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Inside The Chart.pngWell friends, we've reached the end of our third season of "Inside The Chart," our weekly broadcast blog on Gamecocks Online.  Preparation is at the heart of what we do, and whether a game turns into a blowout or an instant classic, we want to make every broadcast informative, entertaining, and memorable.

 

That often leads me on some strange twists and turns through the Internet wormhole.  Or, when I'm looking at stats, I'll discover a "fish," some hidden number that offers a clue to the game.  Our access to the players and coaches also gives us a cache of memorable quotes.

 

With another season behind us, it's time to look back at the best of the best, the strangest of the strange, and the most random of the random.  Enjoy our first annual "Year In Charts" from "Inside The Chart":

 

The Frank Martin Section

After a year of working with him on "Carolina Calls" and post-game radio interviews, one thing became clear:  Frank Martin has led one heck of a life.  Some of those stories you can find with a quick Google search.  Others we discovered for the first time.  Some of the more memorable stories from a truly captivating coach:

 

*      Martin had an uncredited role in the football movie "Any Given Sunday" starring Al Pacino and Jamie Foxx.   Martin played the Miami Sharks' offensive line coach during football scenes filmed in Homestead, Fla.    

 

*      Martin said he and his friends used to sneak in to the Orange Bowl every New Year's Day.  Martin said they used the same time-honored tactic:  find the most elderly ticket taker, wait until the line got crowded, and hurdle the turnstile unnoticed.  Unfortunately, one of the Orange Bowls Martin attended was Clemson's national championship-clinching victory over Nebraska in 1982.

 

*      When they were assistant coaches at Miami Senior High School in Miami, Fla., Martin and Alabama head coach Anthony Grant attended a taping of "Sabado Gigante," the popular variety show on Spanish-language television station Univision.  Grant was chosen from the studio audience, and, to Martin's astonishment, won a car.  When the emcee, Don Francisco, began peppering him with questions on stage, Grant - whose knowledge of the Spanish language was minimal - could only utter the phrase "Que fantastico!"  The story had been kept a secret until Martin spilled the beans on "Carolina Calls." 

 

When asked about it by my colleague, "Voice of the Crimson Tide" Chris Stewart, Grant rolled his head to the sky, laughed, and said, "Who told you?"

 

*      Like Martin, Ole Miss assistant coach Sergio Rouco is a Miami native.  Their connection, though, goes well beyond a shared hometown:  Rouco coached Martin as a 12 year-old in the San Juan Bosco church league in Little Havana.  Martin's first coaching gig was as a volunteer JV assistant at Miami Senior, when Rouco was the head coach.  Rouco also led the Marinos de Anzoategui to a Venezuelan league title in 2010, where his assistant coach was Luis Carrera, the father of freshman Michael Carrera.

 

*      Martin has kept the same in-season haircut superstition for the past 20 years.  He says he gets a trim after his team finishes semester exams, and again after the last regular-season game. 

 

Martin Head.jpg*      For the last several years, Texas A&M's "Reed Rowdies" have waved a giant, oversized head of Martin to distract shooters.  After Kansas State's last game there in 2012, several A&M students autographed the head and presented it to Martin.  He still has it in his son's room.  The Reed Rowdies came prepared with a new edition this year.

 

Picture taken before South Carolina's game at Texas A&M.  The Aggies' student section, the "Reed Rowdies," rekindled their tradition of waving an oversized head of Frank Martin during free throws.

 

The "Told You So" Section

We have a rampant curiosity - okay, obsession - for numbers and patterns.  Our proudest moments of tea leaf-reading this year:

 

*      Entering the final weekend of the regular season, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Clemson's Tajh Boyd ranked #1 and #2 in the nation in quarterback efficiency.  Their combined numbers against Carolina:  40% completion percentage, 1 touchdown, and 3 interceptions.

 

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd getting pulled down by defensive end Aldrick Fordham.

 

 

Aldrick Fordham vs. Clemson.jpeg

 

 

*      Heading into its game against Tennessee, South Carolina had the worst fumble recovery percentage of any team in the nation with 10 or more forced fumbles (3 of 14, 21.4%).  A Jadeveon Clowney strip-sack, followed by a Shaq Wilson fumble recovery, helped seal the Gamecocks' 38-35 win.

 

*       At 6'5," freshman Michael Carrera was the shortest player in the nation to rank in the top 100 in Offensive Rebounding Percentage (13th) and Defensive Rebounding Percentage (21st).

 

*      Earlier in the week, we pointed out that Clemson ranked 101st in the nation in total defense versus FBS winning teams.  That put the Tigers alongside defenses like Arkansas (100), East Carolina (102), and Tennessee (104) - all of whom Carolina shredded.  True to form, the Gamecocks rolled up 444 yards of offense behind backup quarterback Dylan Thompson in a 27-17 win.

 

       Total Defense vs. FBS Opponents with Winning Records - Entering Week 13

       100.    Arkansas

       101.    Clemson

       102.    East Carolina

       103.    Wake Forest

       104.    Tennessee

 

*      The South Carolina-Auburn game featured a staggering 27 lead changes, the most in a Division I game this year.  Notre Dame and Louisville traded leads 26 times in their February 9 duel in South Bend, but that game lasted five overtimes.

 

*      South Carolina completed as many pass plays of 50+ yards in the first 20 minutes of the Outback Bowl (2) as Michigan had allowed all season.

 

 

The Cornbread Walker Siblings, Relatives, and Nicknames Division:

When preparing for a game, I always try to research the opposing players to find some interesting stories.  I've been awed and inspired by some of the tales I've found.

 

For some reason, though, this year's teams blessed us with an incredible array of odd names.  The Gamecocks weren't immune, either.  This year's memorable moments in nomenclature (named in honor of Kentucky Wesleyan guard Cornbread Walker):

 

 

*      Missouri wide receiver Bud Sasser has two sisters named Brandy and Tequila.

 

*      It figures that Kentucky forward Nerlens Noel, the SEC's leading freshman rebounder, has an older brother named Rodman.

 

*      Mississippi State freshman guard Craig Sword has a nickname better suited to playing for South Carolina, not against them: "Chicken."

 

*      Linebacker Shaq Wilson rarely gets called Shaq back home.  Among family and friends in Jacksonville, Fla., he's universally known as "Diesel," a play on his Dad's name, Demesio.

 

*       Missouri football has not one, but two freshmen named Mitch Hall.

 

*      A.J. Cann revealed to us that his family nickname growing up was "Ganky."  Its origins remain unclear, but Cann says it was bestowed upon him by his grandmother.

 

*      One of the most distinctive names belonged to St. John's guard Sir'Dominic Pointer.  Even more amazingly, Pointer's birth name was Dominique.  He legally changed it to Sir'Dominic.

 

The Best In Random Information

*       Gamecock wide receiver Damiere Byrd eats a pack of gummy bears before every game.

 

*      Bruce Ellington popped a tendon in his pinky finger in high school, but not on the football field.  He did it while jumping over a porch, trying to run away from a loose pit bull.  The finger still gives him occasional soreness after football games, like when he clutched an ice pack after his 5-catch, 104-yard performance against Arkansas.

 

*      Linebacker Quin Smith says he plays hard thanks to a traumatic incident he had as an eight year-old.  Smith needed 68 stitches (at least - his Dad stopped counting past then) on his arms when he ran through a glass door at the home of a friend.  One piece of glass came within an inch of severing his main artery.

 

*      Assistant coach Matt Figger lived in an empty room in a warehouse in his first year as an assistant at Vincennes University, a junior college in Vincennes, Ind.  It was one of many Spartan conditions to which Figger subjected himself as he chased - and realized - his dream of becoming a major-college basketball coach.

 

*      In a nod to casual wear, St. John's Steve Lavin and his staff wear sneakers on game day.  Apparently, the fashion statement even extends to the priests.

 

Priest Air Force Ones.jpg Picture taken at. John's, even the priests get stomping in their Air Force Ones.   

 

The Year In Quotes:

Our best collection of quotes from "Inside The Charts" and pre-game interviews:

 

*       "They want to go like Ricky Bobby.  They want to go fast."

-Assistant coach Matt Figger, on Arkansas' tempo. 

 

*       "I was actually about seven years old.  The guy that I hit was one of my good friends.  I felt good doing it.  It was just a feeling I couldn't explain."

-Safety D.J. Swearinger, discussing when his love for hard hitting began.  For the record, Swearinger and his tackling guinea pig remain friends.

 

*       "A guy stopped me in a truck and asked, 'Hey, are you back?'  I was like, 'Yeah, I'm good to go.'....  He then went on to say, 'How's your shoulder feel?  I said fine, though I remember thinking I haven't had a hurt shoulder.  Then he said, 'Why didn't you bring Marcus Lattimore and Dylan Thompson with you?'  That's when I knew."

-Gamecock baseball player Adam Matthews, on his resemblance - to some, at least - to Gamecock quarterback Connor Shaw.  Matthews has put up with numerous cases of mistaken identity since Shaw rose to stardom at South Carolina.

 

*         "I don't think I've even hit him in practice." 

-Connor Shaw, on his first career completion to fullback Qua Gilchrist in the Gamecocks' win over Missouri

 

*         "I tried to jump in that dumpster to burn myself along with the film, but I didn't fit in there."

-Frank Martin, when asked if Carolina's 75-36 loss to Florida qualified as a "burn the tape" game.

 

*         "If the Michigan secondary tackled as well as that chair, South Carolina wouldn't have won the Outback Bowl."

-Us on-air, after Bruce Ellington's leg got caught in a courtside folding chair during Carolina's game at Mississippi State January 9.  Play had to be stopped so Ellington could extricate himself. 

And Finally... Thanks again for supporting our radio network and everything we do.  This blog spanned about 120 pages and too many sleepless nights, but I enjoyed every minute of it.  We can't wait to go "Inside The Chart" with you again next year.  -AD-- 

 

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Eric Smith got the tattoo on his chest over the summer, a prescient quote for the season ahead.

 

"Walk by faith, not by sight."

 

At 14-17 overall, 4-14 in the SEC, the Gamecocks haven't seen the wins they've wanted.  But through it all, they've maintained their faith - in the playbook, the principles, and the process under first-year head coach Frank Martin. 

 

It hasn't been easy.  But sooner or later, that faith gets rewarded.  The Gamecocks hope it begins with a spirited, season-ending run in the 2013 SEC Tournament in Nashville.  Pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks and Mississippi State (9-21, 4-14 SEC) take the floor at Bridgestone Arena for the second time in a week (7:30 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):

 

The Four Factors:  What did we learn from Carolina's 79-72 win over Mississippi State Wednesday?  Pay attention to these four factors:

 

1.      The Bulldogs can run.  Mississippi State, while far from an uptempo team, has had uncommon success against South Carolina in transition.  In two games, the Bulldogs have outscored the Gamecocks 45-14 in fast-break points.  That easily surpasses their fast-break average against the rest of the SEC. 

 

Mississippi State - Fast Break Points/Total Points

Vs. South Carolina (2g):                                 35.1%

Vs. Rest of SEC (16g):                                     9.8%

 

For a team that struggles to score in the halfcourt - Mississippi State averaged an SEC-low 58.9 points per game in conference games - the Gamecocks can't allow MSU's running game to get in full locomotion.

 

 

2.       Keep the ball moving.  On January 9, Mississippi State's 1-3-1 zone frustrated Carolina into an SEC-high 24 turnovers.

 

On Wednesday, Carolina dissected that zone to the tune of 18 assists on 21 made field goals.

 

Bruce Ellington vs. Mizzou.jpegWhat was the key?  Martin said he installed a series of plays that he ran at Kansas State when the Wildcats played Oklahoma.  Like Mississippi State, OU also used a 1-3-1 zone.  Martin thought the plays may not have worked earlier in the year, given his personnel.  They generally began with a high ball screen for point guard Bruce Ellington.

 

Bruce Ellington (right) benefitted from the high ball screen against Mississippi State's 1-3-1 zone.

 

"That high ball screen against the 1-3-1 releases that top guy's pressure, so now you can reverse the ball a little bit," Martin explained afterwards. 

 

He continued:  "We tried to keep a two-guard front, and keep guys in a triangle:  foul line and [two players at the] blocks extended.  That makes that 1-3-1 kind of stay back, rather than get extended and get after you."

 

As a result, the Gamecocks got terrific ball rotation, and only committed seven turnovers by the time they broke open a 59-37 lead midway through the second half .  Carolina operated skillfully against the 1-3-1 zone Wednesday.  Can they do it twice in one week?

 

 

3.       Someone needs to replace Jalen Steele's scoring.  The Bulldogs were already cruelly short-handed when three players went down with season-ending knee injuries before the season started.  One of their few veterans, 6'8" forward Wendell Lewis, lasted eight games before a fractured kneecap required a medical redshirt.  Then on Wednesday, Steele, a lithe 6'3" guard who was tied for the team scoring lead at 9.7 points per game, tore his ACL in the second half.  While his three-point percentage hovered at 32%, Steele still commanded the top shooting reputation on the Bulldogs.

 

Craig Sword-2.jpg

 

Freshman Craig Sword (left) scored 20 points against South Carolina last week.

 

In his absence, look for freshman Craig Sword to carry an even greater scoring lead.  A "rhythm player who doesn't settle for anything" according to assistant coach Lamont Evans, the 6'4" guard led MSU with 18 points against Carolina in January, and scored a team-high 20 on Wednesday.  Freshman guard Fred Thomas may also look to assert his outside shot, and 6'8" power forward Colin Borchert, a classic "stretch four," can stroke the three-pointer.

 

 

 

4.       Offensive rebounds are there... but Carolina needs to take advantage of them.  In two games, South Carolina only managed a 34.5% Offensive Rebounding Percentage against Mississippi State, well below its season average of 38.5%.  That's odd, considering MSU ranks 322nd nationally in Defensive Rebounding Percentage - i.e., they allow gobs of offensive rebounds.

 

 

Stat of the Year?  The South Carolina-Auburn game January 12 featured 27 lead changes, the most in college basketball this year. 

 

Louisville and Notre Dame traded 26 leads when they met February 9 in South Bend - but that game lasted five overtimes.

 

Carrera vs. Kentucky.jpgGlass Eater:  Michael Carrera grabbed his first rebound 13 seconds into the season opener against Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

 

Talk about setting a tone.

