong offensive rebounding and 80% free-throw shooting?

 

As the season draws to a close, Harris needs to connect two facets of his game:  his wingspan and his improved free-throw shooting.  Harris has the length of a Marabou stork.  Combined with his nimble leaping ability, he can get to offensive rebounds in a hurry.  Too often, though, he'll attempt a stickback using a turnaround or finesse move, rather than driving his body through a defender.

 

Harris' may have ended a streak of 12 straight made free throws against Mississippi State, but his SEC FT% remains a healthy 80.8%.  If Harris can seek out contact, and grind for free throws off offensive rebounds, he'll make himself even more effective.

 

And Finally... Welcome to March.  What more needs to be said?

 

Now that we're prepared, we hope you are as well.  Our pre-game coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you in Athens.

 

"Inside The Chart" - Malik Cooke (February 29, 2012)

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February 29, 2012

 

David Gaines reminds Malik Cooke of the story sometimes.  They still share a laugh over it.

The head coach at the Christ School in Arden, N.C., first met Cooke as a rising 10th grader - "14 years old, skinny as a rail, and the youngest guy in his grade."  Cooke had arrived at the boarding school from his native Charlotte, intent on playing basketball at a high level.

Malik Cooke vs. Clemson.jpegA week after he arrived, Cooke jumped in an afternoon of pickup games at the Christ School's gym.  He was matched against a team featuring identical twins Chavis and Travis Holmes, seniors who would become the highest-scoring set of twins in NCAA Division I history at VMI.

 "Malik had lost 4 or 5 games in a row to the team with the twins.  He came over to me almost in tears," Gaines said. "'Coach, you gotta say something to these guys.'  He was to the point I couldn't understand what he was saying.  I asked him why. 

He said, 'My team lost again.  They told me to sit my a** down."

Gaines calmed down his newcomer.  But he was left with an impression of Cooke that has endured into his final days as a Gamecock.

"It was great in that he didn't like that at all.  We felt as a staff that we had a kid who didn't like to lose." 

Malik Cooke vs. Auburn.jpegAn utter, unbleached disdain for losing.  A willingness to never take a day off.  And a desire to push himself every day to get better.  Talk to those closest to Malik Rashad Cooke, and it's clear those traits have defined him through his 22 years.  

They helped turn a soft-spoken kid into a leader,  a state champion, and a college graduate.  They sustained him as hard luck, losses, and a transfer year could've worn away his resolve.   And they transformed Cooke - the guy too slow to be a shooting guard, too un-athletic to be a small forward, too tiny to be a power forward - into a 1,000-point college career.

As his Senior Night approaches against Mississippi State Wednesday, the man incongruously nicknamed "Cookie" - nothing about him has ever crumbled - reflected on a basketball career that was forged as much by sheer will as raw talent.

"I hope I don't have any regrets when I go back.  I hope I did everything I could to try to be the best I could every day," Cooke said.

--

Gamecock fans have seen Cooke's desire for two years.  His Dad, Richard Jones, has known it for much longer.  In fact, basketball was Cooke's destiny before he even realized it.

Malik Cooke vs. Alabama.jpeg"I put him over top of my head, and the first time he threw a ball at the hoop, it went in [on a regulation-size rim]," Jones said.

 "I said, 'You're going to be a ballplayer."

Jones raised Cooke on taking pride in whatever he did.  Somewhere in those lessons, a fiery competitive streak was born.

"I always hated to lose," Cooke said  "It was just probably in everything I did like video games, foot races, I mean whatever, flag football."

And basketball.  Jones still recalls an AAU tournament in Greensboro, N.C., when Cooke was 12 years old. 

"They had them scheduled for 4 games that day.  The last game was against [Mississippi State guard] Dee Bost.  He was cramping.  They couldn't get him out of the game.  He wanted that game so bad because it was for pool play, and they would go to Nationals. 

 "I could see the tears bubbling up in his eyes from the cramps.  He wouldn't go out for anything in the world," Jones said.  Cooke's team won in overtime.

After spending his freshman year at Vance HS in Charlotte, Cooke and his family decided to enroll him at Christ School, a burgeoning basketball power in the mountains of western North Carolina.

He began as a role-playing 10th grader, fresh off a serious ankle injury in the offseason.  Two years later, he left the Christ School with a career scoring record (1,375 points, a mark that still stands), state titles as a sophomore and senior, and scholarship offers from Nevada and Marshall. 

Cooke opted for Nevada, 2,500 miles from his hometown.  "I thought it was an opportunity to find myself, and be a man," he said.

---

Cooke spent two seasons at Nevada, averaging 9.6 points and 6.2 rebounds for head coach Mark Fox as a sophomore.  But a coaching change - and more importantly, the health of his father - prompted him to seek a school closer to home.

"At the time it was very hard, because I was dealing with sarcoidosis, which was ailing my health," his father, Richard Jones, said. 

Malik Cooke vs. OSU.jpegAccording to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, sarcoidosis is a disease of the immune system that can affect the eyes, lungs, lymph nodes, and liver.  It can lead to organ damage in one-third of all people afflicted with it.  Most experience remission -- Jones' symptoms have mostly cleared up -- but the disease can also be fatal.  NFL Hall of Famer Reggie White died from sarcoidosis.  

"We kept it under the radar for so long.  I knew if there was any way we could get back home, let's try and do it, because I want to see him.  I didn't know the longevity of me being able to see him play," Jones said. 

Cooke parted amicably with Nevada, and found a new home at South Carolina.  But his first season on campus presented a dilemma.  How does someone quench his competitive thirst when there's no competition?  Cooke had to sit out the 2009-10 season per the NCAA's transfer rule.   

Instead of playing, he uncaged his competitive energies in Carolina's practices and scrimmages.  He often led the Gamecocks' reserves against a starting five led by All-SEC guard Devan DowneyCooke and Downey turned routine scrimmages into trash talk-laced wars.  If his team lost, a scowl would linger on his face well after the final buzzer.

"I really didn't try to take it easy on them.  I went as hard as I could.  We had a lot of good players so it was good for me and them.  I wanted to come out every day and just work as hard as I could and try to make them better," he said.

--

At South Carolina, Cooke's play has mirrored his personality.  Horn says his lone senior has an "old man's game."  He attacks offensive rebounds, hits midrange jumpers, and uses cagey moves to score against taller forwards.  It's the perfect blend of guts and guile, steel will and scrap iron.

And of course, he seems to rise when the occasion calls for it most.  In his first SEC start, he filled in for an injured Lakeem Jackson by scoring a career-high 22 points at Tennessee.  With the Gamecocks on a five-game losing streak, Cooke made 9 of 10 free throws against Ole Miss, then sealed the win with a last-second steal of Rebels leading scorer Chris Warren.  A pair of late free throws clinched a win at Clemson.  His baseline bank shot with 20 seconds left propelled Carolina to a win over Georgia in February.

Malik Cooke Bloody Eye.jpgAnd then there was the nationally-televised game against #2 Ohio State Dec. 17.  Cooke had poured in 10 first-half points, helping Carolina to a 4-point lead early in the 2nd half.  Then a Deshaun Thomas elbow bloodied his left eye, forcing him out of the game.  Few will forget the sight of Cooke, blood trickling down his face, slamming his towel to the ground, upset at having to leave his team to get stitched up in the locker room.  By the time he returned, Ohio State had grabbed the lead for good.  Yet Cooke, a bandage still bothering his vision, battled until the bitter - and literally bloody - end, scoring a team-high 21 points.

As a redshirt senior, he evolved into Carolina's unquestioned team leader.  He organized pickup games and team-building outings over the summer, even though he couldn't play because of a dislocated ankle.  In December, he earned his degree in sociology.  The losses have piled up - more than he'd like -- but they have not sapped his will to keep fighting.  And head coach Darrin Horn says Cooke's unflagging work ethic has set an example for his teammates.

"That's one of the reasons that you've seen a team that's got 2 wins in league play continue to come out and play hard and compete.  That's a rare thing given our situation, and I think Malik has been a part of that because of his consistency and leadership," Horn said.

For Senior Night, Cooke was asked to choose a song for his videoboard montage.  He picked Frank Sinatra's "My Way."

It seems like an unusual pick for a 22 year-old, but not an unlikely one.  From his beginnings in Charlotte to his final days as a Gamecock, one thing becomes clear.  

Malik Cooke has only known one way.

"Inside the Roost" Monday: Katarina Petrovic, Kalen Harris

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1075 the game logo.jpgJoining Athletics Director Eric Hyman and host Derek Scott tonight on "Inside the Roost" will be Katarina Petrovic, assistant women's tennis coach, and Kalen Harris, head women's golf coach.

Women's Tennis is off to a great start this season with a 7-1 record including an upset victory over #17 Clemson last week. The 4-3 win was the Gamecocks' first victory over the Tigers since 2006. They won both their home matches this weekend vs. College of Charleston and Winthrop. They hit the road this weekend to start SEC play at Georgia on Friday and at Tennessee on Sunday.

Women's Golf is headed to the inaugural Darius Rucker Intercollegiate tournament in Hilton Head this weekend. The new tournament is a joint effort between singer/songwriter and avid Gamecock fan Darius Rucker, Long Cove Club in Hilton Head and South Carolina Athletics, who have all agreed to host the 54-hole event through 2016. Fans are welcome to attend the tournament. More Info

Tune in to "Inside the Roost" tonight and every Monday from 7:00-8:00 p.m. on 107.5 The Game. You can also listen online.

 

THE 10 BIG, BURNING QUESTIONS OF THE GAMECOCK IMG SPORTS NETWORK

By Andy Demetra, "Voice of the Gamecocks"

Contact us:  @GamecockRadio

 

GamecockRadio.jpgWe appreciate you listening to the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We also understand you may have some questions about our radio coverage.  Below, you'll find answers to the 10 most commonly asked-questions about our radio network broadcasts.  We hope it'll give you greater insight into the structure, distribution, and contractual commitments of our radio network.  Thanks for listening!     -Andy Demetra

 

1.)    Where can I listen to the game in [insert your town here]?

 

We keep a detailed affiliate list here.

 

2.)    Where can I listen to the game online?

 

By subscribing to Gamecock All-Access.  A subscription to Gamecock All-Access not only lets you watch all South Carolina home baseball games (with the radio call attached), but the live radio calls of all South Carolina away games. 

 

IMG.jpgOur affiliate stations own the terrestrial radio rights to Gamecock athletics.  However, IMG College owns the streaming radio rights to Gamecock athletics.  As part of their contract agreement, all affiliate stations must disable their live streaming during South Carolina football, basketball, and baseball broadcasts.  Violators are subject to penalty by IMG College. 

 

3.)    Can I listen to the game on my phone?

 

Yes!  Gamecocks Online has an official app in the iTunes store and Android Marketplace which allows you to stream broadcasts over your phone.  The app is free to download, but the live content requires a premium subscription ($4.95/year for Android, $9.95/year for iPhone). 

 

Android.jpgWhile it costs less than a Gamecock All-Access subscription, you will not have access to live video for South Carolina home games.  Also, depending on cell reception and your phone's bandwidth, the stream may be more sensitive to buffering.  

 

Please note:  Gamecock All-Access and the Gamecocks Online app are both managed by CBS Interactive, Inc.  The Gamecock IMG Sports Network does not control the availability, reliability, or sound quality of these streams.

 

4.)    What if I have a TuneIn, IHeartRadio, or other radio listening app on my phone?

 

You won't be able to listen.  If a station has disabled its live streaming, a TuneIn, IHeartRadio, or other radio app will not apply.

 

5.)    How can I sync up the radio with the TV call?

 

Because of differences in satellite transmissions, as well as our own FCC-mandated 7-second delay, the radio call will not always match up to the TV.  There are devices you can buy, such as SportSync, that will even out the delay. 

 

 

6.)    Why do certain stations carry all Gamecock baseball games, while some only carry SEC and post-season games?

 

Because of scheduling conflicts, staffing concerns, or local programming restrictions, some stations don't have the ability to run a full broadcast schedule.  To still maintain a Gamecock presence in their market, they may elect to carry only SEC and post-season series.     

 

Carolina Stadium-2.jpegFor the first time in 2012, the Gamecock IMG Sports Network has made all of our baseball broadcasts available "network-wide" when they don't conflict with basketball.  Essentially, our stations have a greater opportunity than ever before to pick and choose their schedules, and expand their non-conference baseball coverage.  It's best to check with your local station to find out whether a particular game will air.

 

In the last 2 years, we've grown our baseball affiliate list from 6 to 13 stations.  You can always approach your local station about carrying all Gamecock baseball games -- community groundswell tends to make things happen, especially if there are local business owners who may be interested in sponsoring the extra coverage.

 

7.)     How come you don't have a station in my hometown?

 

Say you live in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Why doesn't a station there carry South Carolina football?  Simply put, there aren't enough Gamecock fans in Raleigh - and more importantly, advertisers who want to target them -- to justify a station carrying the games. 

 

Each year, the IMG College Affiliate Relations team travels to every market in South Carolina, trying to line up new affiliates and renew existing ones.  We always strive for 100% penetration.  However, for the same reasons listed above - scheduling conflicts, staffing concerns, or other programming obligations - in certain markets, no radio station may be willing to invest in becoming a Gamecock IMG Sports Network affiliate.

 

8.)    But I live in an area that has an affiliate station listed.  Why can't I hear the game?

 

You may have an affiliate station that's designated for your market, but its signal doesn't reach your home.  Unfortunately, there's not much we can do.  Stations' signals are sometimes stronger in one direction than another. 

 

Also, AM radio stations have different signal strengths in the daytime and nighttime.  By law, they have to "power down" their signal at night.  Thus, you may be able to hear Gamecock baseball broadcasts during the day, but can't pick it up once the sun goes down.  Lastly, did you check to see whether your station is carrying the game?

 

9.)     If a Gamecock basketball game or coaches' show airs at the same time as a Gamecock baseball game, why do stations have to carry the basketball game/coaches' show?

 

Invariably, overlaps occur during a season.  As part of our radio agreement, the sport with more affiliates statewide always takes priority on pre-emptions.  Currently, we have more basketball affiliates (21) than baseball (13).  In fairness to our affiliates, and the sponsors who count on our network coverage, we have to offer on our satellite channel the sport that's carried by more of our stations.  From an ethical and business standpoint, it's the right thing to do. 

 

We also defer to the "ongoing" sport.  A late-season conference game should, and will, take priority over an early-season non-conference game.   Wins and losses do not factor into this decision.  It's about staying consistent with our affiliates and our sponsors' expectations.

 

10.)   Is the baseball game on XM?

 

XM.jpgFor selected conference games only.  XM has three dedicated SEC channels (199-201), which makes carrying every South Carolina game impossible (we have the share space with the 11, and soon to be 13, other SEC schools).  Each week, XM selects the games it chooses to carry.  We will notify you when they decide to pick up a Gamecock broadcast (they usually make the decision early in the week).

 

We hope this clears up some of the questions you may have had.  Thanks for listening - we look forward to signing on next!

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.

February 22, 2012

 

Greetings from Nashville.  Pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks face the baseline benches, elevated floor, and Kevin Stallings' gym-piercing whistle at Vanderbilt:

 

SEC-ond Coming:  What did we learn from South Carolina's last meeting with Vanderbilt, a 67-57 Commodores win January 10?  Pay attention to these four factors Wednesday:

 

1.)     Vanderbilt's best rebounder may not be who you think:  If Vanderbilt personnel read like a high school yearbook....

-          Most powerful player?  Festus Ezeli. 

-          Most explosive leaper?  Jeffery Taylor, scary highlight-reel maker and the SEC's leading scorer in conference games (18.6).

-          Best rebounder?  Neither.

 

The most difficult Commodore to contain on the boards continues to be 6'7," 230-pound senior Lance Goulbourne.  In 2 of his last 3 games against South Carolina, Goulbourne pulled down 14 and 10 rebounds, respectively.  South Carolina will need every bit of its athleticism - R.J. Slawson's in particular - to prevent Goulbourne from factoring on missed shots. 

 

The Commodores have wanted their role players to pitch in more offensively, and Goulbourne has gone just 5 for his last 24 from the field (20.8%).  Carolina can't let that let Goulbourne generate his offense off rebounds, and emerge as a complementary scoring threat. 

 

  2.)   Trap vs. Vanderbilt.jpegThe Commodores can be turnover-prone if you make them.  South Carolina's 3/4-court press has harried Vanderbilt the last two seasons, forcing them into turnovers or speeding them up once they cross into the forecourt.  South Carolina forced 18 turnovers in their Jan. 10 meeting; the Commodores committed 20 turnovers in a 61-52 win over Georgia Sunday. 

 

A textbook trap of Vanderbilt's John Jenkins (left) Jan. 10.  The Gamecocks forced 18 Vandy turnovers in their first matchup. 

 

The Commodores have a strong mix of polished, athletic finesse players -- when they find their rhythm in Kevin Stallings' thick-playbook motion offense, they can be hard to stop.  South Carolina needs to make it a rock fight, and force Vanderbilt to beat them ugly.  With more turnovers, Carolina can exact its brand of raw, low-possession basketball, a style not befitting the freewheeling Commodores.

 

3.)     Vandy can be dangerous any night from three.  The numbers don't leave much to subtlety:  Vanderbilt leads the SEC in 3pt. FG% (40.2%).  South Carolina ranks last in 3pt. FG% defense (39.0%).  The Commodores drained buckets -- and the Gamecocks' wills - when they connected on 13 of 22 three-pointers in January.  Like Florida, Vanderbilt has three players who shoot better than 40% from three-point range (Taylor .496, John Jenkins .459, Brad Tinsley .423).  If the Gamecocks trap out of their zone, they must do so decisively, and make their rotations crisp.  Any waffling could lead to sluggish rotations - and dangerously open looks for a good-passing Vandy team.  If the Commodores want to beat the Gamecocks from three-point range, make them shoot challenged three-pointers.

 

4.)     john-jenkins.jpgDon't lose track of John Jenkins.  Vanderbilt's three-point sniper produced one of the more incredible stat lines in college basketball against Ole Miss last week.  The junior shooting guard scored a team-high 28 points... on just five field goal attempts.

 

John Jenkins vs. Ole Miss:  28 pts.  (5-5 FG,  4-4 3pt.,  12-15 FT)

 

Jenkins leads the SEC in scoring (20.1 ppg), and leads the nation in three-point field goals per game (3.8).  Vanderbilt weaves Jenkins relentlessly around screens - forward Steve Tchiengang is a particularly hard screener - hoping to give him enough daylight for his lightning-quick release.  Jenkins also loves the stepback jumper if a defender tries to slip underneath a screen.  The Gamecocks can't let him get in rhythm or shoot open transition three's.

Big Fes' vs. Big 'Tre:  Damontre Harris told me he considers Vanderbilt big man Festus Ezeli the strongest player he's faced.  His play against the Commodores' 6'11," 255-pound center will be critical Wednesday. 

 

Damontre Harris LSU.jpegEzeli ranked 7th in the nation last year in fouls drawn/40 minutes, inducing an average of 7.9 fouls per 40 minutes.  As we've seen all year, South Carolina's production inside ebbs and flows with Harris' foul situation.  He picked up his first career double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) against Vanderbilt Jan. 10.  Can Harris be a wrecking ball against Ezeli, while also staying out of foul trouble?

 

Damontre Harris (left) vs. LSU.  He recorded his first career double-double against Vanderbilt Jan. 10.

 

"It's just about doing my work early in the play, pushing him off the block, and figuring out how the refs are going to call the game," Harris told me.

 

Bump In The Road:  South Carolina was scuttled by a season-low 5 offensive rebounds against LSU.  Despite that output, offensive rebounding remains South Carolina's biggest statistical strength.  The Gamecocks rank 30th in the nation in Offensive Rebounding % (36.8%), a figure which also leads the SEC.

 

That bodes well against Vanderbilt:  statistically speaking, Vanderbilt is one of the poorer teams in the nation at preventing offensive rebounds for its height.  The Commodores rank 11th in the nation in Average Height (players measure an average of 68.1").  However, the Commodores rank 7th in the SEC, and 170th nationally, in Offensive Rebound Percentage Defense.  Only Florida State and Syracuse have taller average heights, but worse percentages.

 

Vanderbilt                             NCAA Rank

Average Height                    11th

OReb % Defense                  170th

 

Watch This:  Need another confirmation of South Carolina's meat-grinder schedule?  Vanderbilt is one of three teams to put three players (Taylor, Jenkins, Ezeli) on the Wooden Award Preseason Watch List.  The other two?  North Carolina and Ohio State.

 

Now that we're prepared, we hope you are as well.  Our pre-game coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you in Nashville.

February 17, 2012

 

When the losses pile up, players have plenty of reasons to "check out."  To lose pride, slink away, and stray from the things that made them successful.  It's the first slip on a slope that can lead teams to a cardinal sin of sports:  being okay with losing. 

 

When the whistle blew - ahead of schedule -- to end South Carolina's practice Tuesday, the Gamecocks could've merrily skipped away, content to punch the clock and enjoy the early dismissal.  Yet for a half-hour after practice, every Gamecock player stayed behind to get up extra shots.  They went through shooting drills, pushed up free throws, rebounded for one another, and generally ribbed each other as they waited their turn in the rotation. 