 

Michael Carrera almost became the first underclassman to lead the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounding since Jimmy Foster in 1982.

 

Carrera's maniacal intensity has been a fixture all season long.  The freshman forward from Anzoategui, Venezuela, finished the regular season ranked 13th in the nation in Offensive Rebounding Percentage (OReb%), and 21st in the nation in Defending Rebounding Percentage (DReb%).  Carrera was one of two freshmen nationally to rank in the top 100 in both categories (Weber State's Joel Bolomboy is the other, but you already knew that). 

 

Michael Carrera - Rebounding Percentage*

Category              Percentage         NCAA Rank

OReb%                15.5%                13th

DReb%                24.5%                21st

 

*-Offensive Rebounding Percentage = % of a team's missed shots that are rebounded by an individual.

*-Defensive Rebounding Percentage = % of an opponent's missed shots that are rebounded by an individual.

 

At 6'5," Carrera is also the shortest player to rank in the top 100 in both categories.

 

Where There's A Will(iams), There's A Way:  Junior Brenton Williams closed the regular season by pouring in 55 points over his final two SEC games.  Several of his baskets against Vanderbilt were of the acrobatic, are-you-kidding-me variety, the nets giving an angry hiss to the Memorial Gymnasium crowd.

 

"The basket looks like a 55-gallon drum to him right now," associate head coach Brad Underwood said afterwards.

 

Underwood says Williams' activity off the ball has led to his accuracy with it.

 

"[Vanderbilt] tried bumping him off every screen, and that's what Brenton has to understand.  Teams are going to do that.  He can make shots.  He's got a knack for that.  Now he's got to learn how to do that through the physicality of the game," he said.

 

After his 38-point explosion against Mississippi State, there's little doubt the Bulldogs will plant a tracking device on Williams. Regardless of who defends him, can Williams "cut his legs," and sap Mississippi State physically with his nonstop movement?  The Bulldogs have a short bench; Williams may not repeat his 38-point performance, but he can wear the Bulldogs down for their own offensive possessions. 

 

And Finally... It's a big week for Frank Martin.  And an even bigger week for his barber. 

 

Barber Pole.jpgMartin says he has kept the same hair-cutting superstition for the past 20 years.  He gets one haircut after his team finishes winter exams, and another after their last regular-season game.

 

With the regular season over, Martin gets his long-awaited tonsorial appointment.  And with the regular season over, the Gamecocks hope to put some close shaves behind them, too.

 

Our pre-game coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  It's been a great year - thank you for reading our insights, anecdotes, and scouting reports on "Inside The Chart."  We hope you enjoyed our stories as much as we enjoyed preparing them.  See you in Nashville.  -AD--

 

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Brian Steele's last basket at Colonial Life Arena came March 5, 2011.  Then a junior at Wade Hampton High School in Greenville, S.C., Steele scored 30 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead the Generals to a 79-68 win over Darlington in the Boys Class 3A title game. 

 

Two years and a day later, Steele got his next shot.

 

The freshman walk-on, making his second consecutive start Wednesday, scored six points and added two rebounds in the Gamecocks' 79-72 win over Mississippi State.  In one week, the 6'5," 196-pound Steele has gone from a total of five minutes of playing time to becoming a valued member of Frank Martin's rotation. 

 

Brian Steele Wade Hampton.jpgNot bad for someone who had a sprinkling of low-major and Division II offers out of high school, but preferred to follow his heart and walk on at South Carolina.

 

Freshman walk-on Brian Steele (right) averaged 17.0 ppg and 8.0 rpg as a senior at Wade Hampton HS.  (Photo courtesy:  Anderson Independent-Mail)

 

"You're either an energy giver or an energy drainer," Martin said on "Carolina Calls."  "That enthusiasm, that energy, that courage that he shows each and every day has paid off."

 

So how did Steele's transformation from walk-on to freshman SEC starter - all in the span of 10 months - take place?  It began with a phone call and a weakness.

 

"I'm always a sucker for a really good shooter," associate head coach Brad Underwood said.

 

Late last Spring, Underwood took a call from a coaching friend, raving about a deadeye shooter he had been working out individually.  Underwood was intrigued ("We got here and we were looking at everybody," he said). 

 

He took down the name - Brian Steele - and started investigating.

 

"I actually saw a YouTube, or maybe a video on him.  So I watched this.  [I thought,] this kid makes everything.  He's playing, and he's making the right passes," Underwood recalls. 

 

Steele and his father visited the staff over the summer, where he reaffirmed his desire to walk on to the team.  That passion did not go unnoticed.

 

"He was dying to be a part of the program.  That's a big part of wanting to be a walk-on.  You've got to have tremendous pride, which he does," Underwood said. 

 

Still, when Underwood oversaw walk-on tryouts in September, he offered no guarantees.  There was no "preferred walk-on" status, not even for someone who averaged 17.0 points per game and earned all-state honors his senior year. 

 

It mattered little.  Steele would separate himself quickly.

 

"We had an idea he was a pretty good player.  He was spectacular in the tryout.  It was a pretty easy decision," Underwood said.

 

As he showed Wednesday night, Brian Steele continues to make the most of his shots.

 

More pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks head to Memorial Gymnasium to face Vanderbilt (13-16, 7-10 SEC) in the regular season finale (1:30 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):

 

The Four Factors:  South Carolina's first game against Vanderbilt defied most of the natural laws of basketball.  The Gamecocks shot 23.7% from the floor, their worst shooting percentage since 1998, yet still had three consecutive chances to take the lead with two minutes remaining.   So what did we learn from that 58-51 loss January 19?  Pay attention to these four factors:

 

1.)    "Turn the floor."  Vandy's guards do an excellent job of staying between the ball and the rim, and the taller Commodores repeatedly handcuffed the Gamecocks on dribble-drives.  In halfcourt sets, Eric Smith, Bruce Ellington, Brenton Williams, and Brian Richardson all struggled to finish at the rim. 

 

Eric Smith vs. Vandy.jpegCarolina's coaches often holler for their players to "turn the floor" - swing the ball quickly, so a weak-side defender gets off-balance when he meets the pass.  That opens up driving lanes, and can neutralize the size of taller backcourts.  Underwood praised Carolina for its spacing and quick passing against Mississippi State's 1-3-1 zone.  Can they "turn the floor" effectively, and duplicate that effort against the Commodores?

 

Eric Smith (right) drives against Vanderbilt January 19.  The Gamecocks struggle to finish at the rim against the Commodores' tall guards.

 

 

2.)     Vanderbilt's biggest strengths are its spacing and three-point shooting.  Outside of Florida, no team has more players capable of stroking the three than the Commodores.  With players like Kedren Johnson, Dai-Jon Parker, and Kyle Fuller good at getting to the rim, Vanderbilt can become a deadly "pick-and-pop" team in the halfcourt.  The best way to squelch that?  Defend the initial ball screen well, and close down one-on-one driving lanes so the kickout pass becomes unavailable. 

 

Vanderbilt also runs a lot of action through its "5" man at the elbow.  The Gamecocks want to "extend and deny," and force those passes to come three or four feet farther away on the floor.  That could disrupt the timing and flow of Vanderbilt's spread-floor offense.  For as good as Vanderbilt is defensively (a surprising 3rd in the SEC in Defensive Efficiency behind Florida and Alabama), they can be just an anemic offensively (last SEC, 59.5 ppg).

 

 

3.)    Be prepared for long rebounds.  Carolina grabbed a season-low 26% of its missed shots against Vanderbilt (12 of 45).  Many of those missed opportunities came on long tap-outs or "50-50 balls."  On the flip side, Vanderbilt ranks 2nd in the nation, scoring 38.9% of its points from three-point range.  The Gamecocks need to renew their intensity on the boards, and beat Vandy's perimeter players to "chase-down" rebounds.

 

 

4.)     Kedren Johnson will score.  The Gamecocks just can't give him baskets.  The Commodores' leading scorer (13.7 ppg) is a rangy, slashing guard who loves getting to the rim.  In a 66-40 loss to Florida Wednesday, Johnson ran off a streak of 13 straight points. 

 

The Gamecocks held him in check, limiting him to 0-for-6 shooting from the field.  A repeat of that performance seems unlikely.  Carolina simply needs to make Johnson earn his points - i.e., no easy layups or free throws.  

 

 

Can We Press Fast Forward?  In the last three games, South Carolina has shot 24.3% from the field in the first half against Vanderbilt.

 

First Half Shooting vs. Vandy  

Year                       FGM-FGA            Deficit

2013:                     5-29                      -5

2012:                     9-23                       0                             

2011:                     5-26                      -10

    19-78 FG  (24.3%)

 

Brenton Williams vs. Vandy.jpegPop Off:  In a post-practice shooting drill last year, Brenton Williams once made 31 straight three-pointers.  A lights-out shooting night always lurked in the 5'11" junior guard.  Wednesday night, Williams erupted for 38 points against Mississippi State, smashing his previous high of 22 points.  He also blew past his season average of 10.0 points per game coming in.

 

Brenton Williams (left) scored 38 points against Mississippi State, the most by a Gamecock since Terry Dozier in 1987.

 

How unlikely was Williams' scoring explosion?  By my research, he had the third-lowest scoring average of any player in the nation with 35 or more points in a game this season.

 

Player                                       Opponent                      PPG Entering     Points

Sam Prescott, Mt. St. Mary's      Bryant 2/14                     9.2                      44

Elijah Johnson, Kansas               Iowa State 2/25               9.1                      39

Brenton Williams, S. Carolina      Mississippi State 3/6       10.0                    38

 

*-Stats courtesy statsheet.com, mountathletics.com, and kuathletics.com

 

Defense and sure passing have kept Williams from a more secure spot in the rotation.  Martin has called Williams' practices "rock solid" over the last few weeks.  It's paying off in the form of a strong closing stretch for the Kissimmee, Fla., junior.

 

Record Chasing:  Williams has also made 17 straight free throws, raising his season average to .842.  With a few more foul trips, he could have one of the highest single-season free-throw percentages in school history among players with 100 or more attempts.

 

Highest Season Free Throw Percentage (Min. 100)

1.       Scotti Ward                      .868                      (118-136)

2.       Michael Foster                  .848                      (95-112)

3.       Mike Doyle                       .845                      (93-110)

4.       Brenton Williams               .842                      (80-95)

 

And Finally...  Vanderbilt's tallest player, 6'11" center Josh Henderson, has a connection to South Carolina not even acknowledged by the Vandy media guide.  Henderson is the great-nephew of Jim Slaughter, the Gamecocks' first basketball All-American in 1951.   Slaughter averaged 22.8 points per game during his All-American season.

 

Our pre-game coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network. See you in Nashville.  -AD-

 

Throwback Thursday: Terry Dozier

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It's Throwback Thursday! Terry Dozier scored 1,445 points as a Gamecock from 1985-89. Last night Brenton Williams scored a career-high 38 points - the most points in a game since Terry Dozier scored 38 in an 86-85 win over Florida State in
the Metro Conference Tournament 26 years ago to the day on March 6, 1987. Terry's brother, Perry, also played for the Gamecocks, and freshman women's basketball player Asia Dozier is Perry's daughter. It's Great to be a Gamecock!!


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Throwback Thursday - Terry Dozier (1985-89)

*Bonus throwback points- with our brief research (everything on the internet is true, right?) the opponent with the awesome facial expression in the picture is Villanova great Harold Jensen.

Meaningful ROTC Contracting Ceremony at Hoops

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Fans at last week's men's basketball game vs. Missouri witnessed a special halftime. Cadets from the University of South Carolina's Army ROTC program were officially inducted into the Army during a ceremony at halftime led by LTC John Wright, who oversees the program. It was the second time for such an occasion, as the Army ROTC program also conducted a contracting ceremony at a recent men's soccer game.


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"Coach Martin has always been such a big supporter of the military so to do it here and for all he's been for the university in such a short time is great," said Wright. "Also, to have Coach Tanner out there has been great because a coach understands that the same commitment as an athlete is very similar to the commitment of these cadets too. It's just great to be here in front of these fans too because the fans get it. This is a very patriotic place and they love the military here so to be able to share this occasion with them is great."

The Army ROTC is often involved with athletics events, having helped with military-themed Opening Day presentations at baseball and passing out rally towels to fans at football games.

"These cadets take such a big responsibility on themselves and they are recognized as a big part of this university," said Wright. "The athletics department understands the commitment that they're making also. We call our cadets tactical athletes because being in the military is a lot like being an athlete. It has same demands on your body and the same requirement to physically fit so it's just the perfect fit for us."


 

 

Inside The Chart.pngThey honed their skills like so many kids do, on a basketball hoop standing sentinel near their house.  One was toughened up by games with his three older brothers, shaping him into a player whose hustle has always overshadowed his height.  The other practiced for hours in solitude, drawn to a sport he could practice on his own while his Dad worked long hours as a college football assistant coach.

 

Together, good friends Lakeem Jackson and Shane Phillips will make their final walks onto the Colonial Life Arena floor Wednesday, when South Carolina (13-16, 3-13 SEC) hosts the Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-20, 3-13 SEC) on Senior Day. 

 

Lakeem Dunk.jpegThey may not have envisioned a Senior Day like this, with the Gamecocks battling for the 13th seed in the SEC Tournament.  Who would?  But that's the thing about a basketball program.  Yes, you're judged by your performance in 30 games.  But there are also practices and offseason conditioning and weightlifting and study tables, a year-round commitment that leaves your imprint on a program as much as any box score.  In that respect, Jackson, the captain, and Phillips, the walk-on who spent two years as a practice player for the South Carolina women's team, feel secure in what they've left behind.

 

"We worked hard every day, so we don't have any regrets about that," Jackson, a Charlotte, N.C., native, said.

 

"They've sacrificed.  They've given of themselves to make themselves a better team, a better program. As coaches we respect that tremendously," head coach Frank Martin said.

 

But as they reflected on their careers Tuesday, Phillips stopped to give one last appeal.

 

"Get a big crowd in there.  It'll be a big night for the Gamecocks," he said.

 

Other pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks and Bulldogs jump center at Colonial Life Arena (7:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):

 

The Four Factors:  Mississippi State comes in with renewed vigor, having just snapped a 13-game losing streak with a 73-67 win over Ole Miss.  They also have the confidence of beating the Gamecocks 56-54 in Starkville to open conference play.  What did we learn from that first meeting?  Let's go beyond the box score.  Pay attention to these four factors Wednesday:

 

 

1.     24 turnovers can't happen again.  South Carolina was worked into knots by Mississippi State's 1-3-1 zone, which resulted in an SEC-high 24 turnovers.  MSU's wing defenders "lifted" higher on the perimeter, denying easy escape-valve passes to Carolina's off-guards.  Bruce Ellington committed nine turnovers, but Martin acknowledges that only two or three of them were self-inflicted.  Most occurred because his teammates weren't spaced properly, or didn't "meet the pass" against MSU's pressure.  Similar point-to-wing passing flared up in the second half against Texas A&M.

 

MSU Steal.jpgMississippi State may only have three conference wins, but the Bulldogs will take their chances:  their 7.9 steals per game ranks 5th in the SEC.  As we've said often, a team that struggles to score - in Mississippi State's case, an SEC-low 59.7 points per game - doesn't need help.  How South Carolina manages that pressure may determine the outcome of the rematch.   

 

 

 

 

MSU guards Fred Thomas (left) and Jalen Steele (right) on a fast break following a South Carolina turnover.

 

 

 

2.      Roquez Johnson is relentless:  A tenacious offensive rebounder, the Bulldogs' 6'7" sophomore ranks among the SEC's leaders in Fouls Drawn/40 Minutes.  It was a big reason why he connected on a career-high 8 free throws against Carolina.  Johnson returned from a three-game suspension to score 10 timely points in the Bulldogs' upset over Ole Miss.

 

Freshman Michael Carrera, making his first appearance after missing two games with a hip injury, was limited to seven minutes in Starkville.  Will his presence help neutralize Johnson, a similarly bouncy, attack-minded forward?  The matchup seems tailor-made for Carrera:  both he and Johnson have 7'2" wingspans.

 

 

3.     Make MSU fall on its Sword.  Freshman guard Craig "Chicken" Sword leads the SEC in Usage Rate (29.5%), or the percentage of a team's possessions that end with an individual making a shot; missing a shot that isn't rebounded by his teammates; or committing a turnover.  Sword's head coach, Rick Ray, once said, "He just has so many more fast-twitch fibers than everyone else."

 

Including Sword, the SEC has four players that rank in the top 100 nationally in Usage Rate.  Here's how they've fared against the Gamecocks:

 

 

            Player                         FG's       Points           Assists      TO

Kedren Johnson (VU)    0-6          3                   4               4

B.J. Young (ARK)         3-12                          4               2

Frankie Sullivan (AU)     5-13       17                  5              1

Total:                          8-31 FG  (25.8%),  9.0 ppg,  4.3 apg,  2.3 TO/game

 

 

 

Roquez Johnson.jpgThe numbers show that the SEC's high-usage players have had more luck as facilitators than creators.  Bruce Ellington was the primary defender on all of them.  Sword's 9.7 points per game may be near that average, but he's also tied for the MSU scoring lead.  Can Ellington ballhawk Sword like he has the rest of the SEC's high-usage guards, and strip the Bulldogs of one of the lynchpins of their offense?

 

Mississippi State guard Craig Sword (right, defended by Michael Carrera).  Sword, a 6'3" freshman, leads the SEC in Usage Rate.

 

 

4.      Offensive rebounds are there for the taking.  The Gamecocks have slipped in the statistic lately, but their 38.6% Offensive Rebounding Percentage still ranks 18th in the country.  Mississippi State ranks 334th in the nation, allowing 37.2% of an opponent's misses to be offensive-rebounded. 

 

 

      South Carolina:  Offensive rebounds on 38.6% of missed shots  (18th NCAA)

      Mississippi St.:  Allows offensive rebounds on 37.2% of missed shots  (334th NCAA)

 

 

      South Carolina hit a sinkhole in the second half against Texas A&M, shooting 0-for-13 during a 14-0 Aggies run.  Dry spells have cost the Gamecocks in several games this year.  If they struggle to score, can they still manufacture points with a rugged effort on the glass?

 

Cruel:  MSU junior Tyson Cunningham collected his first career "block" on Ellington's game-winning three-point attempt in Starkville.  Quotation marks by design - Gamecock fans might argue that Cunningham was guilty of a foul.

 

Martin Head.jpgHead Games:  Texas A&M's "Reed Rowdies," like many college basketball student sections, wave giant cardboard heads of B-List celebrities and other famous figures.  In recent year, one of the heads they've waved in recent years is of Frank Martin, his countenance in a state of - how do we put this nicely - raised agita.  After Kansas State's last game there, when A&M was SEC-bound, several students autographed Martin's mug and presented it to him, signing it "to their favorite Big XII coach."  Martin still has it in his son's room.  He thought about bringing it to College Station, and ceremonially returning it to the Reed Rowdies.

 

Spotted at Texas A&M's Reed Arena:  Frank Martin, in giant head form.

 

And Finally... Phillips' Dad, Oliver, was the defensive coordinator at Duke from 1979-82.  The offensive coordinator of those Blue Devil teams?  A young, dashing, confident play-caller named Steve Spurrier.

 

Our pre-game coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  See you at CLA.  -AD-

 

 

 

Inside The Chart.pngThe juxtaposition jumps out immediately.  Against the SEC's three fastest-paced teams, South Carolina is 3-1 - and all three of those teams have winning conference records.  Against the three slowest teams they've faced, the Gamecocks are 0-4.

 

SEC Adjusted Tempo Rankings* (Possessions/Game)                    Result

1.       Arkansas                                                                        W 75-54

2.       Ole Miss                                                                         W 63-62

3.       LSU                                                                                W 82-73 (OT),  L 64-46

7.    South Carolina

11.  Georgia                                                                           L 67-56,  L 62-54 (OT)

12.  Alabama                                                                          L 68-58

13.  Texas A&M                                                                     Saturday

14.  Vanderbilt                                                                        L 58-51                 

 

*-Tempo stats courtesy of KenPom.com.  "Adjusted tempo" takes into account a team's schedule, the preferred pace of the opponent, and the date that game was played.

               

Robert Stack.jpgFor a team that struggles to score (12th SEC Offensive Efficiency), it seems paradoxical.  Why does South Carolina play better against teams that favor a faster - i.e., more high-scoring - pace?  

 

An "Inside The Chart" Unsolved Mystery:  why does South Carolina fare better against faster-paced teams?

 

Associate head coach Brad Underwood may have the best insight.  More than anyone on the Gamecock coaching staff, Underwood believes in the value of tempo-free statistics.  He offered his theories.

 

"When you play faster, you play less physical," Underwood explained on "Carolina Calls."  According to kenpom.com, South Carolina has the smallest average height (6'3 1/4") of any team in a BCS conference.  For undersized teams, it's hard to win a battle in the trenches over 40 minutes.  An open-floor game hides that weakness better than a halfcourt game, where opponents can deliberately target a team's height mismatch.  Underwood attributed several of the Gamecocks' late-game slides to the "grinding down" effect of facing taller, more physical teams. 

 

If a team can't exploit its height mismatch, it also can't rack up as many foul shots.  Look at South Carolina's free-throw differential against the fastest teams compared the slowest teams in the SEC:

 

FT Margin - Wins                        FT Margin - Losses

Arkansas:      +2                          Vanderbilt           -8

Ole Miss:       -1                           Georgia G1         -3

LSU G1:        +21                         Alabama            -20

LSU G2:        -3                           Georgia G2         -22

Wins:            +20                        Losses:              -53

 

It's no coincidence that fewer free throws - and less foul trouble - keep South Carolina more competitive.

 

Eric Smith Celebration.jpegIn general, Underwood says a faster pace suits the coaches' preference.  Dating back to their Kansas State days, they aim for an average of 75 possessions per game (Carolina is averaging 67.6/game this year). 

 

Eric Smith and Shane Phillips (right) celebrate during the Gamecocks' 63-62 win over Ole Miss.  The Rebels rank 12th in the country in Possessions/Game (72.1).

 

"Our team is getting to the point where we're starting to think less.  Basketball is such a reactionary game, and it's a game of anticipation.  When you're comfortable, you see the floor open up," Underwood said.

 

Carolina's opponent Saturday, the Texas A&M Aggies (16-12, 6-9 SEC), ranks 327th in the nation in Adjusted Tempo (61.2).  The Aggies don't play with much haste, and they feature a supernova scorer in senior guard Elston Turner, who exploded for 40 points at Rupp Arena and 37 points against Ole Miss. 

 

Based on what the numbers show, the key to a victory may be as simple as one phrase.

 

"Speed kills."

 

Our pre-game coverage at Texas A&M begins at 6:30 p.m. Saturday on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  See you in College Station.  -AD--

 

Inside The Chart.png 

Pre-tip reads before South Carolina and the Missouri Tigers (19-8, 8-6 SEC) take their show to the other Columbia (9:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):

 

SEC-ond Coming:  What did we learn from Carolina's last game with Missouri, a gritty, 71-65 loss January 22?  Pay attention to these four factors:

 

1.       Missouri is a different team in personnel - but maybe not in personality - from that first meeting.  Back in January, Missouri was in a funk, dogged by questions about its intensity and ability to handle adversity.  They were also playing without a pair of key starters, guard Keion Bell and forward Laurence Bowers (more on them later).

 

One month later, the Tigers still haven't escaped head coach Frank Haith's scrutiny.  "Our effort, and what we needed to do on the defensive end, wasn't there," Haith said following Missouri's 90-83 overtime loss to Kentucky, calling his team's display "disturbing" and "extremely frustrating."  Missouri enters Colonial Life Arena with a 1-7 record in true road games.  Like they did at Mizzou Arena, can the Gamecocks challenge Missouri's intensity and discipline early, and force the Tigers to respond?

 

2.       Beware the pick-and-roll.  The Gamecocks held Missouri point guard Phil Pressey in check, limiting the SEC's Preseason Player of the Year to 6 points (2-8 FG), 7 assists, and 4 turnovers.  Little of the Tigers' offense came on Pressey's forte, the screen-and-roll from the top of the key. 

 

The reason was twofold:  first, Carolina jammed Missouri's screeners, preventing them from rolling easily to the basket.  Carolina also "flattened out" the screens, forcing Pressey to move laterally or backwards.  Unable to turn the corner at his desired speed, Pressey couldn't get into the lane - and put the Gamecocks on their heels.  "If you keep him out of the lane, you have a chance," Frank Martin said on "Carolina Calls." 

  

 

 

Mizzou Screen and Roll.jpg

Missouri point guard Phil Pressey (#1) setting up a screen-and-roll at the top of the key with junior Earnest Ross (#33).

 

The Gamecocks' 3-2 zone was also an effective screen-and-roll deterrent.  Carolina could make guard-to-guard switches on Pressey up top, so they wouldn't lose any quickness in defending him.  Meanwhile, their back-line defenders could sit back, and wait on Missouri's forwards to roll to the rim.

 

Pressey exploded for a career-high 27 points (12-24 FG) and 10 assists against Kentucky, the Tigers' first 20-10 game since 1993.  When he's on, he's one of the most dazzling, dynamic guards in college basketball.  When he's off, Missouri's offense can unravel with him.  The key to which Phil Pressey shows up may rest in how well South Carolina defends the pick-and-roll.

 

3.       Missouri's guards are hard to stop north-south.  Sophomore Jabari Brown and junior Earnest Ross, both 6'4" and 200-plus pounds, use their body well.  Against South Carolina, they consistently lowered their shoulders and drove to the rim, resulting in 17 points for Brown and a team-high 21 points for Ross.  Those attacks helped Missouri to a 28-11 edge in free throws.  To pull the upset, the Gamecocks need to put the brakes on their fouls.

 

4.       Offensive rebounds weren't the problem.  Cashing in off them was.  South Carolina held its own against Missouri's mammoth front line, equaling the Tigers with 16 offensive rebounds.  However, Missouri outscored South Carolina by 10 points off its offensive rebounds.

 

January 22                          ORebs                  Pts. off OReb

Missouri                               16                         20

            South Carolina                      16                         10

 

Between 6'9," 255-pound Alex Oriakhi and 6'9," 240-pound Tony Criswell, Missouri has arguably the SEC's biggest "grown man" front line.  Like they did against Ole Miss, the Gamecocks need to avoid foul trouble and take the ball up fearlessly. 

 

Laurence Bowers.jpgBowers Power:  He watched the game at Mizzou Arena in a blue button-down, a gold tie, and khaki slacks, an unassuming ensemble better suited to an insurance salesman than one of the SEC's most gifted inside-outside threats.  Redshirt senior Laurence Bowers, sidelined by a knee injury in the Gamecocks' first meeting, returns to his normal uniform tonight.  The senior from Memphis, Tenn., leads Missouri with 14.1 points per game and ranks second with 6.1 rebounds per game.

 

"He's long.  He's athletic," Martin said on "Carolina Calls."  "He's got an ability to block shots.  He impacts the game in a positive way on both ends of the floor." 

 

Missouri leading scorer Laurence Bowers (right) did not play vs. South Carolina January 22.

 

He'll also be joined by Bell, another starter who was sidelined by a sprained ankle against South Carolina.  A 6'4" pure scorer, Bell averages a team-high 14.5 points per game in SEC play while shooting 58.0% from the floor.  He'll try to improve a ghastly 5-of-27 three-point shooting night by the Tigers.

 

Another Note On Pressey:  Pressey's game against Kentucky erased a spate of poor outings on the road.  Can the Gamecocks make him regress Thursday?

 

Phil Pressey                           3pt. FGM/FGA       Assists            Turnovers

At Kentucky                             3-7                        10                   4

Prev. 6 SEC road games           1-23                       30                   33

 

Fate of Free Throws:  The fact that a team attempts more free throws in wins isn't exactly groundbreaking news.  But the disparity in free throw attempts between Carolina's wins and losses is startling.

 

                              South Carolina       Opponents

Wins:                     20.7                       13.3

Losses:                  17.2                       27.9

 

In six of their 11 losses, the opponent made more free throws than the Gamecocks attempted. 

 

And Finally... Carolina's first game against Missouri hatched an odd superstition.  Over the course of the game, Missouri head coach Frank Haith shed his jacket, then his necktie.  He joked afterwards that he almost took everything off.  Haith's gradual disrobing continued the next game against LSU, when the Tigers again needed a second-half rally.