 

A 1-9 start in the SEC could have worn away at the Gamecocks' resolve.  It could've splintered them, left them resigned - or worse, made them okay with losing.  But inside those losses were comebacks.  Plenty of them.  In Knoxville, Gainesville, Oxford, and Fayetteville.  Yes, the losses had piled up.  But South Carolina had shown too much fight to stop now. 

 

The Gamecocks finally showed the fruits of their fight against Georgia.  Wednesday's game didn't come easy, nor did it come pretty, but the Gamecocks grinded their way from a seven-point deficit to beat the Bulldogs 57-56.  Will that preparation pay off further against LSU (15-10, 5-6 SEC) Saturday? 

 

Pre-tip reads before Gamecocks and Tigers renew pleasantries at Colonial Life Arena:

 

Cooke vs. Georgia.jpegStepping Up:  In the first half against Georgia, Malik Cooke, Bruce Ellington, and Damien Leonard doddered to a 1-of-13 shooting line.  They combined to go 6-for-12 in the second half.  Georgia shifted to a 2-3 zone in the second half, hoping to slow down Carolina's dribble penetration.  Cooke, Ellington, and Leonard's contributions helped offset that.

 

Malik Cooke (left) led South Carolina with 13 points vs. Georgia.

 

Quick Hands:  Georgia came in averaging 10.3 turnovers per game, the 4th-lowest total in the nation.  South Carolina shook out 13 turnovers from the Bulldogs, their second-highest total in SEC play.

 

Let's put it another way:  Georgia committed 13 turnovers in 40:00 against South Carolina.  Georgia had committed 13 turnovers in its last 82:15 of SEC play. 

 

Man To Stop:  center Justin Hamilton.  Behold!  A true low-post player.  At 7'0," 260 pounds, Hamilton sat out last year as a transfer from Iowa State.  He has since led the Tigers in scoring (13.7 ppg) and rebounds (7.3 rpg), while shooting a team-best 52.2% from the floor.  Hamilton has soft hands and a nice touch around the rim, with the ability to shoot smoothly from 8-12 feet.  His post offense is measured and well-schooled, rather than herky-jerky and explosive, and he shields the ball from his defender exceptionally well.  When you're 7'0," 260 pounds, why not use your body to your advantage?  He's also a terrific offensive rebounder (2nd SEC, 3.7 rpg).


 

Justin Hamilton.jpgIn addition to Hamilton, the Tigers feature 6'9," 262-pound freshman - yes, freshman -- Johnny O'Bryant, a former McDonald's All-American.  Damontre Harris played a career-high 38 minutes against Georgia, controlling the lane with his solar-eclipse length.  Can he avoid the foul trouble that sidetracked him in several SEC games, and maintain a steady defensive presence against Hamilton? 

 

Person of interest:  LSU 7-footer Justin Hamilton, an Iowa State transfer.   

 

Trap Game?  The Gamecocks weren't afraid to trap on the wing, or rotate a weak-side player over, to hunt for turnovers against Georgia.  The risk of a trap, of course, is that it leaves behind one less defender if the opposing ball-handler breaks your trap.  Even if the Gamecocks double LSU's posts, or force the Tigers to slingshot around the perimeter to avoid a trap, it may be worth the gamble.  LSU has shot 13 for its last 73 from three-point range (17.8%) in its last 5 games. 

 

Matchup to Watch:  South Carolina's Bruce Ellington vs. LSU freshman guard Anthony Hickey.  Maturity isn't measured easily in college basketball.  But Ellington has quietly shown more poise at the point during his sophomore season:

 

Bruce Ellington

Year                        Assists                   Turnovers

'10-11                    42                           43

'11-12                    40                           27

 

Ellington vs. Alabama.jpegAs you can see, Ellington has nearly as many assists - in five fewer games - while committing 16 fewer turnovers.  He's rushed less, and played in control more.  He'll receive a test Saturday from Hickey, a 5'10" former Kentucky Mr. Basketball who has had a solid rookie season for head coach Trent Johnson.  In addition to averaging 9.6 ppg and a team-high 3.8 apg, Hickey ranks among the SEC leaders in steals (2.1 spg).

 

Bruce Ellington will get a test from one of the quickest pairs of hands in the SEC, LSU point guard Anthony Hickey. 

 

Ellington and Hickey have several traits in common:  height (Hickey 5'10," Ellington 5'8"), hype (starting point guards from Day One), and crossover ability (both starred at quarterback for their high schools' football teams). Ellington will need to use his more mature ballhandling against Hickey's hyper-quick hands.  We'll also see if Ellington can use his athleticism to shed Hickey off ball screens, something the Gamecocks did often against Georgia.  At eye level, few players see eye-to-eye with Bruce.  Look at how Ellington has fared when facing an opposing point guard shorter than 6'0" in SEC play:

 

Date                       Team                      Player                                     Height                    Points Scored

1/15/11                 Florida                  Erving Walker                       5'8"                         23 points              

2/2/11                   LSU                         Andre Stringer                       5'9"                         20 points

1/14/12                 Florida                  Erving Walker                       5'8"                         17 points

 

Clearly, Ellington has shown he can get his shot up.

 

Threes Need Not Apply:  South Carolina has shot 10-51 (19.6%) from three-point range in its two SEC wins. 

 

We Interrupt This Game... South Carolina sealed the Georgia game thanks to stellar, 14-15 free-throw shooting.  Neither team has shown a penchant to drive or play physically - South Carolina ranks 334th in the nation in FTA/FGA, LSU 335th  That could easily decide the game - which team gets to the line better?

 

And Finally... Did the Gamecocks receive some serendipitous scheduling?  South Carolina held Georgia's triangle offense to an SEC season-low 35.1% FG.  Georgia head coach Mark Fox learned the triangle as an assistant coach at Nevada to Tigers head coach Trent Johnson.

 

Repetition and preparation.  The Gamecocks exhibited it after the practice whistle Tuesday.  They'll try to show it when the referee's whistle blows Saturday.

 

Now that we're prepared, we hope you are as well.  Our pre-game coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you at Colonial Life Arena.

 

February 15, 2012

 

Ever run on a treadmill, then step off and try to walk?  That may be how it feels when South Carolina takes the floor Wednesday. 

 

Malik vs. UGA.jpegIn the SEC, no two opponents combine for a more disorienting change of tempo than Carolina's last opponent and its next one.  Arkansas, with its frenzied "40 Minutes of Hell" style, ranks 15th in the nation in Adjusted Tempo (71.7 possessions/game).  Georgia, led by triangle tactician Mark Fox, ranks 323rd (62.0 possessions/game).

 

Brace yourself:  Slow speeds ahead.

 

Georgia's tempo plays right into Carolina's wheelhouse - the Gamecocks rank a similarly low 318th (62.4).  If you're expecting a lurching, low-scoring muckfest, though, you'll be disappointed.  Georgia (12-12, 3-7 SEC) has racked up impressive back-to-back wins over Arkansas and #20 Mississippi State in overtime.  Carolina hopes to make that confidence short-lived, while igniting some late-season confidence of its own.  Pre-tip reads before Gamecocks and Bulldogs battle it out in Columbia:

 

One Half "Down"...  An eerie coincidence started to unfold in the final minutes of the first half at Bud Walton Arena.  Three days earlier, Tennessee had used an 11-2 run to lead Carolina 35-27 at halftime.  Arkansas followed a similar blueprint, using an 11-0 run to stretch a 27-27 tie into a 38-27 lead at halftime.  Over the last three games, South Carolina has been outscored 28-4 in the final 3:00 of the first half.

 

Final 3:00 of the 1st Half - Last 3 games

Opponent                  Score at 3:00                       Score at Halftime                 Run

Kentucky                    45-25 UK                              52-25                                     7-0         

Tennessee                  23-21 USC                            35-27 UT                               14-4       

Arkansas                    31-27 ARK                            38-27                                    7-0        

                                                                                                                                  USC:  2-13 FG, 0-2 FT

 

And that's despite an interesting stat I unearthed from reviewing the tape.  Oddly, South Carolina got an offensive rebound -- either by an individual or on a dead ball -- on 7 of its 11 missed shots.

 

South Carolina has scored 313 2nd-chance points on 311 offensive rebounds this year - a nearly 1:1 ratio.  Yet in their first-half breakdowns, South Carolina scored 0 points on 7 offensive rebounds. 

 

The remedy is there.  If the Gamecocks can convert, the walk to the locker room need not feel so desultory.

 

Offensive Rebounds                            2nd Chance Points

Season                                   311                                                         313

3:00-Half, Last 3g                 7                                                              0

 

 

R.J. Slawson Defense.jpegTriangle Talk:  With its spacing, cutting, and constant movement, Georgia's triangle offense demands agile, good passing big man.  Georgia had several of them last year in center Trey Thompkins, freakishly athletic Travis Leslie, and burly (but nimble) forward Jeremy Price.  Those three players are all gone, though, leaving behind a frontcourt thin in both talent and experience.

 

If South Carolina's forwards get extended, can they lock down defensively vs. Georgia's triangle?

 As a result, listeners may notice a difference in how Georgia attacks the offensive end.  The Bulldogs don't do as many straight-up post feeds as they did last year, especially off ball reversals.  They instead prefer their action off stagger screens and pindowns (where a post player sets a screen, then rolls toward the basket, effectively "pinning" his defender underneath the rim).  Pay attention to freshman guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (14.5 ppg, 2.4 3-pointer/game) - the former McDonald's All-American is the player most capable of scoring from all spots on the floor.  If South Carolina's low post players become extended, can they deny the dribble-drive?  

 

Gerald Robinson.jpgMan to Stop:  Georgia guard Gerald Robinson Jr.  With Thompkins, Leslie, and Price circulating through the paint last year, Robinson's offense was mostly opportunistic.  This year, the 6'1" Robinson (pictured left) has become the centerpiece in head coach Mark Fox's triangle offense. 

 

Georgia guard Gerald Robinson played two seasons at Tennessee State before transferring to UGa.

 

The triangle is designed to keep the ball well distributed, which makes Robinson's numbers intriguing.  Though far from a high-wattage star, Robinson leads the SEC, and ranks 34th nationally, in % of Possessions Used (%Poss).  Essentially, that's the percentage of a team's possessions that ends with an individual a.) making a shot; b.) missing a shot that isn't rebounded by the offense; or c.) committing a turnover.  When he's on the court, Robinson uses 30.3% of Georgia's possessions.  Last year, Georgia didn't have a player who ranked in the Top 100. 

 

Robinson got to the rim at will against Arkansas, exploding for a career-high 27 points en route to SEC Player of the Week honors.  However, he struggled against South Carolina in two meetings last year, making only 5-17 field goals while committing 9 turnovers.  Take him out of his rhythm, and it fundamentally alters the flow of the Bulldog offense.  The Gamecocks have to stay attached to Robinson, talk out screens, and not allow him to shed them off the dribble.

 

Lakeem Jackson vs. Arkansas.jpegThe "Jack-Hammer":  Lakeem Jackson, the junior forward from Charlotte, played 25 solid minutes against Arkansas, scoring 6 points while only committing one turnover.  He also gave the Gamecocks some rugged perimeter defense against Arkansas' guard-heavy lineup. 

 

He could figure into Carolina's game plan again against another perimeter-oriented team in the Bulldogs.  Georgia does not turn the ball over often in its triangle - opponents get steals on just 6.9% of the Bulldogs' possessions, the 6th-lowest figure in the nation.  On the flip side, Georgia's field-goal percentage (39.5%) ranks last in the SEC.

 

Lakeem Jackson (right) may have earned himself more minutes with his defensive play vs. Arkansas.

 

The recipe should be straightforward:  meet Georgia on the catch, and don't get loose while trapping or defending dribble-handoffs.  Another key:  defensive-rebound forcefully.  Georgia ranks last in the SEC in offensive rebound %, grabbing only 31% of their missed shots.

 

Anthony Gill Dunk.jpegThe Gill-O-Meter:   Not much has gone right lately for freshman forward Anthony Gill.  In his last two games, the easygoing Charlotte native has gone a not-so-easy 0-for-8 from the field.  He has also made just 5 of his last 16 free throws, after entering the month at 75%.  Assistant coach Mike Boynton hollered for Gill to "finish your shot!" during one fruitless free-throw trip at Arkansas.

 

Pay attention to one area in particular for freshman Anthony Gill Wednesday.

 

"One of Anthony's great strengths is he really sees the game, and has good basketball IQ.  Sometimes, I think he sees too much, if that makes sense," Horn told me during our pre-game interview at Arkansas.  "He just need to get him locked in on rebounding the basketball and being aggressive, and he'll do fine."

 

Horn knows of what he speaks.  Gill's commitment to rebounding has been a bellwether for South Carolina.  In the Gamecocks' nine wins, Gill averages 7.0 rebounds per game.  In their 15 losses, that number drops to 3.9 rpg.

 

Anthony Gill '11-12

Wins                       7.0 rpg

Losses                    3.9 rpg

 

It comes as no surprise that Gill's SEC high in rebounds (9) came in Carolina's lone win over Alabama.

 

And Finally... Georgia is looking for its first three-game SEC win streak since its Cinderella run to the 2008 SEC Tournament title.

 

Now that we're prepared, we hope you are as well.  Our pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you at Colonial Life Arena.

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:

 

Mike Anderson.jpgTo "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.   

 

Bruce Ellington vs. LSU.jpegEven 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?

-      Can South Carolina's forwards - Malik Cooke, Anthony Gill, Lakeem Jackson - be proactive on the next pass, and make sound decisions with the ball?

 

Saturday's game shapes up to be a classic tempo tug-of-war. 

 

Offensive Rebound.jpeg"Crash In & Cash In":  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.

 

B.J. Young.jpgMan to Stop:  Freshman 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.

 

Damien Leonard.jpegThree-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.

 

@WadeNoDwyane.

 

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.

 

February 7, 2012

 

They watched, but didn't dwell.  Analyzed, but didn't agonize.  What was the point?  South Carolina knew it played poorly, and Kentucky - well, Kentucky played like a #1-ranked team.  The tape wouldn't reveal anything new, or different, or rosy.

 

So when it came time to break down Carolina's 86-52 loss to #1 Kentucky, the Gamecock coaches ritually studied the tape.  But they decided not to share their findings with the players.

 

Thumbnail image for Broken Tape.jpg"We'll put what's behind us, behind us," Darrin Horn said Tuesday.  "We had a game that we weren't as good as we had been.  Reviewing that game was not going to help us get ready for the next one."

 

Makes sense.  Why show anything that would undercut your team's confidence heading into a key stretch of SEC play?  What good would that do?  Better to flush it out of your system, and move on to the next one.  Besides, bigger opportunities lay ahead for the Gamecocks.  After a brutal SEC schedule that featured teams with a combined .716 SEC winning percentage, South Carolina's next eight opponents have a combined .384 SEC winning percentage. 

 

SEC Winning %

1st 8 opponents:  .716

2nd 8 opponents: .384

 

The Gamecocks hope for more pleasurable viewing Wednesday against the Tennessee Volunteers (11-12, 3-5 SEC).  Tennessee shrugged off an embarrassing loss of its own to Kentucky (the Vols shot a season-low 28% from the field) to defeat Georgia in its last game.  Can the Gamecocks pull off their own Wildcat redemption?  Pre-tip reads before Carolina tries to snap a 9-game losing streak at Thompson-Boling Arena:

 

 

Ugly Is Beautiful:  New Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin has centered his team's identity on defense, rallying around the phrase "Staying Ugly."  The Volunteers don't rank highly in Turnover %, Block %, and Steal %.  They prefer instead to guard players straight-up, and force them to execute their sets to completion.  Martin values defense so much that he benched leading scorer and assist man Trae Golden for the Georgia game, displeased with the sophomore's defensive intensity. 

 

Tennessee does an especially good job bringing help and rotating over - being "ball conscious," as Horn puts it.  South Carolina had one of its better-executed offensive halves against Florida, stretching the floor with quick passes and slashing from the wings in the 2nd half.  If they can keep the floor spaced, it may neutralize Tennessee's defense.

 

Lakeem Jackson vs. Alabama.jpegBroken Glass: Rebounding is as much about establishing an attitude as gaining a possession.  It sets an aggressive, determined tone that coaches hope will spread to the rest of their team's game.  The Gamecocks have always made aggressive, swarming rebounding a priority. 

 

South Carolina will look to renew their commitment to pounding the boards  (right:  Lakeem Jackson).

 

Yet they've drifted that from identity lately, getting outrebounded by a -33 margin in their last three games (-11 rebs./game).  In fact, the Gamecocks have been outrebounded in each of their last 4 games; they were outrebounded 5 times in their first 18 games.  The Gamecocks need to get back to their hard-rebounding roots against Tennessee.

 

And We'll Be Counting:  In the last three games of the series, Tennessee has made 65 free throws.  South Carolina has only attempted 40.

 

There One Day...  It has become one of the most taunting - and tantalizing - developments of the 2012 season.  Freshman Damien Leonard showed off his smooth shooting stroke and heat-up-in-a-hurry ability against Kentucky, scoring a career-high 19 points on 3-6 three-point shooting.  No player may be a bigger "X" factor in the second half of SEC play than Leonard - he can stretch the floor for players like Bruce Ellington, Malik Cooke, and Anthony Gill to penetrate or get isolations. 

 

But look at Leonard's follow-up games after his biggest high-water scoring marks of the season:

 

Opponent                             Points Scored                         Next Opponent                   Points Scored

Mississippi Valley St.          16                                           North Carolina                     15

North Carolina                      15                                           Southern Cal                         0

Wofford                                  14                                           USC-Upstate                          1

Kentucky                                 15                                           Vanderbilt                             0

Kentucky                                 19                                           Tennessee                              ?

 

Thumbnail image for Damien Leonard vs.UK.jpegLeonard's combined shooting in those last three games:  0-10 FG,  0-6 3pt.

 

Darrin Horn remarked that Damien "showed that he belonged" against Kentucky.  Can he now do it on a more consistent basis?  Staying aggressive, but knowing when to be aggressive? 

 

Man to Stop:  forward Jeronne Maymon.  Sophomore guard Trae Golden may lead the Volunteers in points (12.9) and assists (4.7).  But given Carolina's struggles containing opponents on the glass, Maymon takes top billing.  A 6'7," 265-pound redshirt junior from Madison, Wisc., Maymon is a hard-nosed forward who both finishes at a high rate (.557 FG, #2 SEC) and also pounds the boards (8.4 rpg, #2 SEC).  He's not quite a raw banger like 6'8," 250-pound freshman Jarnell Stokes, but Maymon likes to drive hard from the high post.   

 

Jeronne Maymon.jpgIn their win over Georgia Saturday, the Bulldogs regularly doubled the post, allowing Tennessee's guards to score 40 of their 63 points.  If South Carolina opts to not double-team Maymon, can Carolina's big men prevent Maymon from outmuscling them - or worse yet, getting them into foul trouble?

 

Forward Jeronne Maymon (right) leads Tennessee in scoring and rebounding in SEC games.

 

And Another Thing:  Maymon's older brother, Devonte, plays for South Carolina's exhibition opponent, Kentucky Wesleyan.  Maymon did not make the trip to Columbia (doghouse issues, I was told).

 

Damonster:  Nobody rises to the road occasion more than sophomore Damontre Harris. In four SEC road games, Harris has made 14 of 18 field goals (77.8%) with 15 blocks (3.8 bpg).

 

Damontre Harris '11-12

SEC games                             FG%                        BPG

Home                                     56.0%                     1.8

Road                                      77.8%                     3.8

 

And Another Thing, Part II:  Golden, a former Georgia Mr. Basketball, played on the same McEachern HS (Powder Springs, Ga.) basketball team as Gamecock football players Rory Anderson and Marcquis Roberts.

 

And Finally...  Gamecock players have latched onto a catcall from an opposing student section for their newest nickname.  During warm-ups at Rupp Arena, Kentucky students began calling Anthony Gill "Pauly D," believing his coiffure resembled the Jersey Shore star celebrity character.  Naturally, the Gamecocks have run with it on their freshman forward.

 

 

 

The latest nickname Gamecock players have latched onto.

 

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 in Knoxville.

 

February 3, 2012

 

February 4th has been a magnet for milestones in South Carolina basketball.

 

On February 4, 1956, the Gamecocks had their highest-scoring game, a 121-point effort against The Citadel in Charleston.  On February 4, 1971, John Roche poured in a school-record 56 points in a win over Furman.

 

We'll see if February 4 time-stamps another historic moment for South Carolina basketball.  Pre-tip reads before #1 Kentucky descends on Gamecock Country:

 

SEC-ond Coming:  The Gamecocks have a short turnaround to engineer a not-so-short turnaround from their last meeting with Kentucky, a 79-64 loss in Lexington.  What did we learn from that first game?  What has evolved with the Wildcats since?  Pay attention to these four factors:

 

Terrence Jones.jpgKeep Up With The Joneses:  Heading into the Gamecocks' first matchup, the newspapers in Lexington blared with "What's Wrong with Terrence Jones?" headlines.   In the first two months, Jones' play drifted between uninspired and indifferent, a problem only worsened by a broken pinky on his shooting hand.  Against South Carolina, the 6'9" sophomore made his first 8 shots, finished with a team-high 20 points, and hasn't looked the same since.