 

The superstition inspired one of the funniest headlines in college basketball this year, courtesy of the Columbia-Star Tribune:  

 

"Haith Hopes To Stop His Stripping."

 

Our pre-game coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  See you at CLA.  -AD--

 

Inside The Chart.png 

With his team trailing Ole Miss 62-56 and 3:39 to play, Frank Martin didn't like what he saw. 

 

But he liked what he heard.

 

Martin's volume is often inversely proportional to his players.  The less his team talks, the louder - and madder - he gets.  For the Gamecock head coach, silence equals selfishness.  That's why, when the Gamecocks gathered for their under-4:00 media timeout, Martin was pleased to hear Bruce Ellington break the silence.  The junior from Moncks Corner, S.C., urged on his teammates, saying they had worked too hard to not close the deal.  Eric Smith soon chimed in.  Even Michael Carrera, conscripted to the bench, shouted out encouragement. 

 

Eric Smith Celebration.jpeg"You break the huddle feeling good about, hey, let's go do this rather than let's go out there, and here we go again.  That's where leadership comes in," Martin said in his post-game radio interview.

 

The Gamecocks talked. 

 

And by game's end, Gamecock fans were talking, too.

 

Eric Smith (right) sank the game-winning three-pointer to beat Ole Miss.

 

Carolina scored the final seven points of regulation to seal a 63-62 upset over the third-place Rebels.  The Gamecocks now take that newfound momentum into Athens, when they face the Georgia Bulldogs (12-14, 6-7 SEC).

 

Pre-tip reads before Carolina makes its return trip to Stegeman Coliseum (2:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):

 

SEC-ond Coming:  What did we learn from the Gamecocks' first meeting with Georgia, a 67-56 defeat February 2?  Pay attention to these four factors:

 

1.    Make Kentavious Caldwell-Pope work.  The Gamecocks - and the rest of the SEC - only wish this Pope had resigned.  The Bulldogs' 6'6" sophomore guard, a likely SEC Player of the Year, poured in a team-high 19 points and 7 rebounds against Carolina.  Caldwell-Pope showed an uncanny ability to drive right or left, and score from any spot on the floor. 

 

A player like "KCP" will get his touches no matter what.  Said associate head coach Brad Underwood:  "You can't let him do anything easy.  You have to make him work and earn his points, so down the stretch he's a little fatigued.  He shoots out of rhythm, and he doesn't cut as hard." 

 

2.    Screen Better.  Underwood said his team did a poor job setting screens in their February 2 meeting.  Against a jumbo-sized lineup like the Bulldogs, the Gamecocks need to "create length" by planting - and using - good screens.

 

3.     Mann, He's Tough.  At 6'4," 205 pounds, freshman point guard Charles Mann is Georgia's most gifted creator off the dribble.  His 11 points and 6 assists against Carolina provided a second-half spark, and helped pave the way for a road win. 

 

Mann's bullish driving style also leads to plenty of free throws:  his 6.6 Fouls Drawn/40 Minutes ranks 24th nationally.  South Carolina had one of its best games of the season denying dribble-drives against Ole Miss.  Can they duplicate that success against Mann?  By playing the dribble-drive well - i.e., not needing rotations - Carolina can also prevent him from setting up Georgia's three-point threats, Vincent Williams (38.2% 3pt. SEC) and Sherrard Brantley (33.3% SEC).

 

4.    South Carolina's press didn't give Georgia as many headaches as they thought.  The Bulldogs' 23.9% Turnover Percentage ranks 329th in the nation.  Yet when the Gamecocks tried a full-court press against the Bulldogs, Georgia handled it with surprising ease.  Don't let their deliberate pace fool you - the Bulldogs are sneakily good in transition.

 

Carolina may not press as much, but don't expect them to abandon ball pressure completely.  Georgia's triangle offense relies on pacing and flow.  If Carolina can throw Georgia's guards out of rhythm, they may make it difficult for them to run coherent offense.

 

KCP.jpgThe Dark Arts of the "Long Pass":  Few players inspire more hold-your-breath moments in the SEC than Ole Miss mad-bombing guard Marshall Henderson.  The SEC's leading scorer (19.7 ppg), Henderson was handcuffed to 11 points on 4-of-17 field goal shooting against the Gamecocks.

 

In his post-game interview, Martin explained what led to Henderson's long night.  Surprisingly, it had less to do with on-ball defense.

 

The job the Gamecocks did against SEC leading scorer Marshall Henderson Wednesday could help them against Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (17.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg).

 

"Our initial ball defense was good.  That means our pick-up points were higher on the floor," he explained.  "Keep the ball as far away from the baseline as possible, so the passes are longer."

 

Long passes lead to uncomfortable, out-of-rhythm catches.  Because of that, Henderson couldn't pivot as easily into his shots, resulting in a 3-of-11 night from three-point range.  That tactic could benefit them against Caldwell-Pope, who ranks second behind Henderson for the SEC's scoring lead.

 

Stat of the Week:  Junior Eric Smith has more assists this year than his first two seasons combined.

 

Eric Smith Assists

First two seasons:            75

This season:                      79

 

An Inside Look:  To the chagrin of tongue-tied announcers everywhere, Laimonas Chatkevicius has begun to make a name for himself.  The freshman from Klaipeda, Lithuania, posted a career-high 11 points and 7 rebounds against Alabama, then followed it up with a 7-point, 7-rebound effort against Ole Miss' dominant front line.

 

Chatkevicius.jpegAll season long, Chatkevicius' play has teased, tempted, and mostly tortured the Gamecock coaching staff.  At 6'11" and a sturdy 250 pounds, he's the biggest post player the Gamecocks have.  Yet when he arrived at South Carolina from South Kent School in Connecticut, he still needed to shed his "Euro post" tendencies.  Instead of banging around the paint, he preferred to face-up and shoot from outside.  At a preseason practice in October, Martin lamented that Chatkevicius had only grabbed one rebound in two hours.

 

Lie-MONE-is Ha-KEV-i-chitz (left) has averaged 9.0 points and 7.0 rebounds over the last 2 games.

 

Underwood, who coaches the Gamecock forwards, says "Big L" has embraced the dirty work of an SEC post player.

 

"The offensive end has never been a problem.  He understands where every player should be on the play, in every set," Underwood said.  "The one thing he's had to mature with is to understand the physicality, and to be able to play at the rim."

 

Chatkevicius wears that evidence on his arms, where grayish bruises mottle his skin.  His willingness to get physical has also shown up in his block numbers:

 

Laimonas Chatkevicius - 210 minutes played

First 105 minutes:                           1 block

Next 105 minutes:                           5 blocks

 

Conditioning has also played a role.  Chatkevicius logged 25 minutes against Alabama and Ole Miss.

 

"First game of the year, 25 seconds might have been a stretch," Underwood quipped.

 

The days of 25-second cameos for Laimonas Chatkevicius may be over.

 

Crashing Carrera:  Michael Carrera suffered through his first scoreless game of the season against Alabama.  He responded with flair and fury against Ole Miss, posting his fifth career double-double (13 points, 13 rebounds).

 

In the first half alone, Carrera collected the third most offensive rebounds by a freshman in a game this year.

 

Most Offensive Rebounds by a Freshman - 2012-13

1.        Jordan Reed  (Binghamton)                        10

2.        Anthony Bennett (UNLV)                                 9

   Michael Kessens (Longwood)                    

   Steven Adams (Pittsburgh)

   Devin Thomas (Wake Forest)

   Xavier Thomas (Colorado)

3.        Michael Carrera (South Carolina)              8

 

And Finally...  How loose were the Gamecocks when they returned to practice Thursday, fresh off their upset of Ole Miss?

 

"Andy Assalley, our Director of Basketball Operations, had our team working on the Harlem Shake all day," Underwood said.

 

He was joking, of course.  But after shaking off a six-game losing streak, the Gamecocks have reason to feel good.

 

Our pre-game coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  See you in Athens.  --AD--

"Miracle Child" Enjoys VIP Gamecock Basketball Experience

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Not only did South Carolina Basketball get to enjoy a conference win over Ole Miss Wednesday night, they also enjoyed the company of a young fan who had a wish to attend a game and meet the team.

Keldon Hemingway, 11, is a "Miracle Child". Each year, University of South Carolina students participate in a Dance Marathon event to raise awareness and funds for Palmetto Health Children's Hospital, our local Children's Miracle Network Hospital. Dance Marathon is the largest student-run philanthropy on campus with this year's event taking place at the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center on March 1st-2nd. Each year they ask some of the children who have been patients at the hospital for a wish and they do their best to grant them. Keldon was diagnosed with a tumor in the center of his brain at age six. Since his diagnosis Keldon has undergone several surgeries, multiple MRIs, and two different types of chemotherapy. With treatment his tumor has remained stable and he attends school full time and even recently completed a season of basketball. Keldon's wish was to attend a men's basketball game at South Carolina and meet some of the team members. With support from head coach Frank Martin and the basketball staff, Erica Nelson (Coordinator, Life Skills and Community Outreach in the athletics department) worked to help facilitate a great experience for him.

Keldon and his family arrived early at the game to meet the team and Coach Martin during warm-ups, even getting to sit on the pre-game speech in the locker room. They enjoyed the game from seats right behind the bench and vouchers for the concession stand. Keldon proudly wore his new men's basketball t-shirt and took an autographed team poster. The Gamecocks provided a thrilling game, beating Ole Miss 63-62. After the game, Keldon joined the team in the locker room to celebrate (great picture below!) as many of the players called him their "good luck charm".


Keldon Hemingway post-game.JPG

















Tune in to The Frank Martin Show on Sunday, March 3rd, at 11:30 AM and/or 7:30 PM on SportSouth for a behind the scenes video feature on Keldon's special experience with the Gamecocks. Tune in to this week's show on February 24 for a behind the scenes look at practice through Lakeem Jackson.


In addition to liking basketball, it turns out Keldon has some pretty slick dance moves! Check him out at the 2011 Dance Marathon event on campus:




 

Inside The Chart.png

 

More pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks and Rebels meet in Columbia, where Carolina has gone 9-1 all-time against Ole Miss (7:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):

 

On Ole Miss:  Head coach Andy Kennedy can set Ole Miss' career record for wins Wednesday with his 145th.  For all his accolades, though, one thing has eluded Kennedy in his seven seasons in Oxford: an NCAA Tournament appearance.  That seemed a foregone conclusion three weeks ago when the Rebels started a school-best 6-0 in SEC play.  Since then, Ole Miss has dropped four of six to fall to 19-6, 8-4 SEC.  An 84-74 overtime win against Georgia righted the ship Saturday, but the Rebels still enter Colonial Life Arena precariously close to the bubble. 

 

Martin says that Kennedy "has this ability to instill unbelievable confidence in his players.  He does a phenomenal job of getting players shots from areas where they're really efficient."  The Rebels' 79.5 points per game ranks 5th in the nation, and their 71.2 possessions per game only trail Arkansas for fastest tempo in the SEC.  Guard Marshall Henderson, a charismatic, unrepentant three-point gunner, leads the SEC in scoring (19.7 ppg).  Senior Murphy Holloway, whose odyssey to (and from) South Carolina has been well-documented, leads all active SEC players with 34 double-doubles.  Point guard Jarvis Summers binds the offense with an SEC-leading 2.7 assist-to-turnover ratio, and senior Nick Williams, a player Martin once recruited, has a versatile game that can fill any role.

 

Marshall Henderson.jpgLook for Ole Miss to base most of its action off screens for Henderson and isolations for the left-handed Holloway.  A living, breathing definition of a "volume shooter," Henderson has attempted 266 three-pointers, the third-highest total in the nation - and when he's on, he's not afraid to tell everyone about it.  Key for Henderson:  force him to catch with his body facing the sideline or opposing baseline.  If Henderson is allowed to pivot into his shot, he can be deadly.  The Gamecocks can also "take out his legs" by making him chase and work in the defensive halfcourt.

 

Ole Miss junior guard Marshall Henderson (left) scored 14 points in the final 3:36 of regulation to send the Rebels' game vs. Georgia into overtime.  Ole Miss won 84-74.

 

Holloway, though, could be a prime candidate for touches.  The Columbia, S.C., native has eight double-doubles in Ole Miss' wins, but only one in the Rebels' losses.  He's athletic, active, a powerful offensive rebounder, and armed with a nifty spin dribble.

 

Paint Job:  At their morning shootaround in Tuscaloosa, Gamecock coaches drilled their players to sprint hard around screens.  Alabama had ridden a vise-grip defense to a #12 national ranking in points allowed (57.3 ppg).  Any lapse in energy, and the Tide would choke the life out of the Gamecock offense. 

 

Carolina lost 68-58, but Martin praised his team for swinging the ball quickly, running good offense, and getting high-percentage looks in the halfcourt.  The Gamecocks scored 34 points in the paint - accounting for 17 of their 23 field goals - for their highest percentage of the season.

 

Opponent           Pts. in Paint        Total Points        Percentage

1.       Alabama     34                58               58.3%

2.       Arkansas    40                75               53.3%

 

Reginals Buckner.jpgThey'll need that discipline against the Rebels.  Ole Miss is one of a handful of major-conference schools that ranks in the Top 50 nationally in both Steal Percentage (18th, 7.9%) and Block Percentage (45th, 7.6%).  Ole Miss' guards gamble for steals, namely because Holloway, senior Reginald Buckner (296 career blocks, 6th SEC history), and 6'9" reserve Chris Perez all lurk as rebounding and shot-blocking forces underneath. 

 

Ole Miss forward Reginald Buckner (left) leads the Rebels in blocks.  Ole Miss' elite, athletic length allows its guards to play for more steals.

 

 

 

 Can the Gamecocks run good offense - not only to stay ahead of Ole Miss' harassing guards, but to get clean looks in front of the Rebels' shot blockers?  Freshman Laimonas Chatkevicius, coming off career highs in points (11) and rebounds (7) against Alabama, will need to cut a presence beyond his years.   

 

Return of Brenton:  In addition to his 14 points, junior Brenton Williams collected four steals in 26 minutes against Alabama.  Williams had five steals in his first 162 minutes of SEC play.

 

With the Rebels playing an uptempo pace, the Gamecocks will need to have their scorers ready.  Williams might need a repeat of his performance in Tuscaloosa.

 

And Finally...  Trivia time:  How many Venezuelan native play in NCAA Division I?

 

Venezuela flag.jpgAnswer:  Five.

 

Two of them will meet at Colonial Life Arena Wednesday.  Freshman Michael Carrera (Anzoategui, Venezuela) will oppose Ole Miss freshman forward Anthony Perez, a native of Cumana, on the northern coast.

 

The country of Venezuela will have 40% of its NCAA Division I players on the floor Wednesday.

 

Carrera isn't the only Gamecock with a connection to Perez:  freshman Mindaugas Kacinas was his teammate at Word of Life Traditional School in Wichita, Kan.

 

Our pre-game coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  See you at CLA.  -AD--

 

 

Inside The Chart.png

 

Frank Martin was done with basketball.  Adrift.  "A young derelict," as he described his 19 year-old self.

 

He had failed to make the basketball team at Miami-Dade Community College, cut during fall tryouts.  He thought an opportunity re-appeared when eight players flunked out at the end of the semester.  When he was playing in an open gym in January, preparing for a new wave of tryouts, he tried to block the shot of future N.C. State star Chris Corchiani.  Martin tore his knee instead.

 

His body was broken - and so was his spirit for school.

 

"Ripping my knee up had put such a sour taste in my mouth with basketball that I kind of didn't want to be around school.  I had no idea about the next chapter in my life," Martin said.

 

He dropped out of Miami-Dade, began studying for his real estate license, and took a job at Ocean Bank.  It filled his days, but left him far from happy.  It was a steep drop for the basketball-obsessed kid whose passion for the game defined him at Miami Senior High School.

 

Then in September, a lifeline came.  Marcos "Shakey" Rodriguez, his old varsity coach at Miami Senior, gave him a call.

 

"Shakey called me and up and said, 'Why don't you go back to school?'"  Martin remembers. 

 

He was ambivalent.  "So he said, 'Well, why don't you come by here and help us coach the kids?  Sergio could use somebody,'" Martin recalls.

 

"I talked to Serge, and he said yeah, I'd love to have you."

 

"Serge" was Sergio Rouco, a 24 year-old, Cuban-born graduate of Miami Senior who was serving as the Stingarees' head JV coach.  With a wide smile, deep-set eyes, and a swoop of slick black hair, Martin remembered Rouco (pronounced ROE-co) well.  He first coached Martin when he was 12 years old, playing in the San Juan Bosco church league in his Little Havana neighborhood.  He also coached him in a Kiwanis Club league that played its games at the Orange Bowl. 

 

"If it wasn't for Shakey and Sergio calling me, I never would have come," Martin said.

 

Frank Martin-2.jpegMartin latched on as Rouco's volunteer assistant, working alongside him during the 1984-85 season.  After he finished his shift at the bank, he'd make the 15-minute commute to Miami Senior to help the JV team's 7-9 p.m. practice.

 

"Serge was always very detailed.  He had an ability to relate to players.  That's what I remember - he'd make players understand what he wanted," Martin recalls.

  

It didn't take long before Rouco gave Martin his first head coaching shot.  In February of that year, Rouco came to school with an announcement.

 

"Serge had a family situation and he couldn't make a game," Martin said.  "I go up [to Rodriguez, the varsity head coach].  I'm 19 years old.  I'm like, 'Yo, what do I do here?'

 

"He said, 'What do you mean, what do you do?  Coach the game.'"  Martin's team won.

 

A more permanent opportunity arrived in the summer.  Rouco accepted a head coaching position at Miami Loyola High School, a move that initially caught Martin off-guard.

 

"Serge left, and I'm like, I don't know what I want to do.  Coach [Rodriguez] came up to me and said, 'Hey I need you to drive a group of 15 year-olds to Orlando for a tournament.'  I'm like, 'For what?' 'Well, if you're going to be my JV coach, this is a year-round job.  This isn't a three-month thing.

 

"That's how the whole thing got started."

 

Martin accepted the assignment.  Soon after, convinced of his former player's commitment, Rodriguez named him Rouco's successor as Miami Senior JV coach.  The "young derelict," rudderless without basketball less than a year ago, was back in the game. 

 

"Thirty years later, I'm still doing it," Martin added.

 

Rouco eventually moved to the college ranks, spending five years as the head coach at Florida International University.  In 2011, another of Martin's friends, Ole Miss' Andy Kennedy, was searching for a pair of new assistant coaches. 

 

Martin called him and recommended a guy.  

 

Wednesday night at Colonial Life Arena, Frank Martin and Ole Miss assistant Sergio Rouco will meet again.

 

Our pre-game coverage of the Gamecocks and Rebels begins at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  For Part II of our pre-tip reads versus Ole Miss, CLICK HERE.  -AD-

 

 

 

Inside The Chart.pngFrank Martin needed a topic for his first paper in college, an English 1101 course at Florida International.  The professor told the class to write about a person they respect. 

 

Martin chose the first person that popped into mind: his former high school basketball teammate, Anthony Grant.

 

"Writing has never been one of my favorite things, but I do remember this:  it was one of the few papers where my thoughts rolled off," he said.

 

Plenty of coaches call themselves friends.  The word gets tossed around so casually, so cloyingly, it makes you wonder how genuine some of those friendships really are.  Yet few coaches in college basketball share a stronger bond than Martin and Grant, the man he'll coach against Saturday at Alabama (4:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network).  They'll face off for the third time in their careers -  they also played each other in 2007 and 2012.

 

"[He's] one of the best human beings I've come across in my life," Martin said in his office Tuesday.  "When I've got to make decisions, I don't make them without having a conversation with him first.

 

Frank Martin.jpegThat friendship has unfurled over three decades, from the time they first met as 14 year-olds in Miami.  It grew out of long hours and modest beginnings as high school assistants, working together on the same staff, and has continued to the highest echelons of SEC basketball.  Their memories are robust, full of wins and laughs -- like the time Grant won a car on a Spanish-language variety show (more on that later).  But above all, Martin and Grant have a friendship built on a deep, lasting respect for one another's values.

 

"We've shared so many experiences in our journey as college coaches, getting in the business and finding some success in the business, and everything that life brings," Grant said.1

 

"It's been a long 30 years of a history there."

 

The Teammates

 

Martin had seen Grant play in church and park leagues.  He knew his reputation as one of Miami's budding basketball stars.  Sometimes, those players carry a reputation as prima donnas. 

 

Yet if Martin had any apprehensions when Grant transferred to Miami Senior High School from Belen Jesuit, a private school north of Miami, they melted away the moment Grant walked into his sophomore English class.

 

"He cared about people, his teammates, his school, his friends.  He walked the hallways and teachers and students all respected him.  That's something I never forgot," Martin said. 

 

On the court, they were worlds apart.  Grant was the 6'4" All-City forward, bound for a Division I scholarship.  Martin was the benchwarmer, acutely aware of his athletic limitations.  But both shared a burning love for basketball - and a willingness to outwork anyone to perfect it. 

 

Together, their Miami Senior squad began 22-0 their junior year, and won 23 games their senior year.  Martin recalls the time Grant poured in 32 points and 21 rebounds in a win over rival South Miami.  He was more impressed by how Grant carried himself as a leader.

 

"He was the best player, but he was the hardest worker on the team," Martin recalls.  "He was the star player, yet he treated everyone like he was the bad player and you were the good player."

 

It wouldn't take long before Martin and Grant would be teammates again.

 

Back to School

 

Martin says he and Grant were close in high school, but their friendship really blossomed after they graduated in 1983.  Grant earned a scholarship to Dayton University, playing on a Flyers squad that reached the Elite Eight his freshman year.  Martin enrolled as a student at FIU, and began cutting his teeth as the head JV coach at Miami Senior. 

 

Anthony Grant-2.jpgAfter Grant's playing career ended2, he rejoined Martin at Miami Senior, where he was hired as a varsity assistant and math teacher.  Both men immersed themselves in the profession.  They soaked up the lessons of their old coach, the legendary Marcos "Shakey" Rodriguez.  Grant would sometimes sneak into the locker room and eavesdrop on Martin's halftime speeches, eager to hear his - uh, colorful - messages to the JV.

 

"When you're dealing with 14- and 15 year-olds, they don't always do what the coach wants them to do," Grant said.  "We'd know at halftime, hey, this is going to be a pretty good one once he walked into that locker room.  He never failed us.  It either fired you up or gave you a pretty good laugh."

 

"After the games we'd go out to eat.  They'd be making fun of the whole deal," Martin said. 

 

That closeness stretched beyond the sidelines.  In addition to coaching together, Martin and Grant reprised their roles as teammates in a Miami recreational league. 

 

"He had never passed me the ball," Martin joked.  "He decided to pass it to me in an adult league game, and I tore up my knee.  So I'm still [ticked] at him that he passed me the ball."

 

There was also the time Martin brought Grant to a taping of Sábado Gigante¸ the wildly popular Spanish-language variety show on Univision.  Grant was not only selected from the studio audience to participate on stage.... he wound up winning a car.

 

"He had to stand up there, live on television, and speak Spanish.  You should've seen him try to say, 'This is awesome' in Spanish.  It was hilarious watching him standing on-stage, trying to say the words 'Qué fantástico!" Martin said.

 

On the bench, though, Martin and Grant were all business.  Their sideline demeanors appeared radically different: Martin the flinty-eyed taskmaster, Martin the stoic observer.  But their personalities were identical beneath the surface.  A "fire in the belly," as Martin put it. 

 

Their Miami Senior teams reflected that intensity.  They won big.  In five years, the Stingarees won three state championships.  They produced good students, and better Division I players.  

 

Not long after, the Division I schools began courting them, too.

 

The College Assistants

 

Grant was the first to go.  After five years at Miami Senior, he accepted a job as an assistant at Stetson University.3  In 2000, Martin began his own college journey, accepting a job as an assistant at Northeastern. 

 

Each has molded winners the same way they did at Miami Senior.  Grant is aiming for a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance.  Martin reached the NCAA Tournament four times in his five seasons as head coach at Kansas State.  Through it all, they've remained close.  Grant was named godfather to Martin's oldest son.  Martin was one of the first people who called Grant after he suspended three of his starters last February.  He praised him for not putting wins above the integrity of his program, something they learned at Miami Senior.  Grant was one of the first people to text Martin after he accepted the South Carolina job. 

 

And on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, shortly before three o'clock local time, Martin and Grant will meet at the scorer's table for their pre-game handshake, the latest stop in a journey that has intertwined them in life and basketball. 

 

"I'm very proud of what he's been able to accomplish, not only as a coach - that's been documented - but as a man, a father, and a husband.  I know South Carolina they got a great guy running their program.  I know the results will show," Grant said.

 

It may come at the expense of his dear friend.  But Martin hopes to prove him right Saturday.

 

Footnotes

1 Grant's quotes courtesy of "Voice of the Crimson Tide" Chris Stewart

2 Grant played one season with the Miami Tropics of the United States Basketball League.  One of his teammates was former NBA veteran World B. Free

3 Martin left that same year for his first head coaching job at North Miami High School

 

 

Inside The Chart.png 

To snap their four-game losing streak, the Gamecocks have called on a secret weapon: assistant coach Matt Figger.

 

As South Carolina prepares to face LSU (13-8, 4-6 SEC) Thursday, Figger will again deliver the scouting report for the Gamecocks, something he did for their 82-73 overtime win January 16.  In all, Figger has had the scouting report of LSU head coach Johnny Jones 12 times.  He faced Jones 10 times at South Alabama, when Jones was head coach at North Texas; once when Kansas State met UNT in the NCAA Tournament; and again this year.

 

Including last month's tilt in Baton Rouge, Figger is 11-1 against Jones. 

 

With stats like that, how can one not be confident?

 

Pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks and Tigers share Valentine's Day reservations for 10 at Colonial Life Arena (7:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):

 

SEC-ond Coming:  What did we learn from the Gamecocks' last meeting with LSU?  Pay attention to these four factors:

 

1.      The 3-2 zone scrambled LSU.  With the Tigers leading by two and two minutes remaining, Frank Martin "played a hunch" and switched to a 3-2 zone, placing Lakeem Jackson between Bruce Ellington and Brenton Williams up top.  The Tigers finished the game missing 10 of their last 12 shots, with the only baskets coming on a fast break and a putback.  When LSU had to run a halfcourt set, they shot 0-for-10.

 

3-2 Zone vs. LSU - Final 2:00 + OT

FG's:                2-12  (.167)

Rebounding:    -7

 

Jackson vs. LSU.jpgThe Gamecocks' switch to a 3-2 zone accomplished three things:  it clotted driving lanes for point guard Anthony Hickey; it made LSU stand around more, and forced most of it shooting to the corners; and it prevented the Tigers from finding Johnny O'Bryant, their physically imposing forward.

 

Lakeem Jackson shutting off a drive from LSU's Jalen Courtney (left).  Jackson's work in the Gamecocks' 3-2 zone helped swing the game.

 

The Gamecocks won't catch the Tigers off-guard with a zone Thursday.  Can they still execute it effectively?

  

 

    2. Anthony Hickey may be the fastest draw in the SEC.  Hickey, who scored a team-high 18 points against the Gamecocks, has a hair-trigger release and won't hesitate to shoot threes at any time in the shot clock.  He's incredibly evasive working off ball screens, and with his ability to shoot, slash, and create, it's no surprise the Tigers rank 3rd in the SEC in percentage of three-pointers taken (36.1%).

 

In their January meeting, Bruce Ellington harassed Hickey into a season-high 5 turnovers, most of them coming from over-dribbling around the perimeter.  The Ellington-Hickey matchup - a battle of jet-quick, 5'8" guards - will make for great theater.  If Ellington makes Hickey work on the offensive end, will it sap his quickness chasing after steals (an NCAA-leading 3.4 spg)?

 

3.      The Gamecocks avoided "habit passes."   Figger described them in our pre-game interview:  "Passes like normal wing entries, cross-court passes, things like that.  The [LSU] kids are so great, and are such good anticipators.  It's kind of like a blitzing secondary," Figger said.

 

For the most part, the Gamecocks avoided those habit passes against LSU.   The Tigers managed just 9 steals in 79 possessions for a Steal% of 11.4%, below their season average of 14.3%.