 

Terrence Jones (left) has elevated his game since the last time South Carolina faced him.

 

In three career games against the Gamecocks, the 6'9" sophomore has averaged 17.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.  He has a smooth left hand, the playmaking skills of a guard, and the ability to break down taller defenders on the perimeter.  When he's on, teammates like Darius Miller and Doron Lamb have more room, as head coach John Calipari put it, "to do what they do."  Can the Gamecocks reduce his impact Saturday? 

 

Protect At All Costs:  Like the Miami Heat, no team in the SEC converts turnovers into fast breaks as quickly as Kentucky.  With the nation's leading shot blocker, Anthony Davis, playing goaltender around the rim, the Wildcats can play aggressively and gamble for steals on the perimeter.  It helped UK to a 12-0 edge in fast-break points against the Gamecocks January 7. 

 

Yet for all their ponderous length and athleticism, Kentucky doesn't go after turnovers as hard as you think.  The Wildcats rank 9th in the SEC, and 218th nationally, in TO%.  Only 19.8% of opponents' possessions result in turnovers. 

 

Kentucky is not an aggressive takeaway team, meaning Carolina needs to be strong with the ball (right:  Lakeem Jackson vs. Florida).

 

The Wildcats prefer to lay back, wait for blocks (1st NCAA block %), and get runout-rebounds (1st NCAA 2pt. FG% defense).  The Gamecocks only committed 12 turnovers against Kentucky in Lexington.  Can they be strong with the ball again in Columbia?

Kentucky's a Tougher Team:  Not "tougher" in the sense of more talent-laden, but "tougher" in the sense of, well, toughness.  LSU and Tennessee both tried to play Kentucky physically - swinging elbows, delivering hard fouls, and in the case of LSU's Malcolm White, horse-collaring Anthony Davis on a breakaway.  The strategy only seemed to inflame the Wildcats.  Kentucky not only responded, but it dished out punishment of its own, overpowering the Tigers and Vols with its defense and athleticism.  The Wildcats have held their last three opponents to 50 or fewer points, the first time that's happened in three consecutive games since the 1950-51 season.  

 

Ellington vs. Alabama.jpegKentucky has responded to physical play, but John Calipari admitted before the Tennessee game that "we don't want this to be a rough, win-in-the-weight-room game.  That's not how we play."  Can the Gamecocks set a physical tone, but avoid the foul trouble that plagued them in other SEC contests?  Damontre Harris, in particular, was racked by fouls in Lexington - Kentucky outscored Carolina by 14 points over the final 13:50 of the first half after Harris collected his second foul.

 

Bruce Ellington has had star-crossed stat lines vs. Kentucky.

 

Get Bruce to Produce:  Bruce Ellington relied on unpredictability to be an effective Wildcat quarterback.  He'll need that same unpredictability as he quarterbacks the Gamecocks against the Wildcats.  Ellington has shot 7 of 35 (20.0%) from the floor and 3 of 24 (12.5%) from three-point range for his career against the Wildcats, often bothered by their unending parade of tall guards.  On the bright side, Ellington has dished out 12 assists versus 2 turnovers in 84 career minutes.

 

Creator vs. Facilitator? - Bruce Ellington Career vs. Kentucky

Shooting                7-35 FG  (20.0%),  3-24 3pt. FG  (12.5%)       

Passing                   12A,  2 TO  (6:1 A/TO ratio)

 

Ellington sometimes rushes against tall backcourts, quick-firing shots or trying to shoehorn drives into the lane.  That's understandable - he needs an extra half-step to get his shot over players 8" to 13" taller than him.  The Gamecocks will need his offense Saturday.  But if the situation calls for it, can Bruce still make an impact without scoring?

 

And Finally... Kentucky reserve forward Eloy Vargas practiced with the Dominican Republic National Team this summer, but didn't make the final roster for the FIBA Americas Tournament.

 

Who was the Dominican Republic head coach who delivered that unkind cut?

 

John Calipari.

 

Now that we're prepared, we hope you are as well.  Our pre-game coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you at Colonial Life Arena.

 

February 2, 2012

 

Brenton Williams' shooting ability has been a poorly kept secret in the Gamecocks' practice facility.

 

"I always challenge our guys after practice to see how many [three-pointers] they can make in a row.  He holds the record - 31 in a row," assistant coach Mike Boynton said on "Carolina Calls."

 

Brenton Williams.jpegNow, Williams' marksmanship has started to leak out to the rest of the SEC.  After dropping a career-high 15 points against Ole Miss, the 5'11" Kissimmee, Fla., native has shot his way into a more prominent role in the Gamecocks' backcourt rotation.  He'll have a chance to solidify that spot Thursday, when the Gamecocks return to his mater patria to face #12 Florida (9:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network). 

 

Ironically, the Gamecocks' recruitment of Williams required several trips to Gainesville.  Despite earning county Player of the Year honors at Osceola HS, Williams' best scholarship offers came from Division I lightweights Louisiana Tech, Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman.  He opted instead to enroll at Santa Fe Community College, two hours southeast of Kissimmee but 2.3 miles from Florida's Stephen C. O'Connell Center in Gainesville.  Williams said his father convinced him that by going to a junior college, he could play his way into a larger offer.

 

"I definitely got what I wanted out of it.  Good coaching, good competition," Williams said.

 

Seeking help in the backcourt - a need intensified by Bruce Ellington's decision to play football - the Gamecock coaches were intrigued by Williams' play.  He only averaged 11.8 ppg and 39% 3-point shooting at Santa Fe, but his numbers didn't illustrate his impact. 

 

"We could immediately see his athleticism and explosiveness on the offensive end," Boynton said.  "One thing that always happened, whether in high school or junior college, was he was always efficient when it came to scoring the basketball."

 

Brenton Williams-2.jpegAssistant coach Neill Berry, head coach Darrin Horn, and Boynton all made trips to Santa Fe to scout Williams. They enticed him into making a campus visit in April, taking him to a baseball game at Carolina Stadium.  The Gamecock coaches also had to fend off his hometown school, UCF, which had begun to show interest (no small task, considering Williams' closeness to his family). 

 

Fresh off a career-high 15 points against Ole Miss, sophomore Brenton Williams (right) will return to his junior college's hometown Thursday. 

 

Williams began the year as Carolina's third-string guard, a position that only became cemented when he missed five non-conference games due to a knee injury.  His confidence blooming, Williams now gets his shot at the Gators, in the city where his play first caught South Carolina's eye.

 

More pre-tip reads as South Carolina prepares for reptilian warfare in Gainesville:

 

Stopping the Rain:  Very little has changed since the Gamecocks and Gators met January 14.  Florida still leads the nation in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, and ranks second in Effective Field Goal %  (57.2%).   The Gators share the ball, take care of the ball, and ultimately, bury opponents under an avalanche of threes.  The Gators have a lethal combination of shooting a high percentage from three, while also attempting a high volume of three-pointers.  Florida ranks 7th in the nation in 3pt. FG% (40.8%), while ranking 5th in the nation in 3PA/FGA (44.3%). 

 

In fact, Florida could be on the verge of history:  in the last 10 years, no team from a major conference has finished in the top 10 nationally in both 3pt.% and 3PA/FGA.

 

Statistic                  Percentage                           NCAA Rank

3pt. FG%                40.8                                        7th

3PA/FGA                44.3                                        5th

 

 

Florida 3.jpgAs South Carolina holds firm in its 2-3 matchup zone, Darrin Horn addressed how Carolina can better defend Florida's three-point gunning.  The Gators converted 12 of 24 three-pointers in their January 14 meeting.

 

"The thing we've got to do, which hurt us in the first game, is to eliminate some of the easy ones that come off our mistakes," Horn said.

 

Look for Florida junior Kenny Boynton (left - #1) to seek his shot vs. Carolina.

 

One person who might look to break out:  junior guard Kenny Boynton.  The Gators' leading scorer (17.2 ppg) was held to a season-low 2 points in Florida's last game, a 69-57 win over Mississippi State.  Since knocking down 4 of 7 three-pointers vs. Carolina, Boynton has only made 4 of his last 17.

 

Board Control:   Why does Florida have a probable first-round draft pick, 6'9," 250-pound center Patric Young, coming off the bench?  Ankle tendonitis has forced Florida head coach Billy Donovan to bide Young's minutes. 

 

Patric Young Rebound.jpgWith leading rebounder Patric Young (#4) slowed by an ankle injury, can the Gamecocks take advantage of Florida's smaller lineup?

 

As a result, the Gators have switched to a three-guard lineup, with 6'3" freshman Brad Beal joining 6'1" Boynton and 5'8" Erving Walker in the backcourt.  6'10" sophomore Erik Murphy plays outside-in in the mold of Chandler Parsons, leaving only 6'7" Will Yeguete as a committed, active rebounder. 

 

The Gamecocks are at their best when they offensive-rebound effectively.  Florida has been outrebounded -26 in its last two games, versus Ole Miss and Mississippi State.  Have the Gators left themselves vulnerable on the glass?  

 

Damien Leonard.jpegLeonard's Law:  Freshman Damien Leonard remains in the starting lineup, despite making only 3 of his last 19 three-pointers.  No one who watches the slender freshman doubts the purity of his form.  But Boynton, a former Gamecock guard himself, says Leonard needs to do a better job preparing himself before the ball arrives.

 

"For a kid who shoots the ball as well as he does, he doesn't always have great shot preparation habits.  Is he ready to shoot when the ball is coming his way?  Is he anticipating that next pass?  Or is the ball coming to him, and he's only then realizing that's he's the open man?"  Boynton said.

 

Shot mechanics haven't been the problem for freshman Damien Leonard (left).  Shot preparation has, according to assistant coach Mike Boynton.

 

That means being down, having both feet set, and both hands in a ready position.  Along with the mechanical, Leonard has an intangible working for him:  he saves his best games for Carolina's most towering opponents.  Against South Carolina's four highest-ranked opponents, Leonard has knocked down 41.7% of his threes.  That number drops to 28.8% for everyone else.

 

Damien Leonard 3-pointers

Opponent                             3pt. FGM/FGA

#1 UNC                                   5-11

#2 Ohio State                        2-6

#2 Kentucky                           3-6

#12 Florida                            0-0

                                                 10-24  (41.7%)

Rest of opponents                23-80  (28.8%)

 

Free Throws:  Malik Cooke's game-tying free throw against Ole Miss may have caromed off, but it shouldn't overshadow a strong foul-shooting year by the Gamecocks.  South Carolina has shot 70.6% as a team, 2nd-best in the SEC behind Alabama.  At this rate, they'll become the first Gamecock team to shoot higher than 70% at the free-throw line since the 1987-88 team shot 71.1%.

 

Wild Bill Free Throw.jpgSo after Carolina finished 11th, 12th, and 10th in the SEC in FT% the last three seasons, why hasn't its foul shooting drawn more publicity?  Perhaps it's because the Gamecocks rank 5th-worst in the nation with 14.8 FTA/game.  Combine that with South Carolina's slow-by-design style -- 331st nation in possessions/game -- and the Gamecocks haven't given themselves enough opportunities to showcase their foul shooting.  Look for players like Damontre Harris and Anthony Gill to generate more contact on offensive rebounds, instead of kicking out for three-pointers.

 

Even the heaviest - er, hardiest - of distractions hasn't bothered South Carolina at the FT line.

 

14.8 FTA/game  (340th NCAA) +  61.9 Possessions/Game  (331st NCAA) = Not enough FTA!

 

Cash In:  Getting to the free-throw line has been an important part of South Carolina's victories over Florida recently.  In 2010, Carolina converted 19 of 24 free throws in a 77-71 win.  In their 72-69 upset in Gainesville in 2011, the Gamecocks made 11 of 15 free throws.  Opportunities like that come scarcely against the Gators:  in the last two years, Florida ranked 340th and 342nd in the nation in fouls per game.

 

Short Turnaround:  As the Gamecocks embark on their first Thursday-Saturday turnaround in SEC play, perhaps they can take notes from Florida.  The Gators are 11-1 in Thursday-Saturday SEC turnarounds since 2010.

 

And Finally... The father of Florida guard Kenny Boynton is a Broward County Sheriffs Deputy.  He had a K-9 dog as a family pet growing up.

 

Now that we're prepared, we hope you are as well.  Our coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you then.

January 25, 2012

 

There's a difference between defeated and daunted. 

 

Through four SEC games, the Gamecocks were unquestionably the former.  Wednesday night showed they were far from the latter.  After plenty of flashes and stretches, South Carolina pieced together enough of both to capture its first SEC win, a 56-54 victory over RPI #29 Alabama. 

 

"We came out and worked like we were undefeated," Darrin Horn said of his team's practices leading up to the Alabama game. 

 

Now comes the tricky part:  making that win stick on the road.  The Gamecocks face an Ole Miss team Saturday (13-7, 3-3 SEC) that led Florida by as many as 16 points before falling 64-60 Thursday night. 

 

The Rebels come in defeated. 

 

Will they be daunted? 

 

Pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks and Rebels tee it up at Tad Smith Coliseum:

 

Thumbnail image for Alabama.jpegSuspended Drivers:  Tenacious defenses.  Opportunistic offenses.  Imposing frontcourts.  Inexperienced backcourts.    And rancidly unreliable three-point shooting.  On the surface, it seems like Ole Miss and Alabama have much in common.  But Horn says the Rebels have one area which makes them more dangerous.  

Can the Gamecocks deny dribble penetration like they did so well vs. Alabama?

 

"They have a few more guys who can just go create offensively for them," he said on "Carolina Calls."  "That's going to be a challenge for us, especially on the road.  They create pretty well off the dribble, even from the '3' and the '4' spot.  We're going to need to do a good job defensively of keeping the ball in front."

 

Horn said his team did its best job all year of denying driving lanes from Alabama's guards.   Against superior slashers like the Rebels' Jarvis Summers, Nick Williams, and Jelan Kendrick, the Gamecocks will need an even better effort.  Ole Miss' biggest strength comes on the boards:

 

-          1st SEC rebounding margin, SEC games (+9.8)

-          2nd SEC rebounding offense (40.0)

-          2nd SEC offensive rebounds (13.6)

 

If Carolina can't contain Ole Miss' dribble penetration, it'll result in more rotations off the ball - which could leave the Gamecocks out of position for rebounds.

 

...And On the Other Side:  As the Alabama game illustrated, South Carolina is a different team when R.J. Slawson and Anthony Gill are active on the boards.  After combining for just 3 rebounds against Auburn, "Slaw" and "AG" had 9 rebounds apiece against the Crimson Tide.  Most importantly, the Gamecocks lost very few "chase-down" rebounds, where a shot caroms away and a player must beat his opponent to the ball. 

 

Ole Miss ranks 23rd in the nation in 2pt. FG% defense (33.7%).  Alabama ranks 12th.  To be successful, the Gamecocks must follow the same blueprint from Wednesday:  rebound their misses and not waste possessions on turnovers. 

 

Terrance Henry.jpgMan To Stop:  Reigning SEC Player of the Week, forward Terrance Henry (right).  The Rebels no longer have dynamic point guard Chris Warren - and his rabbinical beard - as their instant-offense alpha dog.  In addition, leading scorer Dundrecous Nelson (11.2 ppg) was dismissed from the team in January for a violation of team rules.  The Rebels have instead turned to Henry, a 6'9," 210-pound forward with a soft touch around the perimeter.  Darrin Horn describes Henry as "long and versatile," and he has the ability to open the floor for his teammates.  He's also nimble enough to be a defensive headache - head coach Andy Kennedy matched him on Mississippi State point guard Dee Bost, and placed him at the top of a 2-3 zone against Georgia. 

 

Horn on Holloway:  Paired alongside Henry in the frontcourt will be Rebel-turned-Gamecock-turned-Rebel-again Murphy Holloway.  The Irmo native played his first two seasons in Oxford before transferring to South Carolina.  After sitting out the 2010-11 season, Holloway opted to return to Ole Miss.  

 

Darrin Horn gave his first comments about facing Holloway on "Carolina Calls":

 

"I'm actually looking forward to seeing him just personally.  [He's a] terrific kid.  I really enjoyed having him in our program.  He's doing what we all know he does well - rebound the basketball, and finish at the rim, and use his great athleticism for the Rebels."

 

The Gamecocks won't need a lengthy scouting report on Holloway.  He's athletic, active, and a powerful offensive rebounder.  He also has a dominant left hand and a nifty spin move off the dribble.  But Horn shrugged off the notion that their familiarity with "Big Murf" gives them an edge.

 

Lakeem Jackson vs. Alabama.jpeg"The thing is, what he's good at, he's good at every night.  He's hard to key on.  He's just a terrific athlete that's very active around the basket.  I don't know if there will be much to our advantage on that," he said.

 

One For The Road?  The home team has won 18 of the last 20 games in this series.  Former SEC West teams are a combined 61-8 at home this year (.884).

 

Lakeem Jackson will try to deliver a rare win for the road team in this series.

 

State of Rebellion:  Ole Miss played a sagging 2-3 zone against Georgia, daring the Bulldogs to shoot 3's and choking down driving lanes for Georgia guard Gerald Robinson.  South Carolina, as we've seen all year, plays its best when it makes a concerted effort to play inside-out.  After an abysmal 5-31 three-point performance against Alabama - even Darrin Horn called it "horrific" - will Ole Miss use the same tactic against the Gamecocks?

 

Force The Forcing:  Ole Miss has six guards on its roster.  Five of them are freshmen.  That lack of seasoning shows up most in Ole Miss' turnovers and three-point shooting.  Like Alabama, Ole Miss shoots an alarmingly low 28.3% from three-point range, good for 328th in the nation.  The Rebels also commit an SEC-high 15.6 turnovers per game, more than one turnover worse than the next biggest offender.  Can the Gamecocks force the Rebel guards into forcing action in the halfcourt, and disrupt the flow of Ole Miss' offense?

 

And Finally... Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy played his freshman season at North Carolina State, where he played on the Wolfpack's 1987 ACC Tournament championship team.  One Gamecock had a front-row seat for Kennedy's only year in Raleigh:  head baseball coach Ray Tanner served as N.C. State's 45-second shot clock operator at the time.

 

 

N.C. State Team Photo.jpgOle Miss head coach Andy Kennedy as a freshman at N.C. State (#21).  You might know the Wolfpack's shot clock operator that season.

 

 "Andy Kennedy, sharpshooter," Tanner replied when I asked him about Kennedy.

 

Tanner also served as official scorer during the Jim Valvano era.  But when it came to operating the shot clock, he wasn't above giving his alma mater a slight home-court advantage.

 

"I liked watching the game better than keeping the score.  You could also start [the clock] a little later when the Wolfpack had the ball," Tanner said slyly.

 

The clock for the Gamecocks starts at 7:00 p.m. Saturday.

 

Now that we're prepared, we hope you are as well.  Our coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you in Oxford.

 

January 25, 2012

 

Pre-tip reads before South Carolina and Alabama collide under the CLA roof:

 

Pressure Points:  At the end of the day, scouting reports only offer clues, not facts.  Heading into their contest against South Carolina, Auburn had played mostly a 2-3 zone defense.  Outside of the Gamecocks, no SEC team had trotted out more zone than the Tigers.  When the ball tipped, though, Auburn abandoned it for a pressuring man-to-man, crowding Carolina's ball-handlers and making it difficult for them to "catch and create." 

 

Twenty-three turnovers later, the Gamecocks trudged out of Auburn Arena with a 63-52 loss.  However, the Tigers may have unwittingly prepared the Gamecocks for the defense they'll face Wednesday.  Alabama (13-6, 2-3 SEC), under the steel-melting gaze of head coach Anthony Grant, plays a withering man-to-man which puts the Tide near the top of the NCAA defensive charts:

 

-          12th NCAA in scoring defense (57.5 ppg)

-          7th NCAA in field goal percentage defense (37.3%)

-          8th NCAA in 3-point percentage defense (27.6%)

-          3rd NCAA in effective field goal percentage (41.5%)

(as of Jan. 24)

 

Malik Cooke vs. Auburn.jpegAlabama doesn't trap excessively, overload, or full-court press at every opportunity.   Rather, they pride themselves on "staying in front" and not allowing easy shots.  Darrin Horn mentioned the need to get "easy ones" against Alabama - namely stickbacks and fast-break baskets, before Alabama's defense can set. 

 

Also important: don't be timid.  In the last two games, Alabama's opponents have 69 free throw attempts to their 35.  Can South Carolina play hard-nosed, fearless basketball, and get easy points at the foul line?  Can Bruce Ellington shrug off the pressure that he knows will come, and still be an effective penetrator?  If he has to play facilitator, can Damien Leonard, Brian Richardson, or Malik Cooke keep the floor stretched with catch-and-shoot jumpers?  Cooke, in particular, may need to take charge - he's only hit 1-9 three-pointers in conference play.

 

Can South Carolina drive hard like Malik Cooke (right), and get to the free throw line against Alabama?