 

LSU Steal %

Season:            14.3%

Vs. USC:          11.4%   (9 steals, 79 possessions)

 

Equally important, the Gamecocks prevented LSU from converting those turnovers into fast breaks.  The Tigers managed just 4 fast-break points, and South Carolina outscored them 27-17 off turnovers.  Against a fevered, uptempo team like LSU, that "category win" was significant.

 

LSU grabbed a season-low 3 steals against Alabama.  Will the Gamecocks find them in an extra larcenous mood Thursday?

 

4.      Johnny O'Bryant has gotten healthier.  That's not a good thing.  When they met in Baton Rouge, O'Bryant was still working back to full strength from a high ankle sprain.  One newspaper described his play as "sporadic and less than spectacular."  Foul trouble overshadowed him, as did freshman Michael Carrera, who torched the Tigers for 23 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Johnny O'Bryant.jpgSince then, the 6'9," 260-pound O'Bryant has returned to his usual, spring-loaded self.  In the seven games since that unceremonious night against the Gamecocks, "JOB III" has averaged 15.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.   His 9 double-doubles lead the SEC, and he scored a career-high 22 points in a 60-57 loss to Alabama Saturday. 

 

Johnny O'Bryant

Before South Carolina               10.5 ppg            7.7 rpg 

After South Carolina                  15.5 ppg           10.7 rpg

 

Johnny O'Bryant (right) likes to turn over his left shoulder (Photo courtesy:  nola.com)

 

Like another double-double machine, Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes, O'Bryant favors shooting over his left shoulder, but he also has more of a face-up game.  The Gamecocks elected not to double-team Stokes, so they wouldn't leave Tennessee's three-point shooters unprotected for kickouts.  The gambit worked:  the Volunteers only shot 3-of-14 from three-point range, and leading scorer Jordan McRae was held in check.  When it comes to three-pointers, LSU's light is almost permanently green.  Can the Gamecocks' interior defenders push O'Bryant off the block, and play solid one-on-one defense? 

 

Hidden Hero:  At first, the numbers don't jump out - five points and one assist over 35 minutes.  Yet after Carrera, junior Eric Smith had posted the next highest plus-minus against LSU (+17).  In the 35 minutes in which Smith was on the floor, Carolina outscored LSU by 17 points. 

 

Eric Smith.jpegMartin said Smith made an impact, even if it wasn't seen in the box score.

 

"It's about making solid decisions.  It's about doing your job.  It's about being in the right place.  That was one of his better performances across the board," he said on "Carolina Calls."  "He was solid on defense.  He got us into offense.  He made good decisions with the basketball." 

 

Thanks to Smith's ballhandling and decision-making, LSU couldn't unleash the full brunt of its style.  Don't discount "E-Wade's" important in the rematch.  

 

Eric Smith (left) did the little things vs. LSU.

 

Destined To Be?  The Gamecocks have worked on their late-game execution after another win slipped out of their grasp against Tennessee.  But they've also been foiled by something beyond their control.  In all but one of Carolina's "close" SEC games, their opponent has exceeded its season average at the free-throw line. 

 

Team               FT% Entering Game   FT% vs. Carolina

Miss. State        66.1%                            72.0%  (18-25)

Auburn              68.5%                            64.3%   (18-28)

LSU                   59.2%                            81.3%   (13-16)

Vanderbilt         56.8%                            60.6%   (20-33)

Missouri            72.5%                            77.8%   (28-36)

Georgia             67.0%                            68.8%   (11-16)

Tennessee        66.0%                            72.0%   (27-37)

Average           65.1%                            71.2%    (+7.1%)

 

Like South Carolina, LSU has lived in a permanent state of suspense.  The Tigers' last six games have all been decided by five points or less.

 

And Finally.... In a distinction only a stat geek could love, the Gamecocks have scored 1568 points.... and allowed 1569.

 

Our pre-game coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  See you CLA (I'll bring the chocolates).  -AD--

 

Gamecock IMG Sports Network FAQ's

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GamecockRadio.jpgAnswers to the 10 most commonly asked questions about Gamecock IMG Sports Network radio broadcasts.  Thanks for listening! 

-Andy Demetra, "Voice of the Gamecocks"/Director of Broadcasting, Gamecock IMG Sports Network

 

 

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

      

        We keep our affiliate list for all sports here.

 

 

2.)   What if I live in an area that doesn't carry Gamecock baseball?  Can I listen to games on my computer?

 

Yes!  By subscribing to Gamecock All-Access.  A subscription to Gamecock All-Access lets you watch all South Carolina home baseball games that aren't televised, with the Gamecock IMG Sports Network radio call underneath.  It also lets you listen to the live radio broadcasts of all Gamecock road games.   

 

 

3.)  Can I listen on my local station's online stream?  What if I have a TuneIn, IHeartRadio, or other radio listening app?

 

No.  Our affiliates only own the terrestrial radio rights.  IMG College owns the streaming radio rights.  As part of their contract, all affiliates must disable their live streaming devices during South Carolina football, basketball, and baseball broadcasts.  That includes any TuneIn, IHeartRadio, or other apps.

 

 

4.)    Can I listen to games on my tablet or mobile phone?

 

Yes!  Gamecocks Online has an official app in the iTunes store and Android Marketplace which allows you to stream broadcasts over your phone or tablet.  The app itself is free to download, but the live content requires a premium subscription ($4.95/month, $19.99/year for iPhone, e.g.). 

 

Gamecocks Online App - Cropped.png

Search "South Carolina Gamecocks" in the iPhone or iPad Apps category of the iTunes store.

 

While it costs less than a Gamecock All-Access subscription, please note:  a subscription for your phone/tablet does not give you video.  Also, depending on your cell phone's bandwidth, your audio stream may be more sensitive to buffering.  A subscription to the Gamecocks Online app is separate from a subscription to Gamecock All-Access. 

 

Gamecock All-Access and the Gamecocks Online app are managed by CBS Interactive, Inc.,  The Gamecock IMG Sports Network does not have control over the availability, reliability, or sound quality of these streams.  Some things we can control from the booth; unfortunately, this isn't one of them!

 

 

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

      

      Because of differences in satellite transmission times, as well as our own FCC-required 7-second delay, our radio call will not always match up to the TV feed.  There are devices you can buy, such as SportSync, that will even out the delay.  Other than that, your best bet to fix it is trial-and-error.   

 

 

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

 

Some stations don't have the ability to run a full, 56-game broadcast schedule.  This could be due to scheduling conflicts, staffing concerns, or local programming restrictions.  To still maintain a Gamecock presence in their market, a station may elect to carry only SEC and post-season series.     

 

Beginning 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.  As always, it's best to contact your local station to find out whether a particular game will air.

 

If you live in an area that doesn't carry Gamecock football, basketball, or baseball broadcasts - or if your local station doesn't carry a full schedule - you can always approach them.  Community groundswell tends to make things happen, especially if there are local businesses that may be interested in sponsoring the extra coverage.

   

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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?

 

Inevitably, conflicts arise during the fall (when football and basketball overlap) and early Spring (when basketball and baseball overlap). 

 

As part of our radio agreement, the sport with more affiliates statewide always takes priority.  Currently, we have more basketball affiliates (21) than baseball affiliates (13).  In fairness to our affiliates -- and the sponsors who count on them -- we have to offer on our satellite channel the sport that's carried by more of our stations.  It's a common industry protocol, and 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 precedence 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.

 

Please note:  this does not shut you out of listening to your desired game!  You can still subscribe to Gamecock All-Access or buy the Gamecocks Online iTunes or Android listening app.

 

 

10.)   Can I listen to the baseball game on XM?

      

       For selected conference games only.  XM has three dedicated SEC channels (199-201), which makes carrying every South Carolina game impossible.  After all, we have to share those channels with 13 other SEC schools.  Each week, XM selects the games that it carries.  We will notify you when they decide to pick up a South Carolina broadcast (they usually make the decision early in the week).  You can also check their programming schedule on siriusxm.com.

 

Inside The Chart.pngNot even rival student sections can resist the charms of Michael Carrera.

 

In the second half of the Gamecocks' 77-55 loss to Kentucky, Carrera toed the free throw line, looking to complete a three-point play.  As he drummed out some rhythm dribbles, the UK student section, which occupied the far baseline, began serenading him with the now-familiar "Who wears short shorts?" chant.

 

(If you haven't been paying attention, Carrera self-tailors his shorts to an early-90's length.  He says his Dad wore them that way, and he has always followed suit.)

 

Carrera vs. Kentucky.jpgUnfazed, Carrera sank the free throw.  And as he ran down floor, he winked and flashed his dimpled smile at the UK students.  They returned the favor by smiling and laughing in approval. 

 

Michael Carrera scored 18 points against Kentucky, the most by a freshman against the Wildcats this year.

 

The freshman from Anzoategui, Venezuela, has had more reasons to smile than friendly tete-a-tetes with opposing student sections.  After his 18-point, 6-rebound performance against the Wildcats, Carrera now leads the Gamecocks in scoring (10.6 ppg) and rebounding (6.9 rpg).  He could become the first freshman ever to lead the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounding, and the first underclassman since Jimmy Foster did it as a sophomore in 1981-82. 

 

Now comes a new trick:  posting those numbers in a win.  The Gamecocks will look to snap an 11-game losing streak to the Tennessee Volunteers (11-10, 3-6 SEC) Sunday when they meet at Colonial Life Arena.  Pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks and Volunteers play their first Sunday spectacular since 2008 (1:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):

 

Midrange Mike?  Carrera also showed off a growing perimeter game against the Wildcats, knocking down nearly as many three-pointers (2) as he had all season (3).  He gave a glimpse of the mismatches it could create on the play that led to his free-throw trip.  After catching on the left wing, Carrera pump-faked a three, which drew Kentucky's 6'10" shot blocker Nerlens Noel in the air.  He drove by Noel with ease, and double-clutched a layup through contact.

  

"We put Mike in some action - actually a couple of flare screens - to get him wide open on the perimeter.  He knocked them down," associate head coach Brad Underwood said in our post-game radio interview.  "We had the big guy [Noel] rotating at him, and Mike's able to put the ball on the floor and get by him."

 

Don't be surprised to see Carrera step out more often.

 

Very Offensive:  Tennessee was the toast of the SEC last year, defying expectations to almost reach the NCAA Tournament.  This year, injuries and a low-voltage offense have dimmed the Vols' chances.  A 68-62 home loss to Georgia Wednesday dropped Tennessee to 11-10, 3-6 SEC.  The Volunteers head to Columbia winless in true road games this year (0-6).     

 

Like the Gamecocks, the Volunteers' struggles are easy to spot:  they have a hard time scoring.  Tennessee has only surpassed 60 points once in the last 5 games.  Their 28.9% shooting from three-point range ranks 318th in the country.  On top of that, they've been playing without starting point guard Trae Golden, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury.  Jordan McRae, the Vols' rangy leading scorer (14.0 ppg) has logged more time at the point, though it's not a natural fit.  Freshman Armani Moore got the start against Georgia.  

 

Michael Carrera vs. Clemson.jpegAs a result, the Volunteers have struggled to find good "flow" on offense.  That may be music to the ears of the Gamecocks, who've allowed far too much string music - 57.1% opponents' field-goal shooting, to be exact --- during their losing streak.  Key for Sunday:  don't let the Vols off the hook.

 

The Gamecocks have allowed 57.1% FG shooting during their three-game losing streak.

 

"One thing we're working on is not letting teams score off our mistakes.  Make them score off their execution," Underwood told us Wednesday.

 

No Trespassing:  The Volunteers have counterbalanced their plodding offense with a prickly defense.  Tennessee doesn't try extend the floor or turn teams over.  They prefer to deny and force tough catches, making halfcourt possessions feel like battles of attrition.  

 

 

Tennessee's "stay at home" philosophy is best reflected in a few numbers:

 

·         The Vols' 5.9% Steal Percentage (% of possessions that result in a steal) is 4th-worst in the country.

·         Only 27.4% of opponents' field goal attempts are three-pointers, the second-lowest percentage in the league behind Kentucky.

·         Tennessee's guards have blocked more shots (41) than its forwards (36).

 

The Gamecocks had some of their best ball rotation of the season during their first-half comeback against Kentucky.  "I think there were possessions where we got the ball to the third, fourth, maybe even to the fifth side.  When you share the ball and don't let it stick, and make the defense move, you also put into the equation that they may make a mistake," Underwood said.

 

Can the Gamecocks do that more consistently against the Vols?  Can Carolina's guards get more dribble penetration, something Tennessee has struggled to cut off lately?  Georgia's repeated breakdowns led to 11-of-20 three-point shooting, most of them coming off kickouts. 

 

Man To Stop:  Tennessee forward Jarnell StokesThe Vols were dealt a blow in October when Preseason All-SEC forward Jeronne Maymon was forced to redshirt because of a hurting knee.  That put an even greater burden on Stokes, his frontcourt mate.

 

At 6'8," 270 pounds, Stokes' shoulders were more than equipped to handle it.

 

Jarnell Stokes-2.jpgTennessee's bull-in-a-china-shop sophomore has polished off four straight double-doubles, the latest a 16-point, 11-rebound effort against Georgia.  Stokes has quick, soft hands, and uses his size to sledgehammer away on post-ups.  He also has a quick drop-step move, and nimble feet for someone his size.  His strength has allowed him to rank 2nd in the SEC in offensive rebounds (3.3/game). 

 

Jarnell Stokes  (12.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg)  (Photo courtesy:  Times Free-Press)

 

Georgia limited his touches by sending two or three players near him, and inviting Tennessee to shoot from outside.  Can players like Lakeem Jackson play solid defense without racking up fouls?  The Gamecocks may also want to abide a longstanding philosophy of Frank MartinThe key to good post defense is good perimeter defense.  If Bruce Ellington and Eric Smith -whom Martin calls a "bulldog" on defense - can pester the Vols' lead guards, they'll make it tougher to feed Stokes.

 

Crash The Party:  As Lakeem Jackson goes (to the glass), so go the Gamecocks.  The senior from Charlotte, N.C., has been held without an offensive rebound in three of Carolina's last four games.  Prior to that, he hadn't been shut out in a game all season. 