 

Last 2 games

Team                      FTA

Alabama                35

Opponents            69

 

Thumbnail image for Tony Mitchell.jpgMan to Stop:  Alabama small forward Tony Mitchell (left).  His frontcourt running mate, preseason 1st Team All-SEC pick JaMychal Green, may drip more newspaper ink, but nobody drips more athleticism on the Tide than the 6'6," 210-pound junior from Swainsboro, Ga.  Mitchell earns "Man To Stop" status because he averages close to a double-double for his career against the Gamecocks (12.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg in 3 games). 

 

Mitchell is a skyscraping leaper who primarily scores off cuts, offensive rebounds, and transition opportunities.  His ballhandling has tightened, and his ability to score off the dribble has improved, but it still isn't a featured part of his game.  Mitchell will also have the motivation of shaking off a terrible shooting slump - in his last two games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky, he has averaged 3.0 ppg on 2-17 FG. 

 

Rele-vant Information:  Looking to curb your 2nd-half defensive struggles?  South Carolina should look no further than Alabama point guard Trevor Releford.  Check out Releford's scoring splits over the last 2 games:

 

Opponent                             1st Half Pts.                          2nd Half Pts.

Vanderbilt                             0                                              14

Kentucky                                0                                              17

TOTAL                                    0                                              31

 

I don't think I've seen anything like that before.  Releford, by the way, rated as Scout.com's 10th-best point guard in the Class of 2010.  Bruce Ellington ranked 12th.

 

Jack-ed Up?  In three career games, junior Lakeem Jackson has averaged 10.7 rebounds/game against Alabama.  He set his career high with 14 boards against the Crimson Tide in the 2010 SEC Tournament in Nashville.

 

Alabama 3-pointer.jpgRaining Three's:  Apparently, Nick Saban used Tuscaloosa's entire supply of three-pointers for the BCS National Championship Game.

 

Alabama ranks 2nd in the nation, scoring 63% of its overall points from 2-point field goalsThe Crimson Tide do not have a true three-point artist in their rotation - Releford fits that mold the most - and on top of that, they average 28.0% 3pt. as a team  (334th in the nation).  

 

Three pointers?  They don't happen often with Alabama (Right:  freshman Trevor Lacey).

 

Conversely, the Gamecocks rank 332nd in the nation in 3pt. defense, permitting 40.1% shooting from three.  Will Wednesday's game offer relief to the rained-upon Carolina defense?  Here's the quirk:  the next highest major-conference teams in 2pt. FG distribution have all faced the Gamecocks.  And all three knocked down more three-pointers than they were accustomed to: 

 

Opponent                             2pt. Distribution (NCAA Rank)                          vs. USC

Alabama                                62.9% (2nd)                                                            ??

Southern Cal                         62.3%  (8th)                                                            53.9%

North Carolina                     61.9%  (12th)                                                         52.9%

Ohio State                             61.6%  (13th)                                                         59.4%

 

South Carolina allowed too many easy drives against Auburn, where the help-side defender stood motionless.  Alabama will want to attack inside.  Can the Gamecocks be more aggressive in their help-side defense, and dare Alabama to beat them from three?  Or will the Crimson Tide defy their three-point percentages like Carolina's other opponents?   

 

No Trespassers:  Damontre Harris broke his previous career high with 6 blocks against Auburn, most of them of the malevolent, highlight-reel quality.  After rejecting Kenny Gabriel on a baseline dunk in the 1st half, Harris shook his head wistfully, as if to say, "What were you thinking?"

 

I asked Harris what he learned most in his freshman season as the backup to Sam Muldrow, Carolina's all-time blocked shots leader.

 

"He taught me about timing," Harris told me before practice Tuesday.  "You have to anticipate, stay low, and always be ready."

 

Equally impressive, Harris logged a career-high 37 minutes against Auburn while only committing one foul.  He'll need to bring that same floor presence against Alabama's imposing front line.

 

And Finally... Brian Richardson's first scholarship offer came from Anthony Grant.  He offered him while still head coach of VCU.

 

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

January 20, 2012

 

Anyone who saw the schedule knew it would be tough.

 

Few knew how historically tough it would be.

 

As the Gamecocks return to SEC play against Auburn (11-7, 1-3 SEC), they do so with an unforgiving gauntlet behind them.  South Carolina opened conference play by facing three teams ranked in the Associated Press' preseason Top 10 poll (#3 Kentucky, #7 Vanderbilt, #8 Florida).  The Gamecocks battled hardily, but dropped all three, the latest a 79-65 setback to Florida.

 

After some research, I discovered an astonishing stat.  In the last 15 years of the AP poll, only two other schools have opened their conference schedule by facing three straight preseason Top 10-ranked opponents. 

 

·         In 2008-09, Georgetown - itself a preseason top-25 team - faced Connecticut (AP preseason #2), Pittsburgh (#5), and Notre Dame (#9) in succession.  The Hoyas beat the Huskies, but lost the next two.

 

·         In 2002-2003, Iowa State hosted Kansas (AP preseason #2), played at Texas (#4), and then hosted Oklahoma (#3).  True to their nickname, the Cyclones must have felt sucked in by an uncontrollable centrifugal force; ISU lost all three.

 

Malik Cooke vs. OSU.jpeg(Thanks to Chuck Sullivan of the Big East, Rob Carolla of the Big XII, and Heather Hirschman of the ACC for assisting me in the research).

 

South Carolina's SEC schedule has been literally once-every-five-years arduous.  That said, the Gamecocks offer no excuses for their 0-3 start.  Winning is the expectation, without exception.  The Gamecocks can't let their opening schedule, however brutal, affect their resolve.  Pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks and Tigers lock claws and paws on the Plains:

 

(By the way, Auburn did not begin the season ranked in the Top 10.)

 

You Don't Know The Half of It:  If a team struggles with shooting, coaches have shooting drills.  If a team falters on the boards, coaches have rebounding drills.  So how does a coach practice more consistent efforts from one half to the next?  Untimely, up-and-down halves have submarined the Gamecocks in their three SEC games (they currently have a 25.7 point differential between halves). 

 

Lakeem Jackson.jpegI asked Darrin Horn on how he addressed those swings.  While it's important to understand why the drop-offs occur, he says it's more important to maintain the right mentality.

 

"We've seen this from the last two teams that we've played. You learn to come out and just keep grinding and keep chipping away and keep doing the things you need to do with experience.  Sometimes when it doesn't go well, we let it get to us," Horn told me on "Carolina Calls."

 

How The Other Half Lives:  Despite matching its win total from last season, Auburn has had its own problems with dry spells.  In a 65-58 overtime loss to LSU, the Tigers managed one field goal in overtime.  They mustered just one field goal in a nine-minute span against Kentucky.  Indeed, Horn may have a kindred spirit in Auburn head coach Tony Barbee, who said this week:  "We're still looking for that catalyst.  One or two guys that can step up and make plays when the game matters."

 

Carolina and Auburn are separated by a mere .001% in field goal percentage (Auburn  .427, South Carolina .426).  Kentucky, Florida, and Vandy rank 1-2-3 in the SEC in FG%; Auburn sits in 8th.  Both teams also use a 2-3 zone as the centerpiece of their defensive efforts.  If a drought occurs, which team can weather it better?  Who can knock down a tough shot, or bust a zone with a three-pointer, to snap their team out of an offensive funk?  Look for that subplot Saturday. 

 

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Kenny Gilbert.jpgMan to Stop:  Auburn guard Kenny Gabriel.  The 6'8," 209-pound senior leads the Tigers with 8.1 rebounds per game, and grabbed a career-high 13 against the Gamecocks in 2011.  Perhaps he owes his rebounding prowess to his head coach at United Faith Christian Academy in Charlotte, N.C.: former Gamecock forward Tony Kitchings. 

 

Gabriel drew headlines when he recorded the first triple-double in Auburn history, a 24-point, 13-rebound, 10-block performance against Bethune-Cookman January 2.  He's a rangy, athletic power forward who can back his opponent in the post, but also step out and shoot the three  (he went 0-8 3pt. vs. LSU).  His inside-out game presents a tricky matchup for Carolina.

 

And Another Thing:  Today marks the 11-year anniversary that Kitchings set the South Carolina school record for rebounds in an SEC game.  Kitchings corralled 18 rebounds against - you guessed it - Auburn.

 

I Feel You, Bruce:  When Bruce Ellington returned from football, he admitted his basketball "feel" would take the longest to regain.  In fewer reps, Ellington's "feel" feels stronger than ever.

 

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Ellington vs. Ohio St.jpeg"He's not trying to do too much, and we're not asking him to do too much.  When he didn't play well down the streth last year, that was probably more my fault, because we were asking him to do too much," Darrin Horn said on "Carolina Calls."

 

Ellington's improved feel may be best reflected in his Assist/Turnover Ratio.  Like any scoring point guard, Ellington must be wary of forcing action that could result in turnovers.  Instead, Bruce has enjoyed his best nights protecting the ball against the top teams in the SEC. 

 

 

Opponent                                                             A/TO                                      Ratio

UK, Florida, Vanderbilt  (9 games)                           30A, 10 TO                              3.0

Rest of SEC (11 games):                                        22A,  33 TO                             0.6

 

Playing Possessed:  For a John Calipari protege, the apple falls far from the tree.  Backed by a 2-3 zone, Auburn's Tony Barbee plays a methodical, slowdown style (10th SEC possessions per game), with the intent to "grind down" opponents.  The slower tempo shouldn't bother Carolina, which itself favors a low-possession game (12th SEC possessions per game).  Could the ability to score easy baskets in transition - Carolina poured in 12 fast-break points against Florida, compared to 2 in its first two SEC games - become an X factor?

 

And Another Thing, Pt. II:  Auburn is led in scoring by redshirt junior Frankie Sullivan (11.2 ppg).  That's not to be confused with this Frankie Sullivan, who co-founded the band "Survivor."

 

Survivor, of course, is most famous for - you guessed it - "Eye of the Tiger."

 

 

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Frankie Sullivan.jpg

 

Auburn frontman(?) Frankie Sullivan.

 

And Finally...  6'10" junior Rob Chubb (10.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg) has developed into a serviceable big man for Tony Barbee.  Chubb uses his body well, and has good vision for a post player (he has as many assists as blocked shots this season).  Barbee says his team struggles to "manufacture points" when Chubb gets into foul trouble.  Can an aggressive attitude and swarm-to-the-boards style make Chubb a spectator? 

 

Oddly, Chubb almost played spectator last year in Columbia:  he forgot to pack his game shoes for the trip.  The Gamecocks graciously loaned him an extra pair, sparing the Tigers from scrambling to a sporting goods store Saturday morning in search of size-17 sneakers.

 

How did Chubb return the favor?  He scored a career-high 18 points.

 

Now that we're prepared, we hope you are as well.  Our coverage starts at 1:00 p.m. EST Saturday on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you then.

January 13, 2012

 

Here's the good news:  Vanderbilt, with its 13-of-22 three-point shooting, has left the building. 

 

Here's the bad news:  an even more prolific three-point shooting team enters the building Saturday.

 

When it comes to long-range gunning, Vanderbilt plays second fiddle in the SEC to the Florida Gators.  Florida already returned a pair of threats in guards Kenny Boynton (45.3%) and Erving Walker (40.2%).  Throw in Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario (39.3%), 6'10" Erik Murphy (47.1%), and freshman Bradley Beal -- hailed by CBSSports.com as the best three point-shooting freshman in the nation -- and head coach Billy Donovan has five players capable of stroking it from deep.  Florida leads the nation with 11.3 3-pointers per game, and ranks 7th in the nation in three-point distribution percentage (39.5% of its points come from three's).

 

NCAA Statistics

Category                Florida                    Vanderbilt

3PM                        1.  (183)                 10.  (151)

3pt. Distribution  8.  (39.0%)             13.  (37.9%)

(as of Jan. 13)

 

A team that shoots a high volume of three-pointers doesn't figure to have the most efficient offense.  Yet when you combine Florida's strong offensive rebounding, limited turnovers, and ability to get to the foul line, the 13-4 Gators rank #1 in the nation in offensive efficiency.  Over 100 possessions, no team scores more points (121.6) than Florida.  

 

Like the Commodores, the Gators also come in fresh off their best defensive performance of the season, a 70-48 demolition of Georgia.  Under near-identical circumstances, can the Gamecocks reverse their result from Tuesday?

 

More pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks and Gators tangle at Colonial Life Arena:

 

Kenny Boynton 3ptr.jpgSilencing the Three:  On "Carolina Calls," I asked Coach Horn what broke down in the 2nd half against Vanderbilt.

 

"In the first half, we weren't thinking a lot.  Defensively, we were focused on just a few things, and being very active.  Then in the 2nd half, we start thinking about, 'Am I supposed to be doing this?' 'What if that happens?'  Instead of keeping that same mindset," he said. 

 

That could prove poisonous against a Florida team that won't hesitate to stroke the open three.  Fast-twitch guard Kenny Boynton (left - 18.9 ppg, 2nd SEC) has become exceptionally efficient in his junior season.  Last year, he and Walker were Florida's only legitimate three-point threats.  Now, Florida can stretch the floor with as many as four knockdown shooters, which limits an opponent's ability to bring a help-side defender.  

 

Tennessee succeeded by contesting shots early, limiting runouts, and affecting Florida's shooting rhythm.  The Gamecocks will need an aggressive, fly-to-the-ball mentality, rather than let their athleticism be bogged down by over-thinking. 

 

Lessons From Last Year:  The Vanderbilt game also turned when John Jenkins buried a pair of transition three-pointers early in the 2nd half.  Erving Walker, in particular, is fond of the stop-and-pop three.  In its first two SEC games, South Carolina has been outscored 20-2 in fast-break points. 

 

"Florida is outstanding in transition.  When you jack bad shots or don't take care of the ball, it lends itself to better shots on the other end for your opponent," Horn said.

 

The Gamecocks did neither in a 72-69 win at Florida last year.  Most important to that victory: 

 

·         The Gators made 2 of their first 9 three-point attempts, with Carolina flashing a hand on every catch. 

·         The Gamecocks committed 4 turnovers over the final 32 minutes. 

 

Ball protection and defending the three-pointer.  Can the Gamecocks heed that game plan again?

 

Let Bruce Loose:  As first announced on "Carolina Calls," Bruce Ellington will make his debut in the starting lineup Saturday.  He's picked an ideal entry point:  of the six SEC opponents Ellington faced multiple times last year, he had his most productive games against Florida.  Take a look at this chart:

 

                PPG                         FG%                                 3pt.%                                     A/TO Ratio

1.             Florida (18.5)        Florida (41.4%)             Vanderbilt  (41.9%)             Kentucky  (4.5:1)

2.             Vandy (17.5)         Vandy (31.6%)              Florida  (29.4%)                    Florida (2.0:1)

3.             Tenn. (11.5)          Tenn. (27.3%)                Tennessee (26.3%)               Ole Miss (2.0:1)

4.             Kentucky  (7.5)     Ole Miss  (20.0%)        Ole Miss  (16.7%)                Vanderbilt  (1.3:1)

5.             Ole Miss  (6.5)      Kentucky  (18.2%)       Kentucky  (14.3%)                Georgia  (0.6+:1)

6.             Georgia  (4.5)        Georgia  (16.7%)         Georgia  (9.1%)                    Tennessee (0.6-:1)

 

Thumbnail image for Ellington vs. Vandy.jpeg

Bruce Ellington has been his most productive vs. Florida in his career.

 

In the areas of scoring, shooting percentage, and ball security, Florida ranked 1st or 2nd in every category.  The Gators' smaller guards (Walker stands 5'9," Boynton 6'1") gave Ellington a better chance to get clean looks on his jump shot.  Against someone of similar stature, Ellington has few peers when it comes to strength and quickness.

 

After a slow-starting 1st half against Vanderbilt - who didn't have one? - Darrin Horn praised Ellington on his 18 2nd-half points.

 

"He puts pressure on the defense because of his ability to get in the paint. He stayed aggressive, but he stayed within the flow of things.  When he got in the paint, they were under-control shots.  He did a really good job of breaking the defense down, and getting it to where he wants to go.  He had great shot selection, and when that happens, we all know what he's capable of offensively," Horn said.

 

Little to Gain from Gainesville:  Florida won the SEC Eastern Division last year, thanks largely to a 7-1 road record.  The Gators have proven far more combustible this year.  The Gators have gone 0-4 in road games, the latest a 67-56 shellacking at Tennessee Saturday.  Poor execution and impatient shooting have been the main culprits. 

 

Statistic                  Home/Neutral                     Road

Turnovers              9.6                                          17.25

Steals                      8.4                                          5.5

 

More turnovers  -- and fewer steals -- mean fewer possessions for a Florida team that thrives on tempo.  Individually, freshman Bradley Beal has converted only 5 of 23 three-point attempts (21.7%) on the road.  Can the Gamecocks' 2-3 matchup zone - which slowed the tempo and wrung out 11 first-half turnovers against Vanderbilt- force the Gators to lapse into their old habits?

 

By The Way:  CBSSports.com listed Beal as the 12th-best shooter in the nation, and the #1-ranked freshman.  #14 on the list:  South Carolina freshman Damien Leonard.

 

Patric Young.jpgMan To Stop:  When teams shoot threes as often as Florida, it helps to have a mosquito lamp in the paint to attract defenders and keep the floor spaced.  For the Gators, that role belongs to 6'9," 245-pound power forward Patric Young (right).  The sophomore rebounds relentlessly, has above-average agility, and is a ripped, menacing presence underneath.  His physical package reminds me of Amar'e Stoudemire.  And he can also do this.

 

If Young gets his defender in a pin-down, his raw strength makes him arguably the toughest player to stop in the SEC.  Outside the block, Young's lack of offensive polish catches up to him.  Can the Gamecocks bump Young a half-step farther from where he wants to catch?

 

Piece Out:  Midway through the 2nd half against Kentucky, with the Gamecocks in their offensive halfcourt, sophomore Damontre Harris stopped in his tracks.  His mouthpiece had fallen out, and Harris had to pick it off the floor.  (In the process, he brought new meaning to the "5-Second Rule" in basketball).

 

Damontre vs. Vandy.jpegWhere shooting free throws or jogging down floor, Harris' mouthpiece dangles from his mouth like a translucent toothpick.  It remains one of the season's great mysteries:  why doesn't Harris use his mouthguard to - you know - guard his mouth?  Harris, for his part, says he barely notices it.  

 

Lately, Harris has been the one popping opponents in the mouth.  Case in point:  in his first 42 career games, Harris had 3 double-digit scoring games.  He's scored in double digits each of his last 3 games, including an 11-point, 10-rebound effort against Vanderbilt.  Harris will likely draw the matchup on Patric Young Saturday - oddly, the Gamecocks recruited Young early out of Jacksonville, Fla., while the Gators pursued Harris late out of Fayetteville, N.C.

 

Need More From:  R.J. Slawson and Lakeem Jackson.  Normally two of the more tenacious rebounders on the Gamecocks, the duo combined for only 3 rebounds in 37 minutes against Vanderbilt.  The Gamecocks will need their activity against Florida's rangy athletes.

 

And Finally... Florida forward Will Yeguete (4.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg) has a brother named Happy.

 

On that note, happy trails. 

 

Now that we're prepared, we hope you are as well.  Our pre-game coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you at Colonial Life Arena.

Former Gamecock men's basketball video coordinator Brian Edelstein was profiled Thursday by CBSSports.com national basketball columnist Gary Parrish.  You can read the article here

 

We first told you Brian's incredible story on the December 2 edition of our blog, "Inside The Chart."  With Brian's story gaining national attention, we wanted to give you an additional chance to read it.  It's long, but we hope you find it worthwhile.

 

--Andy Demetra, "Voice of the Gamecocks"

 

-----------

Originally published Dec. 2, 2011

 

Unimaginable circumstances led former Gamecock video coordinator Brian Edelstein to his first college head coaching position.  What he has done since is even more remarkable.

 

----------

 

Watch.  Rewind.  Stop.  Click.

 

The life of a video coordinator follows a tedious, painstaking rhythm.  Life isn't measured by hands on a clock.  It's measured by clips, and edits, and copies-and-pastes.  Players move silently across computer screens, every detail charted and catalogued, until the game is broken down to its most basic, molecular parts.  It's grunt work at its bleary-eyed essence.  

 

Watch.  Rewind.  Stop.  Click.  For a video coordinator, that routine is repeated tens of thousands of times over the course of a season.  But every now and then, something will interrupt that sequence.  An image will stand out, catch the eye, arrest one's attention, until the person watching can't shake it from his memory.

 

A year ago, Brian Edelstein was breaking down film as South Carolina's Video Coordinator for Men's Basketball.

 

This year, he's the interim head coach at the College of Eastern Utah, a respected junior college in Price, Utah.

 

How he arrived there is marked by an image he won't forget.

 

The Grind Begins

 

The coaching bug had burrowed in Edelstein early.  As a freshman at Foothill College in California, he moonlighted as a high school assistant.  By age 20, the San Carlos, Calif., native filled in as interim head coach for a pair of games.  He arrived at South Carolina in 2010 from Kent State, where he served as a graduate assistant. 

 

Like any video coordinator, Edelstein's job had the holy trinity:  long hours, low pay, and thankless work.  His duties included shooting practice, logging plays, and editing film of opponents - "breakdowns," in basketball lingo.  The job was tiresome, but it came with its share of stress.  No detail could be overlooked.  Video coordinators live in constant fear that a missed clip here, or a wrong edit there, could sabotage their team's preparation -- and thus, their chance of winning.  

 

Edelstein's white, 1972 Chevelle became an all-hours fixture in the Gamecocks' practice facility parking lot.  Coca-Cola never far from his side, he grinded away at a job that often gives the young and ambitious their first break into college coaching.

 

Edelstein Head Shot.jpeg"Brian was a really hard worker.  He was very conscientious with everything that he did.  He really picked up on things quickly, very intelligent, and was a guy that took great pride in doing his job well," Horn said.

 

In July, an assistant at Kent State phoned Edelstein with a tip.  His friend, Brad Barton, the newly appointed head coach at the College of Eastern Utah, was looking for an assistant.

 

"I wanted to get back on the west coast.  It's in the premier junior college conference in the country.  I knew we had a chance to compete for an NJCAA title, and recruit at the highest junior-college level.  Being able to be a first assistant was a big part of it, too," Edelstein said of his interest.

 

Edelstein interviewed over the phone.  Three days shy of his 25th birthday, Barton offered him the job.  Edelstein headed to Eastern Utah, sight unseen. 

 

At an elevation of 5,957 feet, Price, Utah (population 8,400) sits in a picturesque swath of mining country an hour south of Provo.  Clay colored mountains dotted by vegetation surround the town.  Its centerpiece, the College of Eastern Utah, has enjoyed a decorated basketball tradition.  NCAA Tournament legend Harold "The Show" Arceneaux starred for the Golden Eagles.  So did NBA players Eddie Gill and Ime Udoka, and 2011 NBA Draft pick Darington Hobson. 

 

When Edelstein arrived at CEU, he immediately clicked with his new boss.  A 31 year-old former Weber State guard, Brad Barton led Eastern Utah to a 23-7 record as interim head coach in 2010-11, then was promoted to the job permanently.

 

"The thing I liked most about him was his competitiveness," Edelstein said. "He told me his college coaches had to change the rules to every drill, because he'd always find a loophole to win.  He'd do whatever he had to do to win."

In the sedate days of August, where time drips by slowly with recruiting and administrative tasks, Edelstein and Barton licked their chops at their team's potential.

"When I got here, we had a ton of talent.  Truthfully, there was more than both of us realized.  I was definitely excited for how good we could be," Edelstein said.

Both circled the same date:  October 1.  The first official day of practice for junior colleges.

 

"A Pretty Standard Day."

 

Brad Barton.jpgEdelstein knew about Brad Barton's health challenges.  The College of Eastern Utah head coach had Type 1 Diabetes.  Edelstein figures he suffered seizures about once a month.  It also gave Barton trouble sleeping.  Overcome by restlessness, he'd sometimes return to the office late at night, clock a few hours, and return later in the morning. 

 

So when Barton didn't arrive for work the morning of Tuesday, October 4, Edelstein thought nothing of it.

 

"Then it got close to lunchtime, and I shot him a text and didn't hear from him.  He might have been on a different schedule; I wasn't worried.  Then we hit close to practice time [3:00 p.m.], and I started thinking, 'I'm a little worried he had a seizure.'"

 

Edelstein left his office and headed to Barton's basement apartment a few blocks away.  He banged on the door.  No answer.  Edelstein broke a part of the door and forced his way in.

 

"Then I saw him."

 

Barton lay in the bathroom, unresponsive.  Edelstein pulled out his phone and called 911. 

 

It was too late.  Brad Barton, 31 years old, was dead.  Medical examiners have not released an official cause of death, though most believe it was brought on by a diabetic seizure. 

 

Edelstein - the video coordinator so hawkish on details - doesn't remember much about the following minutes.  Paramedics shuffled in and out of Barton's apartment.  A police officer asked him to write a statement.  Calls were made to Barton's friends and coaching colleagues.

 

Then Edelstein realized he had to do something else. 

 

"Truthfully, what I was dreading most was telling our team," he said.

 

A mile away, Golden Eagles players were still in the gym, waiting for their coach to start practice.  Edelstein had to go directly from Barton's apartment to break the news. 

 

He still can't remember how he delivered the message, or what reaction his players had.  That part is buried under a fog of grief.  But the scene that greeted Edelstein when he arrived at the gym remains burned in his mind.  

 

"I was thinking, 'Maybe they'll be shooting around.'  But they had started practicing on their own, doing drills.  That was unreal to me.  That's a testament to [Barton], and the discipline he instilled in some of them.  That was pretty incredible," Edelstein said.

 

Rising From Grief

 

Darrin Horn endured a tragedy of his own while head coach at Western Kentucky.  In May of 2005, his junior guard, Danny Rumph, collapsed and died after playing a pickup game in his native Philadelphia. 

 

Thumbnail image for Horn.jpeg"You're dealing with it yourself personally -  which is hard enough because of your care and concern for people - but you also have to help 10 or 11 guys, and staff members, and everybody else, get through it as well.  

 

"It's really a life-changing event," Horn said.

 

But how do you handle a life-altering event when it occurs three months into your first college coaching job?  Brad Barton had trained some of Eastern Utah's players since they were in high school.  He was a second father to many who had come from tough backgrounds.  How does a 25 year-old pull together 18 emotionally-shaken young men - some of whom were only two years younger than Edelstein -- just three days into preseason practice?

 

When he learned of Barton's death from assistant coach Mike Boynton, Horn called his former video coordinator.

 

"He was very positive, as I expected him to be," Horn said.  "I told him to stay strong and keep doing the right things.  You're a high-character guy.  You're a hard worker.  Your job is just to be there for your players as best you can."

 

The next few days were a blur.  Edelstein still struggles to recall the details.  A crisis counselor helped mourning players.  Students and faculty waited in lines at the Eastern Utah student center, writing farewell messages on blue and gold blankets.  Barton's funeral was held inside the Weber State gymnasium.  Through it all, Eastern Utah administrators faced a delicate decision:  finding a successor to Barton. 

 

A day before the funeral, Edelstein interviewed for the position of interim head coach.

 

"I would have been fine otherwise, but I was 25 years old," Edelstein said. "They were concerned about a couple of things.  And I didn't want to campaign for the job."

 

Edelstein didn't want to, but his players did.  They lobbied to CEU administration to make him interim head coach.  They'd already suffered the loss of their coach.  They didn't need the added stress of learning a new playbook from an outside candidate.

 

A week later, Edelstein was summoned to the Athletic Director's office.  The job was his.

 

 "[My players] were happy," Edelstein said after telling his team at practice three hours later.  " I told them, this is what we all wanted.  Now we have to prove to everybody that they made the right decision."

They wouldn't wait long.  The next day, Eastern Utah was scheduled to play in a preseason jamboree in Salt Lake City.

 

Continuing the Legacy

 

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Brian Edelstein.jpgOn the night of November 4 -- one month to the day after he found head coach Brad Barton dead in his apartment -- CEU opened its season under interim head coach, and former Gamecock video coordinator, Brian Edelstein.  If he had butterflies, they disappeared long ago when he had stepped in as a high school head coach.  Besides, he had more pressing issues:  two projected starters, 6'6" Max Zhakarov and 6'2" Troran Brown, had been ruled ineligible.

 

CEU's opening-night opponent, Impact Academy, a prep school out of Las Vegas, began the game by sinking nine of its first 10 shots.  Eastern Utah drilled them by 30.

 

The Golden Eagles haven't looked back.  Edelstein led CEU to victories in its next eight games, averaging 85 points per contest.  A loss last Saturday to Western Wyoming finally snapped the Golden Eagles' 9-0 start.  Athletic Director Dave Paur, who also serves as the women's coach, has stepped in as Edelstein's assistant.  Another coach, Dave Hammer, works part-time, commuting from Salt Lake City and travelling with the team for their weekend games.  And Barton's parents, Noel and Pam, have come to several of the Golden Eagles' games to show their support.  "That's been really special, just continuing what their son valued in a team and doing his family proud," Edelstein said.     

 While he still uses Barton's playbook, Edelstein acknowledges he has borrowed some of Darrin Horn's teaching concepts.

 

"We're guard-oriented.  We want to trap.  We want to fly around.  There's no out of bounds in our practices, like at South Carolina.  There's no quitting," Edelstein says.

Halfway across the country, as his team prepares to face Clemson, Edelstein has found an admirer in his former boss.

"It's hard enough to make that jump, period.  But to make that jump in the circumstances he made it in, it's an unbelievable challenge. To see him do it well, I think it speaks volumes about him and his work ethic and his ability to stay the course," Darrin Horn said.

 

"The bottom line is whatever's thrown in front of you, you've got to keep going," Edelstein said, reflecting after a recent CEU practice.  "You can't live life with what-ifs."

 

His current circumstances wouldn't permit it.  Besides, if Brian Edelstein did, he might miss the incredible images unfolding in front of him.

January 10, 2012

 

Fouls have a cruel irony.  The cheapest often end up being the costliest. 

 

Thumbnail image for Damontre Harris.jpegAt the 13:50 mark of the 1st half Saturday, Damontre Harris forlornly folded his 6'9" frame into a blue Rupp Arena folding chair.  The Gamecocks' sophomore center took the repose of a reluctant spectator.  After a strong start against the #2 Wildcats - he blocked a shot, dunked a miss, and forced a turnover on the first three possessions -- Harris picked up his second foul challenging a Doron Lamb drive.  He didn't return again in the 1st half. 

 

Carolina only trailed Kentucky 10-7 at the time.  But with the Gamecocks' top post player out of commission, the Wildcats smartly went on the attack.  Nineteen of Kentucky's final 25 points of the half were scored in the paint or at the free-throw line (14 in the paint, 5 FT).   Even Darrin Horn wondered in our post-game interview what impact Harris might have had, had fouls not consigned him to the bench.

 

As South Carolina prepares to face 11-4 Vanderbilt (9:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network), Harris' importance cannot be understated.  Though not a featured scorer, he has all of the indispensables for a Gamecock victory:  game-changing length; a team-high 32 blocks; and the ability to score on stickbacks.

 

After going through the play-by-play charts, it's obvious the effect an early second foul has on Harris - and the rest of the Gamecocks:

 

Damontre Harris 2nd Foul

Opponent             Time of P2            Score                      Halftime Score                     Differential

WCU                       14:57                     WCU 5-3                35-25 USC                             (+12)

Tennessee St.       9:53                       TSU 12-7                33-19 TSU                             (-9)

MVSU                     8:48                       USC 21-8               30-26 USC                             (-9)

North Carolina     8:22                       UNC 27-16            45-32 UNC                            (-2)

S.C. St.                    10:38                     USC 23-6                45-23 USC                             (+5)

Kentucky               13:50                     UK 9-7                    34-18 UK                               (-14)

 

Vanderbilt has a pair of muscular big men in 6'9," 245-pound Steve Tchiengang (4.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and 6'11," 255-pound Festus Ezeli (6.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg).  A preseason 2nd Team All-SEC pick, Ezeli has returned slowly from a sprained right knee, but remains a power presence in the paint.  Especially critical to Harris:  Ezeli led the SEC in fouls drawn per 40 minutes last year (7.4 FD/40). 

 

Coach Horn said of Vanderbilt: "offensively, they're as good, if not the best team in our league in terms of versatility."  In addition to Ezeli and Tchiengang, guard John Jenkins (20.3 ppg) and ultra-athletic slasher Jeffery Taylor (17.4 ppg) rank 1st and 3rd in the SEC in scoring.  Point guard Brad Tinsley binds the offense with a team-leading 4.1 assists/game.  After a #7 preseason ranking, the Commodores have slowly started to play like an experienced, late-March threat again.  With so many diverse scorers, the Gamecocks can't afford one of their key cogs handcuffed by foul trouble.  Can "Big Tre" avoid the early second-foul blues, and be the presence the Gamecocks need?

 

More pre-tip reads before the Commodores and Gamecocks lock horns at Colonial Life Arena:


Living Free:  Harris has also shown marked improvement at the free-throw line.  After connecting on 59.1% of free throws last year (13-of-22), Harris has stroked it at a 78.3% rate this year (18-of-23).

 

Damontre Harris Free Throws

Year                        FTM-FTM                               FT%

2010-11                 13-22                                     59.1%

2011-12                 18-23                                     78.3%  (+19.2%)

 

 

Man to Stop:  Vanderbilt three-point threat John Jenkins.  Few shooters in the country inspire more hold-your-breath moments than the Commodores' 6'4" shooting guard, who uses his hair-trigger release to pour in an SEC-leading 20.3 ppg.   Not only can Jenkins score (45.9% 3pt.), but he opens the floor for his teammates.

 

Thumbnail image for john-jenkins.jpg

 

With textbook form and a quick, high release, Vaanderbilt guard John Jenkins shoots 45.9% from 3pt.

 

Of all the players I've watched, few top Jenkins' ability to read screens, slow his defender down, and create space for his jump shot.  Vanderbilt runs lots of "five-out motion" against zone defenses, with Jenkins sprinting along the baseline or cutting through the middle (usually with a screen).   Darrin Horn did not like his team's consistency "flying around" defensively against Kentucky.  Jenkins will get his shots; the Gamecocks need to make sure the majority of them are well-challenged like Cleveland State did in a win this year.  The Gamecocks' 2-3 matchup zone will call for a collective effort, with no lapses in communication. 

 

Grand Dame:  While Jenkins is undeniably a three-point threat, the Gamecocks have had someone with Jenkins-line accuracy lately:

 

Last 6 games                         3pt. FGM-FGA                      3pt.%

John Jenkins (VU)                 24-44                                     54.5%

Damien Leonard (SC)           12-23                                     52.1%

 

And to think Leonard is only shooting 33.3% from the floor.

 

Pick and Rolled Over:  Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings questioned his team's defensive consistency heading into SEC play.  His team more than received the message.  Vanderbilt throttled Auburn 65-35 Saturday, allowing the fewest points in school history to an opponent in the shot-clock era.

 

Ellington vs. Vandy.jpegIn their overtime win at Colonial Life Arena, Vanderbilt matched 6'7" Jeffery Taylor on Bruce Ellington, hoping Taylor's 10-inch height advantage and not-of-this-Earth athleticism would bother Bruce.  Instead, Ellington and Sam Muldrow flummoxed Vanderbilt with a succession of screen-and-rolls, leading to 7-15 3pt. in the 2nd half. 

 

Horn told me this pre-season that one of his team's keys would be the ability for his forwards - namely Malik Cooke and R.J. Slawson - to knock down three-pointers.  Can they succeed in making the screen-and-roll an effective triple-threat against the Vanderbilt defense (Ellington shoots, Ellington drives, screener shoots)?

Wait A Second... "Home team rims" apparently don't exist against Vanderbilt.  The Commodores are allowing 23.1% from three-point range away from Memorial Gymnasium (19-of-82).

 

And Finally...  Vanderbilt guard Dai-Jon Parker's name means "Gift of Hope."

 

The Gamecocks hope to give him very little of it in their SEC home opener.

 

Now that we're prepared, we hope you are as well.  The night shift starts with "Countdown to Tip-off" at 8:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you at Colonial Life Arena.

 

 

January 6, 2012

 

If you're going to start... start at the top. 

 

South Carolina (8-6) opens SEC play Saturday with a visit to #2 Kentucky (14-1), the pre-season favorites for their 45th conference title.  The profile for UK sounds familiar:  long, freshman-oriented, and highly-skilled.  But this year's iteration - called the most athletic team John Calipari has fielded by head coach Darrin Horn - is becoming known for something else:  unrepentant defense.  Using their telescopic length, the Wildcats rank 1st in the nation in blocks (9.2/game) and FG% defense (34.7%).

 

So what's the blueprint for the Bluegrass State?  Enjoy our "Pre-Tip Reads" before the Gamecocks head to Lexington. 

 

And we begin by examining another long-armed opponent that the Gamecocks chopped down to size.     

 

Well-Heeled:  On November 25, South Carolina lost to then-#1 North Carolina 87-62 at the Las Vegas Invitational.  Kentucky and North Carolina not only share lofty rankings, but similarities in a couple of key categories:

 

Category                                North Carolina (NCAA Rank)             Kentucky (NCAA Rank)

Average height                     79.1"  (1)                                               78.9"  (2)

Rebounding Margin            (+11.8)  (2)                                            (+8.3)  (12)

 

Both teams use oversized guards and long, nimble "bigs" to attack the glass.  Kentucky has outrebounded its last two opponents, Louisville and Arkansas-Little Rock, by a comical +53.  Yet in Las Vegas, South Carolina outrebounded North Carolina by +8 (43-35). 

 

 

Anthony Gill vs. UNC.jpg

Anthony Gill (right) defends North Carolina's Tyler Zeller.  The Gamecocks outrebounded the Tar Heels - the only team in college basketball taller than Kentucky - by +8.  (Photo courtesy: timesunion.com)

 

How did the Gamecocks do it?

 

"Especially for us, because we're a low-possession team right now, we created more easy opportunities by getting to the offensive glass.  That's one of the things we did pretty well [against UNC].  It needs to be a collective team effort for us.  The guards have to get down and help," Coach Horn said.

 

Crashing the offensive glass will force Kentucky to match bodies.  As a result, the Wildcats may not be able to break out in transition as much.  Kentucky may have a more relentless rebounding attitude than North Carolina, but it shows the Gamecocks have had success staring down Sequoia-sized teams.

 

Man to Stop:  Kentucky has a solid nucleus of "veterans" in senior Darius Miller (10.9 ppg), sophomore Doron Lamb (team-high 14.9 ppg, 45.9% 3pt.), and sophomore Terrence Jones (11.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, SEC-leading 12 double-doubles last year).  Yet with any John Calipari-coached team, the difference maker inevitably traces back to a freshman. 

 

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Anthony Davis.jpg

Kentucky forward Anthony Davis (#23) leads the nation in blocks/game.

 

Enter forward Anthony Davis.  A 6'10," 220-pound native of Chicago, Davis has a strawman's physique and a #1 NBA Draft pick's game.  Davis leads the nation with 67 blocks (4.46/game), a figure that would tie him for 54th nationally as a team.  Darrin Horn even compared his shot-blocking presence to that of Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, and Alonzo Mourning in college. 

 

With tremendous instincts and a high motor, Davis has the mobility to contest shots on the perimeter or rotate for blocks in the paint.  His 7'4" wingspan equals Damontre Harris', and like the Gamecocks' big men, he runs the floor well.  Offensively, Kentucky doesn't run many structured plays for him, but his soft hands and high energy allow him to catch lobs and score off putbacks. 

 

South Carolina slowed North Carolina's John Henson - a similarly-built, explosive shot blocker - by pushing him off the block and initiating contact on their post moves.  Kentucky head coach John Calipari remarked that Davis "is way tougher than he was earlier [this season]."  Can the same tactic deliver results against Davis? 

 

Taking Charge:  How many 6'8," 235-pound power forwards lead their team in charges?  Through 13 non-conference games, freshman Anthony Gill has sacrificed his body for a team-leading 8 charges drawn. 

 

Ready to Step Up:  A pair of Gamecocks will try to redeem themselves from subpar performances:

 

·         Bruce Ellington, bothered by Kentucky's big guards, shot a combined 4-22 FG (18.2%) against UK last year.

·         Against #1 North Carolina and #2 Ohio State, Lakeem Jackson had a combined plus-minus of -27.

 

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Bruce Ellington.jpegEllington functions best when he has room to slash and use his first-step explosiveness.  Jackson is most effective when he's banging around the basket, pinballing for rebounds.  The Gamecocks need to keep the floor stretched, so those players can serve their roles.  Whether that means R.J. Slawson or Damien Leonard knocking down kickout three's, or Malik Cooke drawing double-teams, Ellington and Jackson need to be involved.

 

The Dark Arts of the Matchup Zone:  No matter how abundant their talent, the Wildcats' inexperience can still rear its head at inopportune times.  Case in point:  Kentucky has committed season highs in turnovers against zone teams.  The Wildcats had 21 turnovers against Old Dominion, which runs a disciplined zone scheme.  Kentucky coughed it up another 21 times against Louisville - which, as discussed on Wednesday's "Inside The Chart," runs a matchup zone similar to South Carolina. 

 

Kentucky  Most Turnovers 2011-12       Defensive Profile

T-1.  21 vs. Old Dominion 11/20/11       Zone

T-1.  21 vs. Louisville 12/31/11               FC Press/Zone

 

Not surprisingly, Gamecock coaches have studied tape of those games. 

 

"You would think a pressing, trapping, man-to-man, deny-everything, crawl-in-their-shorts defense would create the most turnovers.  But oddly enough, sometimes zone defenses do that." Horn told me on "Carolina Calls" Thursday. 

 

"When it's a zone, you can't just catch the ball and go make a play on talent.  You can't create 1-on-1 matchups.  Players end up looking around, trying to figure out what's going on.  That indecisiveness can sometimes lead to being lazy with the ball, and throwing passes and making plays that aren't there."

 

Equally important, Horn says no team is the country converts turnovers into easy baskets as lethally as Kentucky.  Poor shot selection or careless turnovers in the halfcourt will not give South Carolina a chance to get its zone matched up.  Can the Gamecocks accomplish that?  