 

Lakeem Jackson - 0 offensive rebounds

First 18 Games                  0

Last 4 Games                     3

 

In a game ticketed for a grind-fest, Jackson will need to bring his hard hat, and chisel out extra possessions for the Gamecocks.

 

And Finally... One last note on Carrera.  In addition to his scoring and rebounding totals, he has drawn a charge in eight straight games.

 

Our pre-game coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  See you Sunday.  -AD--

 

 

 

Inside The Chart.png 

South Carolina enters the "Blue Mist" trying to shake a fog of its own.

 

As they enter the halfway mark of SEC play, a pair of losses has dropped the Gamecocks to 12-8, 2-6 SEC.  In both games last week, Carolina allowed better than 50% shooting from the field. 

 

That put head coach Frank Martin in a reflective mood when he visited the media Monday.

 

"We had been playing so good that I got wrapped up with the other team more than my own team," he said.  "I'm asking our guys to fight every single day for the culture we're trying to build.  Well, they've never done that, and for me to expect them to do it on their own right now is not fair to them."

 

That "culture" building continues Tuesday at one of college hoops' holiest cultural temples.  Pre-tip reads before South Carolina and Kentucky meet at famed Rupp Arena (9:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):

 

On Kentucky:  The talent is undeniable.  So is the inconsistency.  With 10 games left in the regular season, Kentucky head coach John Calipari says the Wildcats are still looking for "the best version of ourselves."  The SEC's preseason favorites, Kentucky (15-6 , 6-2 SEC) hasn't routed teams with the effortless ease of last year's national championship team.  While never one for encomiums, Calipari has talked often about prodding the Wildcats to play with more intensity.  As recently as last week, he told the media "we just don't have a swagger about us." 

 

Jackson vs. Missouri.jpgThe most telltale sign of Kentucky's inconsistency?  Blown leads, which is why Carolina can't get despondent over an early deficit.  The Wildcats coughed up a 13-point first-half lead at Texas A&M before beating the Aggies in overtime.  Ole Miss cut a 17-point second-half deficit to one; LSU, a 15-point hole.  In their game in Tuscaloosa, Alabama hunkered into a zone - something the Gamecocks have done well lately - and turned a 9-point halftime deficit into a win.

 

The same blueprint which almost led to an upset of #22 Missouri could work again for the Gamecocks.

 

Blown leads or not, make no mistake:  the Wildcats are talented.  Leading scorer Archie Goodwin (14.8 ppg) is a slashing specialist who can finish through contact.  When he's locked in, forward Alex Poythress (12.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg) is capable of highwire acts of athleticism.  Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer, the lone returning player from last year's rotation, is a 6'10" pick-and-popper who ranks third in the SEC in three-point percentage (40.9%).  And then there's Calipari's shot-blocker-in-residence, freshman Nerlens Noel (more on him later).

 

The Gamecocks may need to follow the blueprint which brought them success against then-#22 Missouri.  Cut hard (Kentucky has never ranked highly in Steal%, an indicator that they don't gamble aggressively for turnovers).  Attack the boards.  Swing the ball with purpose, and knock down open shots.  Above all, force Kentucky to match their intensity early.       

 

Block Rocker:  Last year it was "The Brow."  This year, it's the "Flat Top."

 

Nerlens Noel.jpgWith the departure of eventual #1 NBA Draft pick Anthony Davis, Calipari has filled his shot-blocking void with 6'10," 228-pound freshman Nerlens Noel.   The sinewy, skyscraping Noel broke a Kentucky record with 12 blocks against Ole Miss, and averages 7.0 blocks in SEC play.

 

Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel (right) ranks 2nd in the nation in blocks per game (4.6).

 

Noel's help-side instincts are superb, and he angles his body well to avoid fouls (only 3.3 Fouls Committed/40 Minutes).  His restraint in not biting for pump fakes has also improved.  And Noel doesn't chase blocks recklessly - he also ranks in the top 20 nationally in steals per game (2.3)  The Everett, Mass., native also excels in "kept-ball blocks" - swatting shots that are saved inbounds by Kentucky.

 

"If you hesitate on your move, you better pass that ball.  Blocked shots are turnovers," Martin said of his players when operating around Noel. 

 

The Gamecocks, though, have had experience facing menacing "rim protectors."  Carolina has opposed two players this season with a higher block percentage (Block%) than Noel.

 

Block % (% of a team's FGA that a player blocks)          % vs. USC

1.       Chris Obekpa  (St.J)                   17.0%                    3.1%

7.    Rhamel Brown (Manhattan)       13.95%                  10.3%

12. Nerlens Noel (UK)                        12.86%                  ???

*-Block%:  % of a team's 2pt.FGA that are blocked          

 

Welcome Home:  Tuesday's game is a long-overdue homecoming for assistant coach Matt Figger.  "Coach Fig" grew up in Jenkins, Ky., a two-hour drive from Lexington, and will coach for the first time in the Commonwealth's cathedral to college basketball.

 

Create or Facilitate?  Tall guards have typically bothered Bruce Ellington.  That's understandable - the 5'8" junior often needs an extra half-step to release his shot over players 8" to 13" taller than him.

 

In four games against Kentucky, the Wildcats' parade of tall, athletic guards have usually left Ellington with a string of scattered shots.  Even if his shots haven't dropped, Ellington has proven himself effective as a facilitator:

 

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

Shooting               8-44 FG  (18.2%),  4-29 3pt. FG  (13.8%) 

Passing                 15A,  4 TO  (3.75A/TO ratio)

 

Between 6'2" point guard Ryan Harrow, 6'2" Julius Mays, and 6'4" Archie Goodwin, Kentucky boasts the smallest backcourt in the three years Ellington has faced them.  Calipari has lamented his team's lack of a defensive stopper on the perimeter, although Mays helped contain A&M guard Elston Turner in their last meeting.  If Ellington has trouble squeezing off his shot, can he make an impact by setting up others?

 

Tale of the Tape:  Who has served as the Gamecocks' biggest barometer between wins and losses?  Junior Brian Richardson.

 

Brian Richardson FG%

Wins:                     51.2% FG

Losses:                 29.6% FG

 

Richardson bucked that trend against Georgia, scoring 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting.  If his footwork is good, Richardson's shots often are, too.

 

And Finally... Noel also leads Kentucky with 9.5 rebounds per game.  That's fitting, considering he has a brother named, yes, Rodman.  His two older brothers both play football in the ACC - Rod is a linebacker at N.C. State, Jim is a defensive back at Boston College.

 

Our pre-game coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you in Lexington.  -AD--

 

Inside The Chart.pngEvery team has a "burn the tape" game, a loss so lacking in redeeming value that it's better to forget it ever happened.

 

Frank Martin stopped short of that Thursday.  When his team gathered for practice, Martin showed his players the highlights from their grisly, 75-36 loss to Florida. 

 

He wasn't without temptation, though.

 

 

Be Kind Rewind.png 

There was little rewinding of the tape from Carolina's game versus Florida.

 

"I tried to jump in that dumpster to burn myself along with the film, but I didn't fit in there," Martin joked on "Carolina Calls."

 

The Gamecocks hope for more pleasurable viewing Saturday when they host the resurgent Georgia Bulldogs (9-11, 3-4 SEC) at Colonial Life Arena.  Georgia has won three of its last four, and even that lone loss wasn't shameful:  the Bulldogs led Florida at halftime before falling 64-47.  With young players rounding into form, and an All-SEC guard scoring in a variety of ways, the Bulldogs faintly resemble the team that lost 7 of 8 games in December.

 

What does the tape reveal about Georgia?  Pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks and Bulldogs battle at Colonial Life Arena (1:00 p.m. EST airtime, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):

 

Untangling The Triangle:  The triangle offense rose to fame with Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls in the 1990s.  But its roots trace back to a place Martin knows well:  Tex Winter perfected and popularized the system as head coach of Kansas State in the 1950s.  It lives on at Georgia thanks to head coach Mark Fox, who - no surprise - grew up in Garden City, Kan., and logged time as a K-State assistant.

 

Triangle setup.jpgThe offense takes its name after its basic set-up:  a triangle on the strong (ball) side, formed by a player on the low block, wing, and corner.  The triangle relies on a series of "reads," with every player moving, cutting, and passing based on what the defense shows them.

 

The basic premise of the triangle offense:  a triangle on the strong side of the ball.

 

A favorite play is the "flex screen," where a player cuts from the corner, uses a baseline screen, and runs to the opposite block.  Both the screener and cutter then look for post-ups, hoping to duck in and "pin down" their defender.  Georgia will also run plenty of action through the "pinch post," or the high post on the help side of the ball.  With four players in the starting lineup measuring 6'5" or taller, Georgia's length only adds to the triangle's treachery.

 

Georgia Projected Starting Lineup

PG          Vincent Williams                              6'0"

                -or- Charles Mann                          6'4"

SG          Kentavious Caldwell-Pope               6'5"

SF           Brandon Morris                               6'7"

PF           Donte Williams                                6'9"

C             John Florveus                                 6'11"

 

Martin talks often about disrupting a team's rhythm, and few teams rely on it more heavily than the Bulldogs:  an SEC-leading 57.4% of their baskets are assisted.  Martin says the Gamecocks must affect that rhythm by forcing long passes.

 

"They want to catch that ball somewhere between the top of the key and the foul line," he explained, referring to the pinch post.   "You have to make the passer catch it above the top of the circle.  Now that pass becomes a longer pass [inside], which makes it easier on your guys to guard that stuff inside."

 

Long passes may also provide relief to Carolina's guards, who could find themselves defending the post often Saturday.

 

Man to Stop:  Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.  A 6'5" sophomore from Greenville, Ga., Caldwell-Pope (17.5 ppg) has led Georgia in scoring in 18 of 20 games this year.  No SEC team has a wider margin between its leading scorer and second-leading scorer than the Bulldogs - forward Nemanja Djurisic is next at 7.7 points per game - which only magnifies Caldwell-Pope's importance. 

 

KCP-3.jpg"You've got a lot of people right now who are saying he's the best pro prospect in the SEC.  They use him in all kinds of different ways - off pick-and-rolls, they post him.  He makes open shots.  They're doing a great job of running their offense through him," Martin said. 

 

Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ranks 2nd in the SEC in scoring (17.5 ppg)

 

 

"KCP" has played more shooting guard this year, after spending the majority of his time at small forward last season.  Can the Gamecocks force him into uncomfortable catches, and make a second scorer emerge?  Players like Lakeem Jackson and Brian Richardson need to use their length and toughness around screens.

 

Mann Alive:  Georgia has also profited from the improved play of freshman point guard Charles Mann (6.1 ppg).  The Alpharetta, Ga., native presents a tricky matchup for his ability to both distribute (a team-leading 2.9 assists/game) and reach the foul line (a team-leading 90 FTA).  He's also not to be confused with Charles Mann, who started alongside former Gamecock Brad Edwards on the Super Bowl XXVI-winning Washington Redskins.

 

February.jpgMonster Month:  February may be the shortest month, but Frank Martin has turned it into a long, torturous one for opponents.  In five seasons as a head coach, his teams have gone 25-6 (.806) in the month of February.

 

Chance To Strike?  Martin doesn't believe in gambling for steals on defense.  He prefers staying in position, denying gaps, and forcing teams to take contested shots.    

 

An opportunity might present itself Saturday.  Georgia, which plies a patient, precision triangle offense, ranked 7th in the nation last year in turnovers per game (10.4).  This year, playing at a similar possessions-per-game pace, the Bulldogs have dropped off to 289th in the nation (15.4).

 

Let's look at South Carolina's "Points Per Turnover" averages, a crude measure of their efficiency in converting turnovers into points.

 

Points Per Turnover Forced

Overall:                   1.10 PPTO  (317 pts. off 286 turnovers)

SEC:                       0.98 PPTO  (108 pts. off 106 turnovers)

vs. Florida:             0.17 PPTO   (2 pts. off 12 turnovers)

 

Transition basket.jpegThe Gamecocks forced 12 turnovers against Florida, but only managed a season-low 2 points off them.  Can they do a better job converting turnovers into baskets against the Bulldogs?  Martin said Georgia's size might demand it. 

 

Can the Gamecocks duplicate their transition game against Arkansas (left), when they picked up easy baskets before the Razorbacks could set up their defense?

 

"We have to create an uptempo game where we utilize our speed, so those [smaller] guys can get easier looks in the open court rather than against them when they are set up.  Now you have to crack a 6'7" guy with a 5'11" guy," Martin said.

 

Allergic to Fouls:  If South Carolina draws a foul on Sherrard Brantley, look for confetti to rain from the sky.  A reserve three-point specialist from Dublin, Ga., Brantley has played 369 minutes this year... and committed 7 fouls.  His average of 0.8 Fouls Committed/40 Minutes makes him the most foul-allergic player in college basketball.

 

And Finally... RJ Slawson isn't the only member of his family with a busy winter at Colonial Life Arena.  His older sister, Jackie, is a manager for Dawn Staley's women's basketball team.  She plans on pursuing a coaching career in softball, her sport of choice in high school.

 

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

 

Inside The Chart.pngBilly Donovan was hired as head coach of Florida March 27, 1996.

 

Around midnight that night, Frank Martin said his cell phone chirped with a message.  It was Donovan.  He told him he planned to come to his high school in Miami, Fla., the next day to recruit some of his players.

 

Frank Martin.jpegTwo decades later, Martin and Donovan remain tight, a friendship forged from their earliest days in coaching.  Donovan plucked Anthony Grant, one of Martin's assistants at Miami Senior High, to join his staff at Marshall.  For 15 summers, Martin worked as a counselor at Donovan's basketball camps.  Two of his former players, Brent Wright and Udonis Haslem, became centerpieces of Donovan's first Final Four team. 

 

"If it weren't for Frank Martin, we wouldn't have played for the national title in 2000," Donovan told The Gainesville Sun. 

 

That friendship will be set aside Wednesday, when the Gamecocks become the next team to take their crack at Donovan's #4-ranked Gators (16-2, 6-0 SEC).  Pre-tip reads before the Gators and Gamecocks hit the floor (8:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):

 

Inside The Efficiency:  Demolished?  Dismantled?  Pick any verb.  They all describe what Florida has done to SEC competition this year.  The Gators have won their conference games by an average of 26.5 points, the latest an 82-47 drubbing at Mississippi State.  The Gators' top seven players are juniors and seniors, and that chemistry shows:  Florida ranks 2nd in the nation in Offensive Efficiency, averaging 1.23 points per possession (PPP). 