 

Did You Know:  Kentucky freshman Kyle Wiltjer's Dad, Greg, played in the same frontcourt as A.C. Green on Oregon State's 1982 Elite Eight team.  He was drafted by the Bulls in the 2nd round of the 1984 Draft... the same year they selected some guy named Michael Jordan in the 1st round.

 

And Finally... It may not have the panache of a Rucker Park alias, but Darrin Horn had a basketball nickname of his own on the pickup courts of Lexington, Ky., growing up.  Other players called him "Van Horn."

 

Darrin Van Horn.jpg

Lexington, Ky., boxer Darrin Van Horn.  Not to be confused with Lexington, Ky., basketball coach Darrin Horn.

 

It turns out, a middleweight boxer from Lexington named Darrin Van Horn - yes, that's his actual name - was gaining notoriety at the same time.  Van Horn won a pair of world titles.

 

Our pre-game coverage starts at 3:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you then.

"Inside The Chart" with @GamecockRadio - Jan. 4, 2012

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January 4, 2012

 

It can't be his playing style.  He first gained acclaim as a three-point-sniping guard at Tates Creek HS in Lexington, Ky.  Scoring is in his DNA. 

 

It can't be his coaching background.  At his alma mater, he prided himself on a pressing, trapping, pedal-down style.  In five seasons at Western Kentucky, his teams led the Sun Belt Conference in offensive tempo each season according to kenpom.com.   

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Horn.jpeg

 

So why has Darrin Horn, in his fourth season at South Carolina, turned the Gamecocks into a straitjacketing, grind-you-down defensive team?  Why has his team dropped from 87th in the nation in possessions per game last year (69.3) to 329th this year (62.2)?

 

What's next, Steve Spurrier junking the "Fun N' Gun" for a run-heavy offense?

 

South Carolina Possessions

Year                        Possessions/40 min.                           NCAA Rank (out of 345)

2010-11                 69.3                                                        87th

2011-12                 62.2                                                        329th

 

As South Carolina (8-6) prepares to open SEC play against Kentucky, Horn admits the adjustment took him awhile.  It's not easy for a coach to change his stripes mid-stream.  Now, the Gamecocks head coach has embraced his team's new identity - and believes it can give teams problems in conference play.

 

"I just felt that it gave us the best chance to win," Horn told me this week of his new style.

Ellington vs. Ohio St.jpeg 

At the centerpiece of the transformation is a shape-shifting, 2-3 matchup zone.  Horn drew inspiration for the "zone" - it has many man-to-man principles, based on an opponent's spacing and cutting - from his former head coach at Western Kentucky, Ralph Willard.  Horn also studied film of Louisville, which runs a similar style.  (Not surprisingly, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino hired Willard as his associate head coach in 2009.)

Though it remains a new system, its underpinnings are familiar.

 

"Our mentality still hasn't changed.  We're still about deflections and active hands.  It's just the way we're getting them is different," Horn said.

 

The most telltale sign that the Gamecocks have grown comfortable with their roles in the 2-3 zone:  opponents' 3-point percentage.  After Providence made 6 of 11 from deep in a 76-67 loss December 1, the Gamecocks had allowed 50.0% from three-point range (50 for 100).  Since then, opponents have shot 30.4% (30.7%).  Those opponents came in shooting an average of 32.8% from three.

 

Opponent             3pt. FGM/FGA                      3pt.%

Clemson                 5-18                                        27.8%                                    

Presbyterian         7-18                                        38.9%                    

Ohio State              5-15                                        33.3%                    

SE Louisiana          6-22                                        27.6%                    

Wofford                 5-19                                        26.9%                    

USC-Upstate          8-20                                        40.0%                    

S.C. State                3-15                                        20.0%                    

 

 

"It took us awhile to understand.  Coach would show us in film session what we were doing right and what we were doing wrong.  The main thing is communication.  As long as everybody is communicating, the zone works well," sophomore R.J. Slawson said.

 

The zone has also led to a slower, more methodical style that has eaten into the Gamecocks' possessions per 40 minutes (see chart above).  Don't mistake that for weaknes, though.  Fewer possessions means valuing them more.  It means working for better shots in the halfcourt, rather than Pop-a-Shotting jumpers or taking reckless, early-in-the-clock drives.  With fewer possessions, less gifted scoring teams can hang around longer.  Darrin Horn knows that.    And he believes that strategy will benefit the Gamecocks in the Southeastern Conference.

 

South Carolina received the biggest validation of its matchup zone recently.  Coaches are trained to study patterns, detect tendencies, and find any clue on tape that enables them to call the perfect play.  After his team fell to Carolina, an opposing head coach pulled aside a Gamecock assistant afterwards.  He told him that after breaking down two complete game tapes, he still had "no idea" what Carolina was running defensively.

 

Gives new meaning to the term "in the zone," doesn't it?

 

The next test comes Saturday vs. #2 Kentucky.

 

Other notes on the eve of SEC play:

 

Daily Double:  Another day, another athletic marvel from Bruce Ellington.  A day after contributing to South Carolina's 30-13 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, the sophomore returned to the hardwood, scoring 9 points in 13 minutes against S.C. State.  If he had any fatigue, Ellington kept that information close to his chiseled chest.  But the 5'9" guard has pulled double-duty before:  in December 2009, Ellington suited up for the Shrine Bowl in Spartanburg, then traveled to Charleston the next day to play a basketball game for Berkeley HS against Porter-Gaud.  He scored 7 points in a 66-44 win.

 

R.J. Slawson.jpeg 

A Side of Slaw:  With 9 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 steals against S.C. State, R.J. Slawson turned in another promising performance ahead of SEC play.  Though he didn't miss any games, a sore left foot against Providence clearly left Slawson's athleticism diminished.

 

"I felt like I was moving slower and couldn't jump as high as I wanted to.  I just kept getting treatment.  [Athletic trainer] Mark [Rodger] told me I was getting better.  As games went on, I was getting a feel of everything.  Everything feels 100% now," Slawson told me in the locker room Tuesday night.

 

A consistent Slawson will be a major asset in SEC play.  Freshman Anthony Gill won't feel as much pressure to produce every night.  He gives South Carolina another long-armed leaper for offensive rebounds (Slawson leads the Gamecocks in Offensive Rebounding Percentage).  His ability to shoot the three-pointer (33.3%) can stretch defenses, and won't allow teams to shade an extra man to Ellington on pick-and-rolls (a sneaky way that made Sam Muldrow effective).

 

And Finally... Here's a win to finish up non-conference play - over their last 4 games, the Gamecocks have been tied or leading for 149:21 of a possible 160:00.

 

Check back Friday for our pre-tip reads versus Kentucky.

Dec. 28, 2011

 

The banners still hang in Johnson Gymnasium, but the players most responsible for raising them have left.  The Wofford Terriers come into Colonial Life Arena Wednesday, but with a different profile than the one that brought them back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.  Three-time All-SoCon forward Noah Dahlman (20.1 ppg '10-11) has graduated.  So, too, has SoCon leading rebounder Tim Johnson (8.5 rpg).  Four starters and 80% of their scoring are gone, but Darrin Horn insists the "residue of winning" remains on the Terriers.  Holiday breaks can also be an exasperating equalizer, as teams look to return to their game rhythm.  For a post-holiday opponent, 7-5 Wofford offers some punch.

 

Pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks and Terriers jump center in Columbia:

 

Man to Stop:  Wofford 6'6" senior guard Kevin Giltner.  A reserve the past two years on Wofford's NCAA Tournament teams, Giltner has elevated his scoring to a team-high 16.9 ppg.  Last Wednesday vs. High Point, Giltner connected for a career-high 28 points on 8 three-pointers in a 87-79 loss.  Assistant coach Mike Boynton recruited (and signed) Giltner from Kingston Springs, Tenn., while still a member of Mike Young's staff.  Ironically, one of the schools Boynton had to parry in landing Giltner was Western Kentucky - led by Darrin Horn and assistants Neill Berry and Cypheus Bunton.

                                                                                                                  

Kevin Giltner.jpgWith the graduation of Dahlman, Johnson, and burly forward Terry Martin, Wofford has become a more perimeter-oriented team than a year ago.  The Terriers will try to loosen Giltner on a medley of picks, mainly stagger-screens, screen-the-screener plays, and baseline pin-downs (where a teammate will come from the top of the key to the corner, leaving Giltner to curl over top over him).  Malik Cooke, a fellow 6'6" multi-faceted athlete, played the role of Giltner in recent practices.  The Gamecocks will need to stay attached to Giltner in their 2-3 zone, talk through screens, and "be there on the catch," in South Carolina coachspeak.

 

 

 

Bang The Boards:   They haven't always turned gyms into shooting galleries - witness the 1st half vs. Southeastern Louisiana - but the Gamecocks' effort on the offensive glass has remained consistent.  South Carolina has its highest national ranking in Offensive Rebounding Percentage (% of missed FGA on which the shooting team grabs its rebound), checking in at 29th nationally (38.4%).

 

Offensive Rebound.jpeg

South Carolina has posted its best numbers nationally in offensive rebounds.

 

Darrin Horn described the offensive rebounding technique he teaches to his players:

 

"We talk a lot about going 'baseline and out.'  It's a quirky little thing.  Guys are used to just turning around and finding a guy to box out.  If you go toward the baseline first, you at least force that player to commit to that, which then gives you an opportunity to change angles, or you get behind him and you're on your way to the glass," Horn said.

 

Despite its downshift to a guard-oriented offense, Wofford still has impressive size (6 players in the rotation 6'6" or taller).  The Terriers also lead the Southern Conference in field goal percentage defense (42.0%).  A similar effort on the glass may be required Wednesday.

 

Reserves Running Low?:  Wofford ranks 335th in the nation in bench scoring, getting only 20.8% of its points from its reserves.  South Carolina, by contrast , ranks 25th (39.4%).  The Terriers may seem ready-made to have their depth exploited, but it's far from a guarantee.  Which team ranks last in the nation in bench scoring percentage?  Providence, which beat the Gamecocks December 1.

 

Bench Scoring %

Rank                                                       % of Pts. from bench

25.  South Carolina                              39.4%

335.  Wofford                                       20.8%                                                       ironman.jpg 

 

Speaking of which...

I Am Ironman:  Wofford's Brad Loesing ranks 3rd in the nation, averaging 38.583 minutes per game.  Loesing, a Cincinnati native, has logged 463 of a possible 480 minutes.  Along with fellow yeoman Kevin Giltner (37.917 mpg), the Gamecocks will have quirkily faced 4 of the top 9 players in the nation in minutes per game.

 

NCAA Leaders - Minutes/Game

        Rank                               School                                   Mins./Game

1.       Maurice Jones      Southern Cal                       39.077

3.        Brad Loesing        Wofford                               38.583

6.     Kevin Giltner        Wofford                               37.917

9.     Bryce Cotton         Providence                          37.462             

 

And that list doesn't include Presybterian's Khalid Mutakabbir, who finished 2nd in the nation last year in minutes per game.

 

  Geathers.jpegDo The Carlton:  Care to guess which Gamecock leads the team in rebounds and blocks per 40 minutes?  Redshirt freshman Carlton Geathers.  The soft-spoken, raw center from Carvers Bay HS came to South Carolina as a quintessential "project" (he only played two years of organized basketball).  One-on-one skill sessions with assistant Cypheus Bunton capped almost every practice last year.  Though Geathers only averages 8 minutes per game, Darrin Horn is pleased with the way he has maximized his minutes.

 

"Honestly, Carlton is probably a year ahead of schedule in my mind," Horn told me, referring to their long-term plans for his.  "Everything that he brings us is positives.  He doesn't turn the ball over, he's solid on defensive assignments, and he's bringing us a physical presence rebounding the basketball."

 

 With R.J. Slawson's numbers dipping after his sore foot vs. Providence (see below), Geathers' play has steadied the Gamecocks' front line.  Can he continue his solid minutes, and give himself a for SEC play?

 

R.J. Slawson          PPG                         RPG

Before injury        7.5                          5.7

After injury (4g)   1.8                          1.5

 

And Finally... Part therapy, part personal challenge, and with a manager dutifully feeding him, Darrin Horn will occasionally shoot free throws before practice or during water breaks.  Pure form clearly does not age.  Another revelation from Coach Horn on "Carolina Calls":  he made 62 straight free throws before a practice this year.

 

Join us Wednesday beginning at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you then.

 

Dec. 16, 2011

 

On the seventh day, he rested. 

 

And on the eighth day, he beat Clemson again.

 

Sophomore Bruce Ellington capped a memorable eight-day run December 4, scoring 9 points in a 58-55 comeback win over Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum.  That joined his 3-catch, 71-yard, 1-touchdown night in a 34-13 victory over the Tigers at Williams-Brice Stadium in football.

 

Ellington may shrug his thickly-cabled shoulders at his dual-sport achievements (and based on his press conference comments, he has).  But perhaps he shouldn't be so non-chalant.  According to my research, the last Gamecock to letter in football and basketball in the same year happened 61 years ago.*

 

"You just figured it was part of what you did."

 

Before Ellington, there was another Lowcountry native, John "Lip" Latorre, who played defensive end and guard for South Carolina in 1950.  Chuck Prezioso of Columbia also played both sports in 1950.

 

 

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Bruce Ellington.jpeg 

Now 82 years old, Latorre is retired in Mt. Pleasant following a long career in the transportation industry, most recently as an East Coast sales rep for Swift Transportation.  But back in September 1948, he arrived at South Carolina on a basketball scholarship after a standout career at Bishop England HS in Charleston.  He also brought along a distinctive nickname, which still appears next to his name in the South Carolina media guide.

 

"I got that ['Lip'] in high school.  I think it was because I gave officials a hard time.  Also, one time I got in a fight on my way to basketball practice, and had a [speaking] impediment because my lips were split.  But mostly it was because I made noise to officials," Lattore recalls with a chuckle.

 

Latorre and Prezioso played freshman football and basketball in 1948 (their freshman football team went undefeated).  After a redshirt year in the fall of 1949, Latorre pulled his first varsity double-duty in 1950, playing defensive end for Rex Enright and guard for Frank Johnson.  Though he came to Carolina on a basketball scholarship, his transition on the hardwood wasn't as smooth:   

 

"I was a 6'1" center in high school.  When I got there, [Jim] Slaughter was 6'11."  I had a hard time adapting, because you play with your body to the back of the basket as a forward," Latorre said.

 

He has fond memories of battling former national champion Long Island University at Madison Square Garden, and dueling against Duke's Dick Groat, the future World Series MVP for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Like Ellington, there was the satisfaction of a 76-61 drubbing at Clemson.  Still, Latorre's re-cast role as a guard left his playing time diminished:  he only scored 6 points in 3 games in 1950.  After the season, he approached coach Frank Johnson with a proposition.

 

"I went to Frank Johnson and said I'm not sure I belong on the team.  I didn't feel I was accomplishing much, and I was doing well in football.  Can you let me concentrate on football?  And he said yes," Latorre said.

 

 

Dedicated full-time to football, Latorre captained Rex Enright's 1952 squad, and beat Clemson by a combined 26-0 his final two seasons.  After South Carolina, he enlisted in the service, playing two years of football with the Bainbridge Naval Training Center in Port Deposit, Md.  He took a correspondence course in Spanish to complete his degree at Carolina, then returned to Charleston to take over the head coaching position at his alma mater, Bishop England HS.  Latorre has been a Gamecock Club member for 44 consecutive seasons, still has season tickets, and follows the Gamecocks ardently.  

 

Back in Columbia, I asked Ellington to guess the last time a Gamecock lettered in football and basketball in the same season.

 

He cocked an eye to the ceiling in contemplation. 

 

"1997, maybe?"  he replied.

 

When told of his once-in-60-years athletic achievement, the normally mild-mannered Ellington let out an exaggerated "Gawwwwd!"

 

Ellington paused to reflect on his connection with Latorre.  "That's crazy.  I just thank God for giving me the ability to play both sports right now." 

 

Before he headed in for practice, Ellington added one last thought.

 

"But you know there are some great athletes who come out of Charleston."

 

Ellington and the Gamecocks battle Southeastern Louisiana Wednesday at Colonial Life Arena.  Join us beginning at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.

 

* - Derek Watson played 1 game (2 minutes) for South Carolina during the '01-02 season before being declared inactive.  Thus, he is not considered a letterwinner and is not recognized as an official "dual-sport athlete" at South Carolina.

December 16, 2011

 

Say this about the Gamecocks:  they don't dodge a fight.  Of the 344 teams in Division I, South Carolina is the only school that has scheduled regular-season games against the Associated Press' preseason #1-, #2-, and #3-ranked teams this year.  In the middle -- but far from middling -- the #2 Ohio State Buckeyes roll into Columbia Saturday, bringing an impressive catalogue of players and stats.  Can a raucous atmosphere at Colonial Life Arena make life unruly - and a Gamecock team coming off its best shooting half of the season make life uneasy - for the Buckeyes?

 

Pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks and Buckeyes jump center:

 

A Cat's Cradle Defense:  What makes Ohio State's defense (56.2 ppg allowed) so treacherous?  The Buckeyes rank 3rd in the nation in Turnover % Defense, forcing turnovers on 29.5% of possessions.  When teams do fire off shots, the Buckeyes are ready and waiting:  they also rank 7th in the nation in Offensive Rebound % Defense, allowing opponents to grab an offensive board on only 23.4% of their misses.  

 

Statistic                                                                  %                             NCAA Rank

Offensive Rebound % Defense                         23.4%                    7th

Turnover % Defense                                           29.5%                    3rd                          

 

Translation:  when you're not turning the ball over against OSU, you're not getting second chances on them, either.  Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton had the most definitive take on the OSU defense.  Last year, the Seminoles - a future Elite Eight team - managed only 44 points in a loss to OSU. 

 

 

 

OSU Defense.jpgSaid Hamilton:  "They make you make plays.  Some teams overplay and deny and do a lot of things, trap and things of that nature.  They're just solid.  They don't reach.  They don't gamble.  They make you earn everything." 

 

The Gamecocks will need to make crisp cuts away from the ball, be strong with the ball, and shy from contact when they penetrate.  Can Bruce Ellington (15 pts. vs. Presbyterian) create his

shots against sophomore guard Aaron Craft, acknowledged as one of the better backcourt defenders in America?  

 

Did You Know:  Ohio State head coach Thad Matta was an assistant coach at Miami (Ohio) when Eric Hyman served as athletic director.

 

Man to Stop:  Sophomore forward Jared Sullinger.  Back spasms limited Sullinger to 25 minutes against USC-Upstate, but the 6'9," 280-pounder still carries a heavy payload.  Beatified by Mike Krzyzewski as "the best player in the country," Sullinger bulldozed for 30 points and 19 rebounds in last year's 79-57 win in Columbus.   This year, he ranks 2nd in the nation in Defensive Rebound %, boarding 32% of other team's misses. 

 

 

 

  Jared Sullinger.jpgSouth Carolina can't let Sullinger catch in deep post position, and must force him to shoot over top.  Otherwise, he may launch into a foul-inducing frenzy like last year, when he was responsible for drawing 6 Gamecock fouls in the first 7:50 of the game.

 

"I think the big thing is always being alert and staying down and not losing sight of your man and letting him slide in there.  We tell our guys it's going to be a fistfight down on the block,"

Darrin Horn said on "Carolina Calls."  "And good post defense actually begins on the perimeter.  We have to have good ball pressure so they can't throw it in there too easily." 

 

Defending The Buckeyes:  Unlike Ohio State, which plays an orthodox man-to-man, the Gamecocks should play plenty of their new-look, 2-3 matchup zone.  The zone will need to be effective against  Ohio State's 6'6" senior guard William Buford, who shoots a team-high 40% from three-point range.  Buford loves to go right, and has shown a greater knack for scoring off the dribble this year. 

 

Against a zone, Ohio State likes to start Buford from the corners, where 6'5" Lakeem Jackson and 6'6" Malik Cooke generally station themselves.  The Gamecocks will need Jackson and Cooke to play their rugged, bulldog perimeter defense.

 

Inside Job:  Give Carolina credit for attacking into defenses more, rather than settling for long-range shots.  In South Carolina's four wins, only 26.2% of its field goal attempts have come from three-point range (56 of 213).  In Carolina's five losses, a whopping 42.7% of its field goal attempts have been triggered from three (123 of 288).

 

Three-Point Distribution

                                3pt. FGA                                Overall FGA                           %

Wins                       56                                          213                                         26.2%

Losses                    123                                        288                                         42.7%

 

I asked Jackson for the reason behind the upswing.  He says it boils down to a simple philosophy:  just because you're open, doesn't mean it's a good shot.

 

 

PC.jpeg 

"We're not settling.  We're working the ball around, looking to drive the ball but shooting the open shot.  We're not forcing our shots," Jackson said.

 

And Finally... A day before the Presbyterian game, senior Malik Cooke had other business to tend to at Colonial Life Arena.  The Charlotte, N.C., earned his degree in Sociology, becoming the latest Gamecock basketball player to earn his cap and gown.  Afterwards, Coach Horn had some good-natured ribbing at Cooke's expense.

 

"I joked with him afterwards that he looked pretty serious for a guy that should be happy.  He said, 'I was just thinking about not falling, Coach.  I don't want to fall in front of all those people,'" Horn said. 

 

 The Gamecocks don't plan on any trip-ups tomorrow.  In fact, they hope they've hit their stride.

 

Our pre-game coverage versus Ohio State begins at 11:30 a.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  See you at Colonial Life Arena.

"Inside The Chart" with Andy Demetra - December 14, 2011

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December 14, 2011

 

Assistant coach Mike Boynton had the unenviable task of charting the Gamecocks' missed layups against Presbyterian Tuesday.  In the first half, Boynton tallied 13 missed layups (on 22 overall FGA), prompting head coach Darrin Horn to channel his inner Dan Hawkins in the locker room ("Make a layup," he told his team.  "It's Division I basketball").  With 19 points and another halftime deficit, the aggravation was mounting.

 

By the second half, Boynton could save his ink.  The Gamecocks finished with 0 missed layups, 47 points, and a 66-58 victory over the Blue Hose.  Anchored by those close-range baskets, South Carolina shot 70.4% (19 of 27) in the 2nd half, its best shooting percentage in a half since connecting on 68.0% of its attempts in the 2nd half against.... Presbyterian December 23, 2008.

 

More notes, quotes, and anecdotes from Presbyterian and the prior week in Carolina basketball:

 

Three No More:  Once again, stifling defense set the tone in the second half.  The Gamecocks made better weak-side rotations out of their 2-3 zone, denying Presbyterian the wide-open, kickout three-pointers they had feasted on in the first half.  In the past two games - both comeback wins - the Gamecocks have thrown a fence around the arc in the 2nd half:

 

Last 2 Games

Half                         3pt. FG%

1st Half                   47.6%  (10-of-21)

2nd Half                   13.3%  (2-of-15)

 

South Carolina builds its zone around a philosophy of "switching out to take away" on the perimeter.  They've hammered that home the last two games.

 

Finding His Rhythm:  Bruce Ellington has shown that competitiveness and confidence doesn't need to be rusty, too.  In his third game back, Ellington put together his most complete game of the season against Presbyterian, dropping a team-high 15 points.  Several times against the Blue Hose, the armor-plated sophomore showed his greatest value:  with a high ball screen and the shot clock winding down, he's one of the few players who can create for himself and create for others.  The Gamecocks do not have a true pick-and-pop forward on screen-and-rolls like Sam Muldrow last season.  Those kickout three-pointers will more likely come from Ellington turning the corner on screens, getting inside, and swinging out to a shooter in the corner or "lifting" to the wing.

 

 

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Bruce Ellington.jpeg 

Ellington also enjoyed his steadiest ballhandling half of the season.  In addition to his 8 points, Ellington distributed 3 assists without a turnover in the 2nd half.  Ellington has played 100 minutes this season - was the PC game a sign of things to come?

 

Bruce Ellington:

First 75 minutes:  3A, 6 TO

Last 25 minutes:   3A, 0 TO

 

Penny For Your Thoughts:  With Ellington's return, junior Lakeem Jackson has moved back to his natural small forward position after an early-season cameo at point guard.  I asked Lakeem, jokingly, for the point guard he modeled his game after.

 

"Penny Hardaway," he replied, cracking a smile.  His head coach was unmoved. 

 

 

Bruce Ellington scored 8 pts.

without an assist vs. PC.

 

"I played against Penny Hardaway.  He's no Penny Hardaway," Darrin Horn told me on "Carolina Calls."  "Anthony Mason, maybe."

 

(For the record, Horn's Western Kentucky team eliminated Memphis St., led by Hardaway, in the 1993 NCAA Tournament.  The game ended Hardaway's college career.) 

 

 

 

Penny Hardaway.jpgMid-90's NBA comparisons aside, Horn praised Jackson for his commitment to learning the point guard position, even if the displacement was temporary. 

 

"One of the things that attracted us to him during the recruiting process was a young man who wanted to do the right things.  A lot of guys feel like, 'I can handle [the ball] a little bit, I'm good with dishing the ball.  But there's a big difference between doing that and running the point.  [Lakeem] has learned from that, and I think he's grown from that as a player," Horn said. 

 

And Finally....:  Monday (Dec. 12!) marked the first time Darrin Horn had his entire roster healthy and available for practice.  Not only had Ellington returned, but Brenton Williams, R.J. Slawson, and Damontre Harris all healed from their separate, nagging injuries.  With a full cadre of players, Horn sensed an opportunity to turn up the pressure. 

 

"We want to pick up our pressure a little bit more.  Hopefully getting everyone back and being a little bit deeper will give us an opportunity to experiment with that and do a little more," he told me in our pre-game interview.

 

Tuesday, the Gamecocks scored their highest percentage of points off fast breaks all season (19 of 66, 28%). 

 

 Check back Friday for our preview of Saturday's showdown with #2 Ohio State. 

Check out today's entry of "Inside the Chart" by Andy Demetra. You can check out the excerpt below and the full post here.



More on Wounded Warriors: Saturday's Wounded Warrior game holds extra meaning for Gamecock middle linebacker Rodney Paulk. His father, Leonard, spent 22 years in the military, reaching the rank of First Sergeant. Paulk was born in Savannah, Ga., and befitting a military brat upbringing, he lived in Columbus, Ga. (where his younger brother Leonard III was born), Hawaii, North Carolina, and the Mojave desert of California - literally criss-crossing the country four times - before moving to Columbia in the ninth grade. Rodney told me it took his family four days to drive from Ft. Irwin in California to their new home in Columbia.

A sixth-year senior, Paulk has graduated with a degree in one of the more unusual disciplines at South Carolina: marine science. This week, Paulk finally satisfied my curiosity on why he chose marine science as his major. His parents grew up in Miami, and when they'd visit their relatives, they'd always check out the wildlife in Florida. That, and a lifelong love of animals, spurred Paulk to his major. The years of study have served him well - few possess more animal instincts on the field than Paulk.

Sixth-year senior Rodney Paulk has a special connection to Saturday's Wounded Warrior game.

Family Tradition: It seems poetic that a star quarterback would raise a wide receiver son. Junior Emory Blake, the Tigers' top wideout, is the son of former East Carolina quarterback and 14-year NFL veteran Jeff Blake. The soft-handed Blake has caught a touchdown pass in seven consecutive games, the second-longest streak by an Auburn receiver in school history. If past is any prologue, the Gamecocks may torment the Blake family again. Jeff Blake played at Williams-Brice Stadium twice, losing both games by a combined score of 84-21. His numbers don't paint a rosy picture:

Jeff Blake passing numbers at Williams-Brice Stadium

YearAtt-Comp-Yds.-TD-INTScore
19897-15-89-0-037-7 (L)
19902-15-25-0-147-14 (L)
Total9-30-114-0-1 (30% comp.)84-21

In addition, the man who schemed against Jeff Blake in those blowout wins will try to do the same against his son. Brad Lawing, in his first tour of duty with the Gamecocks, coached the defensive line in both of those wins.

The Gamecocks will try to do to Auburn WR Emory Blake what they did to his father, former ECU QB and NFL veteran Jeff Blake.
Check out today's pre-snap reads from Andy Demetra's "Inside the Chart" blog. Here's an excerpt below and you can check out the full post here.



Matchup to Watch: Though quiet last week (2 rec., 35 yds.), the sight of a Commodore tri-corner hat sends Alshon Jeffery into a froth. Over the last two seasons, Jeffery has the two highest receiving-yard games by an FBS opponent against the Vandy defense - by a wide margin.

Player (School)YearReceiving Yards
Alshon Jeffery (SC)2009161
Alshon Jeffery (SC)2010158
Shay Hodge (Ole Miss)2009122
Aaron Hernandez (UF)2009120
Embry Peeples (GT)2009117
Kris Durham (UGA)2010112

Elon's Aaron Mellette caught 180 yards in the Commodores' season opener, but they were mostly inconsequential in a 45-14 Vanderbilt blowout.

Jeffery will likely oppose senior cornerback Casey Hayward, who finished third in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) with 17 pass deflections in 2010. If Vanderbilt blitzes as persistently as it did in its first three games, that could leave Jeffery in single-man coverages.


Did You Know Pt. I: Vanderbilt weakside linebacker Tristan Strong is the nephew of former Gamecocks offensive linemen Tami Tarbush ('75-77) and Ricky Payne ('74-75, '77). Tarbush and Payne lined up alongside each other at "quick guard" and "quick tackle" in Jim Carlen's triple-option offense. Tarbush married Payne's sister, meaning the Gamecocks had in-laws who played side-by-side on the O-Line. Strong's mother is Ricky Payne's sister.

No Give-and-Takes: The Gamecocks do not want some cheeky franchise owner in the West End to post a similar sign if South Carolina coughs it up against the Commodores. Vanderbilt's 3-0 record has come off a torrent of turnovers - the `Dores lead the SEC with a +6 turnover margin and lead the nation with 10 interceptions. The Commodores defense has scored as many touchdowns (3) as it has allowed (3).

That play has caught the attention of Steve Spurrier. "All 11 of their players are active and play well," Spurrier said this week. "They have good athletes back there. They play their assignments. When they get into a zone, they're spread out nicely across the field. They don't mess up. I'm impressed watching them play." Can the Gamecocks - who have been vexed by points off turnovers this season - cut off the spigot on Saturday?

Stat Showdown of the Week: They've had their stumbles - a Connor Shaw fumble, a goal-line interception by Stephen Garcia, a failed 4th-and-2 - but when the Gamecocks have crossed into the red zone, they've punched it home. South Carolina has 10 red zone touchdowns this year, compared to 0 red zone field goals. Translation: the Gamecocks' drives haven't stalled out, forcing them to settle for chip-shot field goals. Only Northern Illinois, San Diego State, Army, and Northwestern have as many red-zone TD's without a red-zone field goal.


TeamRed Zone TD'sRed Zone Trips
South Carolina1013
Vanderbilt Opps.15

They now face a Vanderbilt team that has allowed 1 red zone touchdown in 5 trips, a 20% rate that ranks 5th in the nation. Can the Commodores keep it close by forcing the Gamecocks to trade "7's" for "3's"?

Did You Know Pt. II: Vanderbilt defensive tackle Rob Lohr leads the Commodores with 5.0 Tackles for Loss (TFL). He may also be the only player South Carolina will face this year who was home-schooled.


Go "Inside the Chart" with Andy Demetra as he takes a look at the match-up with Vanderbilt this week in preparation for their Gamecock IMG Sports Network broadcast.


These aren't your father's Commodores.

Heck, these aren't even your older brother's Commodores.

Head coach James Franklin has engineered a rapid turnaround in his first season at Vanderbilt, already surpassing the Commodores' win total from 2010 (2-10). When he hasn't whipped up the masses for bowling trips, Franklin has whipped a formerly downtrodden outfit into a team that plays with energy, fire, and - clutch the pearls - swagger. It might even cause this woebegone Vanderbilt fan to change the name of his blog. Vandy's 30-7 beatdown of Ole Miss Saturday was its largest margin of victory in an SEC game since 1971. The Commodores lead the nation with 10 interceptions, three of which they've returned for touchdowns. With a lineup populated by redshirt upperclassmen, the Commodores have shown they aren't a team to be taken lightly. Steve Spurrier needs no reminder of that: though 4-2 against Vanderbilt as head coach of South Carolina, his average margin of victory is a mere 4.2 points.

First-year head coach James Franklin has Vanderbilt playing inspired.

After a 3-0 start, the Commodores will try to (Franklin) mint a win over the Gamecocks. South Carolina will try for the complete game that has eluded them this season. Your father, your older brother, and the rest of the family will be watching.

More notes from our broadcast prep:

Third's The Word: Franklin had a built-in advantage when he arrived at Vandy after a stint as offensive coordinator at Maryland: Vanderbilt returned 21 starters, tops among Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams. Thick on experience, they've proven quick studies in Franklin's system.

However, Vanderbilt also has some statistics that defy gravity:

  • Vandy ranks 111th in the nation in sacks allowed (10), the only team in the bottom 30 of that stat nationally with a 3-0 record.
  • Vandy ranks 109th in the nation in 3rd-down conversions (24.4%), the only team in the bottom 20 of that stat nationally with a 3-0 record.

    After combing through Vanderbilt's play-by-play charts, I found another troubling number: the Commodores have converted just 1 of their last 14 3rd-down plays from 7 yards or longer. Vanderbilt does not have a big-play receiver like Alshon Jeffery, and top wideout John Cole will miss Saturday's game with a leg injury. It's an old trope of coaching, and it could apply to any game, but South Carolina needs to force 3rd-and-longs from the Commodores.

  • Click here to read the rest of the post.

    "Inside the Chart" with Andy Demetra: Alshon Jeffery Clutch

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    Andy Demetra goes "Inside the Chart" for the Gamecock IMG Sports Network finding some great notes and stats, such as this one below about Alshon Jeffery. Check out the rest of today's "Inside the Chart" here.



    Pleading the Third: There's clutch, there's extremely clutch, and there's Alshon Jeffery clutch. Of his 10 catches this season, 9 have gone for a first down or touchdown. Jeffery's greatest attributes - his strength, his body control, his airborne dominance - come together in devastating harmony on third downs. Since his breakthrough game against Kentucky in 2009, Jeffery has caught a 3rd- or 4th-down pass that gave Carolina a first down in 23 of his last 24 games. 

    Jeffery has made some phenomenal catches to move the chains, but the Gamecocks need other receivers to step up and become threats. While Jeffery has 9 catches for first downs or touchdowns, his teammates only have 3 combined (2 Sanders, 1 Lattimore). Also, take a look at how many 3rd-down catches Jeffery has made to extend a drive, compared to his teammates, over the last two seasons:

    Alshon Jeffery has caught a 3rd- or 4th-down pass that gave Carolina a first down in 23 of the last 24 games.



    Catches that have resulted in a first down (any down):

    YearJefferyRest of Team
    201193

    % of 3rd- or 4th-down passing plays that resulted in 1st down:

    YearJefferyRest of Team%
    2010202742.5%
    20113166.7%

    Gamecock Radio Network's Andy Demetra goes "Inside the Chart" with a look at statistical tidbits for you to chew on with his blog posts. Check out the excerpt below and read the full post here.


    First Things First: Once the smoke cleared and the last strains of 2001 subsided, South Carolina struggled to maintain the energy of its introduction on offense. In 2009, the Gamecocks scored touchdowns on 8 of 44 1st-quarter possessions, with nearly as many turnovers (7).

    That changed dramatically in 2010. With the playmaking skills of Garcia, Jeffery, and Lattimore, South Carolina managed to find its rhythm earlier. Compare the Gamecocks' touchdown rate in the 1st quarter over the last two seasons:

    Season1st-Quarter Touchdowns1st-Quarter Total Possessions%
    200984418.2%
    2010194245.2%

    East Carolina mastered the art of the shootout last season (more on that later). A quick start may be a necessity, rather than a luxury, against the Pirates. Fortunately, the trend seems to point in the Gamecocks' favor.

    Stat of the Week: East Carolina's Ruffin McNeill made his bones as a defensive maven, rising from linebackers coach at Austin Peay and North Alabama to defensive coordinator at Appalachian State and Texas Tech before returning to his alma mater. Surely, nothing churned McNeill's stomach more than watching his Pirates repeatedly melt down on defense. ECU ranked last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense (478.8 ypg allowed), and finished second-worst in third-down defense (51.35%).

    No statistic captures ECU's struggles better than this: the Pirates allowed 20 or more points in a quarter 8 times last season. The Gamecocks have allowed 20 or more points in a quarter 8 times in the last 8 seasons combined.

    20+ Pts. Allowed in a QuarterECU 2010USC, 2003-2010

    88

    Adding to the dread, ECU only returns 5 defensive starters. Come to think of it, that may not be a bad thing.

    Lucky Number 9? Statistics are like hostages: torture them long enough, and they'll tell you whatever you want.

    In that case, interpret these numbers however you choose. In 21 seasons as a college head coach, Steve Spurrier's teams have finished with 9 wins a total of 4 times. Look at how his previous teams fared the following year:

    SeasonTeam (Record)Next year's recordPostseason
    1990Florida (9-2, 6-1 SEC)10-2, 7-0 SECSugar Bowl
    1992Florida (9-4, 6-3 SEC)11-2, 8-1 SECSugar Bowl
    1999Florida (9-4, 7-2 SEC)10-3, 8-1 SECSugar Bowl
    2010South Carolina (9-5, 5-3 SEC)????????

    "Inside the Chart" with Andy Demetra Returns

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    With the start of the 2011-12 season comes the return of Gamecock Radio Network broadcaster Andy Demetra's "Inside the Chart" blog. Demetra explains the purpose:

    "Each year, we collect an incredible reservoir of stories from broadcasting the Gamecocks. We search exhaustively for tidbits on players, or twist and pull statistics until our eyes bleed, all so we can spin a more compelling narrative of the game.

    Not all of that information, though, can squeeze into a broadcast. Storylines change. A statistic never becomes relevant. There's no elegant way to weave in a particular anecdote. Only about 10 percent of the information we gather, tops, ever sees the light of air. That's why we've created this space: to give you a running look each week at our preparation for game broadcasts. We hope you'll find our anecdotes, statistics, and stories worthwhile, amusing - and maybe even mildly interesting. At the very least, we hope you'll get a broadcaster's-eye view of each South Carolina game."

    This week Demetra shares some anecdotes from offensive line coach Shawn Elliott, who played defensive line at Appalachian State under then-defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeil (current head coach of the Gamecocks' first opponent, East Carolina).

    Even 16 years later, McNeill's presence at App State remains vivid. Though energetic, Elliott says McNeill wasn't above living up to his onomatopoeic first name.

    "He's a guy that makes everything you do a little more fun. He's a hard guy. He's going to press you. He'll make you feel good about the things you're doing well and of course make you feel bad about the things you're not doing so well," Elliott said.
       
    The ECU coach, in turn, found a player who responded to his teachings. "Shawn came in ready to go as a freshman. He was a leader from second one," McNeill said recently. "He could take butt chewings pretty well. He took having expectations placed upon him really well. If you've got players and they all follow what Shawn did for us as a player, you've got a great football team."

    Great football teams were a fixture of McNeill and Elliott's time together. With McNeill guiding the defense, and Elliott as his co-captain, Appalachian State won the Southern Conference title in 1995. Elliott was the first player in Appalachian State history to appear in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs four separate seasons. In 1995, he earned All-Southern Conference honors at defensive end. In four years together, McNeill and Elliott held a won-loss record of 36-14.

    "If you ever saw me in person or seen me play [at Appalachian State], we weren't the most talented group," Elliott recalls. "[McNeill] taught us how to run to the football, play as a unit, and play with a lot of great intensity, and heart, and effort. He instilled that into me to this day. That's one of things that really set us apart from most defenses. Boy, we were flying around."


    Read the rest of Demetra's blog over on the Gamecock Radio Network page.  
    Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra takes you "Inside the Chart" with pre-tip reads for this afternoon's match-up with Ole Miss in the first round of the SEC Tournament in Atlanta. Check out the excerpt below about big play from "Big Sam" and read the full post here. You can also listen to Demetra's great AllSouth Scene Setter here.


    "Rising to the Challenge: Sam Muldrow will once again face Rebels center Reginald Buckner, who finished 2nd in the SEC behind Muldrow with 3.1 blocks per game. As our research shows, Sam relishes the challenge of going head-to-head with the league's top shot blockers. Look at his numbers (Muldrow ranks #1 in blocks per game):

    OpponentPoints (FGM-FGA)ReboundsBlocks
    2. Reginald Buckner (Ole Miss)23 (9-15 FG)104
    3. Delvon Johnson (Arkansas)20 (8-12 FG)86
    4. Festus Ezeli (Vanderbilt) - 2 gp27 (11-26 FG)2112

    That's nearly a double-double (17.5 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 52.8% FG), with 5.5 blocks thrown in for good measure. Sam averages 11.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg. 3.3 bpg, and 41.9% FG for the year.

    All season, Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy has said that his frontcourt controls his team's fortunes. After their regular-season finale, an 84-74 win over Arkansas to clinch 3rd place in the SEC West, Kennedy said: "If we can get production across out front line the way we did today, then maybe we can stay a while in Atlanta." Buckner's production - or lack thereof - has been a bellwether for Ole Miss. In a midweek loss to Auburn, Buckner had 0 points and 0 rebounds and fouled out in 6 minutes. Against Arkansas, he poured in 9 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 blocks. Muldrow will need to bring menacing defense on Buckner - and the numbers suggest he can do it."

    "Inside the Chart" with Andy Demetra: Tennessee

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    Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra takes you "Inside the Chart" with pre-tip reads for tonight's final regular season home game vs. Tennessee which will also be Senior Night for Sam Muldrow and Johndre Jefferson. Tip-off is at 7:00 PM airing nationally on ESPN but be there early to give our seniors a proper goodbye and a great atmosphere. Check out the excerpt below and read Andy's full post here.


    Tennessee can be turned over. South Carolina's ability to score easy baskets off turnovers has dried up recently. An antidote may await them on Thursday. The Gamecocks wrung 16 turnovers out of Tennessee, prompting Pearl to call his team "sloppy" afterwards. Both teams sport eerily similar turnover percentages (TO%):

    NCAA Turnover %
    134. South Carolina 19.7
    135. Tennessee 19.7

    The numbers run both ways, though. The Gamecocks also committed too many perimeter turnovers, either from bad dribble-handoffs or lazy angle passes, that resulted in easy Tennessee baskets. Scoring points off turnovers is a quick way for a struggling offense to ignite. It's a category Carolina may need to win Thursday.

    "Inside the Chart" with Andy Demetra: MBB at Georgia

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    Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra takes you "Inside the Chart" with pre-tip reads for Men's Basketball @ Georgia this Saturday. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM with TV coverage on FSN and radio coverage from the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.

    Listen to the Scene Setter, check out the excerpt below and read the full post here.

    Pressure Can Crack: Because of its constant motion, Georgia's triangle offense does not lend itself to halfcourt trapping. South Carolina decided instead to bring the pressure into the backcourt. Throughout the 2nd half, the Gamecocks rustled Georgia with a ¾-court press that funneled players into traps along the sideline near midcourt. As a result, 10 of Georgia's 17 turnovers came in the 2nd half.

    Even when it didn't produce turnovers, Carolina's pressure affected Georgia's ability to run its triangle. Instead of initiating a halfcourt set with 25 seconds on the shot clock, the Bulldogs would have, say, 17-18 seconds. Each pass in the triangle creates multiple "read and react" options - with 6-8 fewer seconds to get organized, Georgia can't produce as many of those moments. Over time, that resulted in fewer high-quality looks. That's why you may see more of Carolina's 2-1-2 pressure - amidst a brew of mixing defenses - on Saturday night.


    "Inside the Chart" with Andy Demetra: Ole Miss

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    Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra takes you "Inside the Chart" with pre-tip reads for tonight's game vs. Ole Miss at 7:00 PM. Come on down to Colonial Life Arena. You can also watch live on ESPNU or listen to the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.

    Check out the excerpt below and read the full post here.

    "Block Ness" Monsters: A pair of shot-blocking predators will do battle Tuesday. Ole Miss forward Reginald Buckner ranks 5th nationally with a 14.6% block percentage (% of an opponent's field goal attempts that an individual blocks). Sam Muldrow ranks 10th, though he boasts a higher per-game average than Buckner (3.5 vs. 3.1).
    Expect some Block Ness Monster sightings at Colonial Life Arena

    It seems, though, that Muldrow relishes the challenge of facing his fellow top shot blockers. Look at Muldrow's head-to-head matchups against the other most prolific shot-blockers in the SEC:
    Opponent    Points (FGM-FGA)    Rebounds    Blocks
    2. Delvon Johnson (Arkansas)    20 (8-12 FG)    8    6
    3. Reginald Buckner (Ole Miss)    ??    ??    ??
    4. Festus Ezeli (Vanderbilt) - 2 gp    27 (11-26 FG)    21    12

    In our post-game interview versus Kentucky, Coach Horn bluntly pointed out that Muldrow had as many rebounds (3) in 26 minutes as R.J. Slawson had in 11 minutes. Clearly, Coach wanted to send Sam a message about being active, aggressive, and engaged. A locked-in Muldrow would reap another benefit Tuesday: Ole Miss' Buckner ranks 5th in the nation in fouls per game (3.808). In 27 games, he has 8 disqualifications and 9 games with 4 fouls. Muldrow needs to win this head-to-head matchup - and the numbers suggest he should be primed for it. 

    "Inside the Chart" with Andy Demetra: Georgia

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    Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra takes you "Inside the Chart" with a great explanation of the triangle offense and more pre-tip reads for tomorrow's Men's Basketball game vs. Georgia at 4:00 PM.

    Talking Triangle: When Georgia coach Mark Fox arrived in Athens in 2009, he brought along his famously-tricky triangle offense, a style popularized by Phil Jackson's Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. The "triangle" is a bewitching offense, one that can tax defenses as much mentally as physically. It's based around a sideline triangle on the strong side of the ball (formed by a player on the low block, wing, and corner), and a two-man game on the weak side. All five players can play any spot on the floor, which demands agile, good passing big men. It should surprise no one that Georgia, despite playing at the 7th fastest tempo in the SEC, leads the league with 15.6 assists per game, 1.5 better than anyone else.

    With its spacing, cutting, and constant movement, the triangle could compromise two of South Carolina's strengths - its ability to trap and play help-side defense.
    The basic setup: a triangle on the strong side, with a two-man game on the weakside. The center (5) traditionally starts on the block.

    So how do you avoid the treachery of the triangle? I figured I'd talk with someone who played in it: my old broadcast partner on the "Big East National Game of the Week from ISP Sports," John Celestand. Celestand played for the Los Angeles Lakers during their NBA title run in '99-00, and became well-versed in the triangle under its doyen, Jackson. 

    Read the full post here.
    Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra takes you "Inside the Chart" with pre-tip reads for tonight's match-up with #17/19 Florida at 8:00 PM in Colonial Life Arena.

    "The SEC East leaders - and ESPN.com's "Team of the Week" - drop into town Wednesday. Yet South Carolina finds itself in position to sweep the regular-season series. Such is life in the mixed-up, mashed-up world of the SEC East, where one game separates 6th place from 2nd. It's the perfect backdrop for two teams that indisputably have the closest series in the SEC - 11 of the last 13 Florida-South Carolina games have been decided by 6 points or less. Enjoy a jam-packed edition of "Pre-tip Reads" before the Gamecocks and Gators collide in Columbia:

    "SEC-ond Look": We'll continue a segment that we began against Vanderbilt. What did Carolina do well in its first encounter with Florida? Follow these four areas Wednesday:..."
    Read the full post here.

    "Inside the Chart" with Andy Demetra: Vandy

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    Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra takes you "Inside the Chart" before Saturday's match-up at #23/24 Vanderbilt. Check out the excerpt below from Andy's conversation with Brandon Wallace and read the full post here.

    For all the shots he rejected over his four-year career, Brandon Wallace realizes there's no blocking history.

    As early as Saturday, Wallace will abdicate his spot as South Carolina's all-time blocked shots leader. With 4 more swats against LSU, senior Sam Muldrow now has 243 career blocks, six shy of Wallace's school record of 249. He'll have a chance to break the record tomorrow against Vanderbilt (1:30 p.m. EST, Gamecock Sports Network from IMG College), facing a Commodores squad he rejected a career-high 10 times January 8.

    Wallace, for his part, has a graceful perspective on his time atop the charts expiring.

    "It's a good feeling just to be up on the board with those names - the Grady Wallaces and those guys. Being a part of history at [South Carolina] means more to me than the record itself," Wallace said. He has kept tabs on Muldrow's pursuit from Bakersfield, Calif., where he plays for the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA Development League.

    "Inside the Chart" with Andy Demetra: LSU

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    Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra takes you "Inside the Chart" before tonight's match-up at LSU. Read the excerpt below and check out the full post here. Go Gamecocks!

    Youth Gone Wild: Tonight's game pits the two wettest-behind-the-ears teams in the SEC. LSU has a league-low 1.02 average years of experience (326th NCAA). That makes South Carolina's 1.09 average years of experience (315th NCAA) look antediluvian by comparison. A remarkable 47% of LSU's scoring comes from freshmen.

    Man to Stop: LSU's 5'9" freshman point guard (sound familiar?), Andre Stringer. A two-time Mississippi State Player of the Year, Stringer's range begins approximately at Mike The Tiger's cage. Trent Johnson declared in December that he's never coached a player with Stringer's blowtorch range. He also presents a tricky matchup, because he leads LSU in both three-pointers attempted and free throws attempted. Much like Bruce Ellington, LSU will occasionally slide Stringer to the 2-guard, and try to free him up for spot-up looks. Ellington will need to unleash his athleticism on Stringer, trail him relentlessly on screens, and force him to take tough angles when handling the ball.

    "Inside the Chart" with Andy Demetra: Auburn

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    Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra takes you "Inside the Chart" with pre-tip reads for tomorrow's Men's Basketball game vs. Auburn at 1:30 PM in Colonial Life Arena. Check out the excerpt below, then read the full post and listen to the Auburn Scene Setter.


    Man to Stop: Auburn sophomore guard/forward Earnest Ross. The Tigers' leading scorer (12.9 ppg) and rebounder (7.0 rpg) can trace his success to former USC Director of Basketball Operations L.J. Hepp, who coached him at Panther Creek HS in Cary, N.C. A physical defender, Ross has a good body (6'5," 215 lbs.) and is especially effective when he establishes his three-point shot. Fragile offensive teams take their cues from their best player - if he struggles, they generally struggle, too. The Gamecocks can't let Ross get a bolt of confidence early.

    "Inside the Chart" with Andy Demetra: Kentucky

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    Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra takes you "Inside the Chart" as Men's Basketball prepares to take on #12 Kentucky this Saturday at 6:00 PM. Approximately 900 tickets remain, get them online, by calling 800-4SC-FANS, or at the Colonial Life Arena ticket office. Read the full "Inside the Chart" post here.


    Usually, the rebounding battle isn't won because one frontcourt dominated the other; it's because the guards made a concerted effort to get involved. Remember, Devan Downey and Brandis Raley-Ross had 5 rebounds apiece in last year's matchup in Columbia. Kentucky has plenty of oversized guards, from 6'3" Brandon Knight to 6'4" Doron Lamb to 6'6" DeAndre Liggins to 6'7" Darius Miller. Neglect to box them out at your own risk. South Carolina has gang-rebounded exceedingly well in its wins, as documented on "Inside The Chart". The Gamecock guards can't drift back on shot attempts in anticipation of stopping Kentucky's transition, and abandon their rebounding responsibilities.

    One Other Thing... As stated earlier, Kentucky ranks 4th in the nation in TO% (15.9%). The Gamecocks have faced two other teams this year that rank in the Top 15 nationally in TO%: Boston College (7th) and Ohio State (13th). Total rebounding margin in those 2 games: -23. If South Carolina can't turn Kentucky over, controlling the boards and forcing one-and-done possessions will be absolutely critical.


    Listen to the Scene Setter for tomorrow's game by clicking here.
    Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra takes us "Inside the Chart" with some pre-tip read for tonight's game vs. Arkansas. Read the full post here and enjoy the excerpt below about Bruce Ellington:

    A friend recently asked me about Ellington's free-throw percentage (a modest 64.3%), and why it lagged behind his other numbers. Traditional statistics, though, don't account for how many clutch baskets Ellington has made in his freshman season. After studying the box scores, I found this: Ellington's "clutch" free throw percentage - loosely defined as a player's FT% in the last five minutes of a game - surges to 76.4% (13-17). Look at Ellington's free throw numbers in the "clutch zone" compared to the first 35 minutes of a game:

    Time in game    FTM-FTA    FT%
    40:00-5:00               14-25    56.0%
    5:00-0:00 (& OT)    13-17    76.4%

    Ellington's "clutch" three-point percentage is even more startling. In South Carolina's most tightly-contested wins of the season -- Florida, Vanderbilt, Wofford, Clemson, and Western Kentucky -- Ellington has a "clutch" 3pt.% of 61.5% (8 for 13), well above his season average of 41.5%.

    Darrin Horn told me earlier this year that Ellington epitomizes a "brighter the lights, bigger the player" guy. Few moments require steelier nerves than icing a game with a three-pointer or a free throw. Ellington has delivered on both.

    Just ask Billy Donovan.

    Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra goes "Inside the Chart" to preview tomorrow's match-up with the Florida Gators down in Gainesville. Check out the excerpt below and read the full post here.

    Case in point: sophomore Lakeem Jackson grabbed a team-high 6 offensive rebounds against Alabama, displaying his typically tenacious, workhorse style. Yet Jackson never went to the free throw line, and only one of his 6 offensive boards resulted in a Carolina basket (a Bruce Ellington three-pointer at the 16:40 mark of the 2nd half). South Carolina put itself on the doorstep countless times against Alabama - can it cash in on those opportunities against Florida, and string together productive possessions? Several factors can help:

    • Florida ranks 10th in the SEC in FG% defense (41.7%)
    • Florida doesn't force turnovers at a high rate.
    • Transition baskets. Darrin Horn told me on "Carolina Calls" that his team didn't do its best job finding the outlet man quickly.

    Listen to the Scene Setter for tomorrow's game from the Gamecock Radio Network.

    Brittany Lane, Spurs Up Blog

    "Inside the Chart" with Andy Demetra: Alabama

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    Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra takes you "Inside the Chart", looking at tonight's match-up with Alabama in today's entry, including the following bit about freshman Brian Richardson. Read the full post here.

    Turnaround Jumper: Anthony Grant recruited freshman Brian Richardson while head coach of VCU, and offered the slender sniper one of his first scholarships. Richardson continued his relationship once Grant left for Tuscaloosa, and considered Alabama before signing with Carolina. Handcuffed by two early fouls while chasing Vanderbilt's John Jenkins, Richardson was held scoreless in 9 minutes of play. I wouldn't expect that trend to continue. Richardson is shooting 41% from 3-point range on the road this year, a nearly 10% increase from his percentage at home.

    At home, you need to make free throws. On the road, you need to make three-pointers. Richardson will factor prominently into those plans.

    "Inside the Chart" with Andy Demetra: Vanderbilt

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    Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra takes a look at the SEC opener vs. #22/24 Vanderbilt, including Lakeem Jackson's improved free throw shooting, among other topics. Read the full post here.

    "Space your fingers wider." That simple piece of advice has led to a free throw-shooting renaissance for sophomore forward Lakeem Jackson. After a 4-for-5 performance against S.C. State (which last year would've prompted me to race to Corner Pantry and buy a lottery ticket), Jackson's free-throw percentage stands at 50.0% (19-38).

    Jackson explained his improved mechanics to me Thursday. "I didn't have my fingers wide, and my thumb was in more [last year,]" Jackson said. He credits head coach Darrin Horn with reconstructing his mechanics over the summer. "His thumb would almost be underneath the ball," Horn demonstrated, almost like a person making the number 4. That caused the ball to roll erratically off Jackson's thumb on his release, resulting in free throws that sprayed like buckshot toward the rim.
    Extreme Makeover: Free Throw Edition.

    (Coach Horn should know about free throws. He told me he made 20 in a row before Thursday's practice.)

    The best proof of Jackson's improvement? When he swished a free throw at the 13:00 mark of the 1st half against S.C. State, it made him 16-of-34 at the foul line. Last year, Jackson went 16-of-59 total at the free-throw line.

    "Inside the Chart" with Andy Demetra: "Validate that"

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    Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra goes "Inside the Chart" with his pre-tip reads for tonight's match-up with South Carolina State at 7:00 PM. Read the full post here.

    "Valet parkers do it. Fact-checkers do it. And Gamecock basketball players do it, too.

    After a typically intense, competitive drill at their Blossom St. practice facility, head coach Darrin Horn will select a player from the winning team. "Validate that," Horn will instruct him. The player then toes the free-throw line with a simple set of consequences.

    Make the free throw, and the losing team sprints.

    Miss the free throw, and the winning team sprints as well.
    For the Gamecocks, it's time to validate their early season wins.

    After a choppy, 1-3 stretch over the holidays, it's time for South Carolina to validate its early-season successes. With SEC play arriving Saturday, the Gamecocks must prove that their 8 wins define them more than their 4 losses. A final chance for validation awaits tonight, as South Carolina host South Carolina State (7 p.m. EST, Gamecock Sports Network from IMG College).

    On that note, let's dive into your pre-game tip reads for the Bulldogs" 
    Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra goes "Inside the Chart" with some pre-tip notes for tonight's game against Furman in Greenville. Read the full post here.

    "Player to Stop: Furman senior forward Amu Saaka. Saaka initially pledged to Furman out of Decatur, Ga., but a terrific senior season sent his stock skyrocketing -- and his college plans changing. Saaka reneged on his Furman commitment, signing instead with USF in the Big East Conference. After head coach Ray McCallum was replaced by Stan Heath, Saaka was granted his release from USF, and welcomed back by Furman (good thing their staff let bygones be bygones). Now in his senior season, Saaka has delivered on his prep promise, averaging a team-high 15 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. I asked Chuck Hussion, the "Voice of the Paladins," to give me a primer on Saaka's talents."
    Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra takes a look at #2 Ohio State today as the Gamecocks prepare to face the Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio, tomorrow at 2:00 PM on CBS.

    Interesting tidbit here about OSU freshman Jared Sullinger. Read the full post here.

    "Man to Stop: Ohio State's freshman wunderkind, Jared Sullinger. Draft Express' Jonathan Givony has an Gamecock excellent scouting report on Sullinger on his front page this week. A freshman from Columbus, Ohio, Sullinger lit up IUPUI for 40 points last weekend, the second-highest point total in college basketball this year.

    The number that stands out most from Givony's profile: in back-to-the-basket situations, Sullinger converts 50% of his field goals and gets fouled an additional 25% of the time. The Gamecocks may need to follow the blueprint that brought them success against Clemson's Jerai Grant: keep Sullinger out of the paint, and force him to shoot one-on-one over the tops of defenders. The second part may be especially important with Jon Diebler, Ohio State's all-time leading three-point shooter, lurking outside. Florida-Gulf Coast tried to pack it in against Sullinger, leaving Diebler to convert a school-record 9 3-pointers on Wednesday. Offensively, can Sam Muldrow knock down a few early perimeter shots (2-2 3pt. vs. Wofford), and force Sullinger out of his defensive comfort zone? It could make for a terrific matchup."


    Brittany Lane, Spurs Up Blog


    Great story today from Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra about SC men's basketball assistant coach Orlando Early's past with current Ohio State head coach Thad Matta and their time together at Western Carolina University for the 1995-96 season - the Catamounts' first and only trip to the NCAA Tournament. Read the full post here.

    "In May of 1995, Phil Hopkins, recently elevated to the head coaching job at Western Carolina, needed to fill two full-time assistant positions on his staff.

    From a crowded field of applicants, two young candidates stood out. One had spent three seasons at Hopkins' alma mater, Gardner-Webb, and was hungry to make the leap to a Division I program. The other, born and raised in the serendipitously named Hoopeston, Ill., worked with Hopkins as a graduate assistant at Indiana State.

    Together, Phil Hopkins and his hand-picked assistants, current Ohio State head coach Thad Matta and current Gamecocks assistant Orlando Early, took Western Carolina to unprecedented heights. During their lone season in '95-96, the Catamounts won their first-ever Southern Conference Tournament, and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time. Their careers converge again Saturday, when South Carolina faces Matta's #2-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus (2:00 p.m. EST).

    "I learned so much from them," said Hopkins, now the athletic director and basketball coach at Walhalla Middle School in Walhalla, S.C. "We were three different personalities, all striving and working for the same goal. We picked each other up.""


    Brittany Lane, Spurs Up Blog




    "Inside the Chart" takes a look at the basketball season so far, including this bit about Malik Cooke and more. Read the full post here.

    "All winter long in the Gamecocks' practice facility, I watched Malik Cooke go toe-to-toe, tooth-and-nail against South Carolina's first team. A transfer from Nevada, Cooke had to sit out the '09-10 season per NCAA rules. He seemed to channel that frustration into hard-nosed, ultra-competitive scrimmages against Devan Downey and the Gamecock starters.

    Cooke's do-anything mentality has been on full display this season. At 6'6" and 213 pounds, he's quick enough to defend the perimeter, yet rugged enough to scrap for rebounds and get tough putbacks. That style has occasionally landed Cooke in foul trouble, and his three-point shooting still needs caulking (3-15, 20.0%). However, as a sophomore at Nevada, Cooke shot 44.8% from three-point range. Once that turns around, his multi-faceted game will continue to shine for South Carolina."


    Brittany Lane, Spurs Up Blog


    "Inside the Chart" with Andy Demetra 11/24

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    Interesting numbers related to second half effectiveness from Gamecock Radio's Andy Demetra today. Read more on "Inside the Chart".


    "When South Carolina and Clemson meet, records are generally rendered meaningless. Still, a few season-long trends may offer a clue of how Saturday's game will play out. The Gamecocks' ability to fight fatigue and execute could be one of them.

    As I crunched the numbers Tuesday, I found that 2nd half time of possession has been a stunning barometer of South Carolina's success this season.

    Take a look at the Gamecocks' 2nd-half time of possession in their three losses:
    Opponent    Opp Tm of Possession    USC Tm of Possession   Difference
    Auburn        19:33    10:27    9:06
    Kentucky    18:40    11:20    7:20
    Arkansas    20:12    9:48    10:24

    South Carolina's average 2nd half time of possession in losses: 10:32, a nearly two-to-one edge for the opposition.

    Compare that to the Gamecocks' eight wins, when that number jumps to 16:38.

    The more a defense has to absorb long, grueling drives, the harder it becomes to prevent points. Clearly, that has made a difference in the Gamecocks' wins and losses. If South Carolina wants to author a win at Memorial Stadium, it'll need to force three-and-outs and create turnovers in the 2nd half. Any blown assignments, lapses in communication, or less-than-textbook tackles, brought on by fatigue, could start the Gamecocks on a downward slide."