 

"That ball never stops, which allows you to not get set defensively," Martin said at his Tuesday press conference.

 

Kenny Boynton 2012.jpgHow does Florida operate so skillfully?  The Gators run lots of ball screens, primarily from the wings, with hulking center Patric Young as their featured screener.  Their guards - leading scorer Kenny Boynton (13.6 ppg), redshirt senior Mike Rosario (11.8 ppg, 90% FT), and junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin (9.1 ppg, 40.4% 3pt.) - are exceedingly patient, and rarely force anything.  If they find a seam on a pick-and-roll, they either attack the rim or wait until a backside defender steps up, so they can pop out to 6'10" forward Erik Murphy (12.8 ppg, 47.4% 3pt.).  Murphy is one of the nation's better "stretch fours," making him a difficult matchup from outside.

Florida senior guard Kenny Boynton (right)

Florida also sends Young on "rims runs" on screen-and-rolls, looking to find a catch in stride.  One of the SEC's most physical specimens, Young's north-south runs can be difficult to stop.

That unselfishness results in impeccable scoring balance.  Four different players average in double figures, and the Gators shoot 56.8% from two-point range.

Stopping the nation's most surgical offense seems like a thankless task.  The Gamecocks will need to lean on something they did well against Missouri and Mississippi State:  defend the pick-and-roll.  The forwards need to "jam the screener," pushing them up and preventing them from making a clean roll to the basket.  The Gamecocks' guards need to jump screens, and not allow Florida's ballhandlers to turn corners easily.  Any breakdown in communication could cause Carolina's defense to lose shape - and allow Florida's offense to get rolling.

 

But Wait, There's More:  Martin didn't call Florida "national championship good" for offense alone.  The Gators lead the nation in Defensive Efficiency, allowing a mere 0.8 points per possession (PPP).   They also rank second nationally in scoring defense (51.2 ppg). 

 

Florida Defense - NCAA Ranks

Defensive Efficiency                      0.8 Points Per Possession (#1 NCAA)

Scoring Defense                             51.2 ppg  (#2 NCAA)

Two-Point FG% Defense                39.0% FG  (#3 NCAA)

Fouls Per Game                              15.8  (#25 NCAA)

 

The Gators close gaps, stay between the ball and the rim, and rarely foul.  The Gamecocks picked a good time to have their best shooting game of the season, a 57.7% performance against Arkansas.  Can a player like R.J. Slawson, who just strung together the best two-game scoring stretch of his SEC career, make a difference down low?

 

Did You Know:  Before coming to South Carolina, junior Brenton Williams spent one season at Santa Fe Community College, a 2.5-mile drive from the University of Florida campus.  Williams went scoreless against Arkansas after posting 16 points in each of the last three games.

 

Stat vs. Stat:  The Gamecocks biggest strength will come under fire Wednesday.  The Gamecocks are one the best teams in the nation at grabbing offensive rebounds; Florida is one of the best teams at denying them. 

 

Rebounding Percentages

South Carolina                   Get 42.4% of available offensive rebounds  (3rd NCAA)

Florida                                Get 73.8% of available defensive rebounds (11th NCAA)

 

Ellington vs. Arkansas.jpegSouth Carolina has only faced one team that ranks in the top 100 in the nation in Defensive Rebounding % (Missouri, 67th).  Against a Florida team that only allows 39% shooting from two-point range, tenacious offensive rebounding may be South Carolina's salvation.

 

Bruce Almighty:  Martin understands why fans want to see Bruce Ellington score 20 points a night.  No player scores with as much kinetic flair as the Gamecocks' armor-plated, 5'8" dual-sport star.

 

Bruce Ellington (left) has locked down the opponents' lead scoring guard.

 

It's not that Martin minds it. He just doesn't need it.  Not when Ellington can affect so many more points on the other end.  In the last three games, Ellington has posted shutdown defensive performances against the opponent's leading scorer:

 

 

 

 

Player                           Avg. Entering Game            Points Scored

Kedren Johnson (VU)   15.9 ppg                                  3 pts.*  (0-6 FG,  0-2 3pt.)

Phil Pressey (MU)         12.2 ppg                                  6 pts.    (1-8 FG,  1-6 3pt.)

B.J. Young (ARK)         16.9 ppg                                  7 pts.*  (3-12 FG, 0-2 3pt.)

                                                                                     5.3 ppg, 15.4% FG,  10.0% 3pt.

*-Season-low

 

Ellington will likely draw the assignment on Boynton, the SEC's active leading scorer with 1,833 career points.

 

Can You (Not) Top This:  On the flip side, Ellington will likely be guarded by Florida's 6'5" junior Scottie Wilbekin, a leading candidate for SEC Defensive Player of the Year.  Arguably the SEC's best on-ball defender, Wilbekin held Texas A&M's Elston Turner, who had just exploded for 40 points against Kentucky, to 4 points on 1-of-10 field goal shooting.  In his next game, he straitjacketed Missouri point guard Phil Pressey, the SEC's Preseason Player of the Year, into a season-low 2 points and 10 turnovers.  A hard player to screen, expect Wilbekin to "chest up" Ellington, and whittle away at his energy on the offensive end.

 

Wilbekin, though, may have his hands fuller than normal.  In two career games at Florida, Ellington averages 19.0 ppg and 42.9% three-point shooting, his highest average against an SEC opponent.

 

Bruce Ellington Career at Florida (2g)

Points:                  19.0*

FG%                     48.2%*

3pt.%                    42.9%*

 

*-Career highs on road vs. SEC opponent (min. 2 games)

 

And Finally... Martin isn't the only Gamecock coach with fond memories of Donovan's summer camps.  Assistant Matt Figger also took turns as a counselor while coaching in the junior-college ranks.  It was there that he first met Frank Martin, which led to him joining Martin's Kansas State staff in 2007.

 

Our pre-game coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you in Gainesville.  -AD--

 

 

Inside The Chart.png

 

Get your necks loose and your lungs ready.

 

The Arkansas Razorbacks (12-6, 3-2) bring their end-to-end, gasping-for-breath style to Colonial Life Arena Saturday to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks (11-7, 1-4 SEC).  After a narrow loss to Missouri Tuesday, the Gamecocks will look to stop their cycle of late-game heartbreak, and seal a second SEC win.

 

They're already off to a good start:  Arkansas has yet to win a road game, losing all five by an average of 12.8 points. 

 

Pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks and Razorbacks collide in Columbia (1:00 p.m. EST airtime, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):

 

The Tug-Of-War:  A basketball game has various states of equilibrium.  If a team struggles in one area, it can compensate in another.  If a player pursues one stat too vigorously, it could leave him underperforming in another.

 

Lakeem Jackson vs. Arkansas.jpegSouth Carolina hangs his hat on relentless offensive rebounding.  Despite its small stature, the Gamecocks rank 3rd in the nation in Offensive Rebounding Percentage (42.2%). 

 

Arkansas, led by second-year coach Mike Anderson, excels in the open floor.  According to Synergy - and Luke Winn's excellent SI Power Rankings -- Arkansas ranks 8th nationally, getting transition baskets on 21% of its possessions. 

 

It begs the question:  will the threat of a fast break affect South Carolina's ability to offensive-rebound?  Might they sacrifice sending some players to the rim, so they can cover themselves for potential runouts?

 

Lakeem Jackson (left) on the boards vs. Arkansas last year.  Get ready for a showdown between Carolina's offensive rebounding and Arkansas' transition offense.   

 

Frank Martin has been down this road before, when his Kansas State teams battled Anderson's squads at Missouri.

 

"If our guys go to the glass, then Arkansas is going to have to stay in there and rebound, and not be able to leak out," he explained on "Carolina Calls." 

 

"In the past, the battles between Mike's teams and my teams have been who's going to be better at what they try to doWe try to rebound.  They try to turn you over.  The games where we haven't turned it over and out-rebounded them, we've had success.  You either run everyone back or you got to go rebound.  I like to go rebound," he said.    

 

That tug-of-war - South Carolina's offensive rebounding versus Arkansas' quick-trigger transition - could decide a winner Saturday.  Freshman Michael Carrera, the Gamecocks' highest-percentage offensive rebounder, will need to bounce back after managing just one offensive rebound against Missouri.

 

Mardracus Wade.jpg"Hell" To Pay:  Anderson, a longtime Nolan Richardson assistant, has rekindled his boss' famed, frenetic "40 Minutes of Hell" style.  Using a blistering full-court press, the Razorbacks have forced 17.8 turnovers per game in league play, most in the SEC.  Junior Mardracus Wade is Arkansas' top turnover merchant (1.8 steals/game).

 

Arkansas' press isn't technical, or tactical, or loaded with principles.  It's meant to be simple, and chaotic, and panic-striking.  See ball, swarm ball, steal ball. 

 

But Arkansas has another impressive stat.  Usually teams that play a fast-paced, trapping style get reckless with the ball themselves.  Yet Arkansas also ranks 8th nationally in Turnover % Offense, throwing it away on just 16% of possessions.  According to kenpom.com, they're the only team in the top 25 in both TO% Defense (i.e., forcing turnovers) and TO% Offense (avoiding them).

 

Arkansas - Turnover Percentage (% of Possessions Ending in a TO)

Offense:              16.1%  (8th)

Defense               24.8%  (14th)

 

Valuing possessions will be key Saturday.  No "jailbreaks," as Martin called Missouri's runouts.  Fortunately, Carolina has improved dramatically in keeping the basketball, as the numbers below show:

 

South Carolina Turnover Margin

Non-conference:                -3.6        (14th SEC)

Conference:                       +2.6       (4th SEC)

 

Man to Stop:  Arkansas guard B.J. Young.  He may rank third in the SEC in scoring (16.9 ppg), but no team's offense flows through a single player more than Young.  A crafty, long-armed, 6'3" sophomore, Young leads the SEC, and ranks 46th nationally, in Possession Percentage (29.9%).  Also called Usage Rate, it's the percentage of a team's possessions that ends with a player a.) making a shot; b.) missing a shot that isn't rebounded by the offense; or c.) committing a turnover while that player is on the floor.

 

B.J. Young-2.jpgArkansas runs very few ball screens compared to South Carolina's other SEC opponents, preferring an offense based around constant moving, cutting, and passing.  They like to spread the floor, and get perimeter defenders leaning and off-balance to set up driving opportunities.  Few players thrive in those conditions better than Young, who torched the Gamecocks for 27 points in a 76-65 win last year.

 

B.J. Young (photo courtesy:  WholeHogSports.com)

 

In terms of height, ball-screen usage, and driving habits, Young's game compares favorably to Vanderbilt's Kedren Johnson, whom the Gamecocks - Bruce Ellington in particular -- held scoreless from the field last Saturday.  Young is a more athletic, souped-up version of Johnson.  Can Carolina experience the same success?

 

And Another Thing.... Don't forget about 6'7," 240-pound junior Marshawn Powell, either.  A true inside-out threat, Powell has career averages of 23.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game against South Carolina.  He missed all of last season with an ACL injury.  Powell ranks second behind Young in scoring (15.4 ppg) and leads the Hogs in rebounds (5.4 rpg).

 

Kicking Glass:  Rebounding is a port of entry in Frank Martin's system.  Don't contribute on the boards?  Don't expect to last long.  Against Missouri's towering front line, both 5'8" Bruce Ellington and 5'11" Brenton Williams chipped in with career highs in rebounds.

 

If it feels like we've called out career highs often, you'd be right.  South Carolina's five returning backcourt players have set career highs in rebounds 8 different times this year:

 

Player                              Previous Career High   New Career High '12-13

Brian Richardson              5 vs. USC-Upstate            8 vs. Elon, 8 vs. Miss. State

Brenton Williams               4 vs. Florida                     5 vs. Missouri

Bruce Ellington                  8 vs. W. Kentucky            9 vs. Missouri

Damien Leonard               4 vs. Tennessee              5 vs. PC, 8 vs. SC St., 9 vs. Auburn

Eric Smith                          3, 10 times                       4 vs. S.C. State

 

The Redemption of Brenton:  Junior Brenton Williams looked adrift.  Through two SEC games, the Gamecocks' leading scorer had posted a grand total of 2 points.  Turnovers and timidity had limited him to 12 minutes, and reduced the Kissimmee, Fla., native to a shadow of his former self.

 

But Martin doesn't believe in abandoning a player.  Nobody goes into his doghouse - "I didn't have a dog growing up."  Every game - and more importantly, the practices in between - represents a new chance to earn playing time.

 

Brenton Williams driving.jpegWilliams has made the most of his new chance.  Since his slow start, Williams has scored 16 points in the last three games, steadying a backcourt in which Ellington has struggled to find his touch (23% FG in SEC play).

 

Brenton Williams (right) has scored 16 points in three straight games.

 

"He's playing aggressive again.  He got un-aggressive all of a sudden," Martin said.  "You can't succeed as a player if you're tentative out there."

 

Martin also credits a better understanding defensively with sharpening Williams' play on offense.

 

"The more attention to detail you pay to what we do defensively, the more patience I got with you offensively," he said.

 

With Arkansas ranking second in the SEC in scoring (79.6 ppg), Williams' scoring may be required Saturday.

 

Free & Easy:  The frontcourt trio of Lakeem Jackson, R.J. Slawson, and Laimonas Chatkevicius has enjoyed a free-throw shooting renaissance:

 

Player                                   Started                               Since

Lakeem Jackson                    7-29       (24.1%)                 7-13       (53.8%)

R.J. Slawson                          16-25     (64.0%)                 13-16     (81.3%)

Laimonas Chatkevicius          2-6         (33.3%)                 8-8          (100.0%)

 

 

And Finally...  Chatkevicius and freshman Mindaugas Kacinas brought their own cheering sections to Missouri.  Kacinas' host family at his high school, Word of Life Traditional School, made the five-hour trek from Wichita, Kan., to watch him play.  So did neighbors of Chatkevicius' host family - the Klaipeda, Lithuania, native spent two summers playing AAU ball for a team based in Kansas.

 

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.  See you at Colonial Life Arena.  -AD--

Inside The Chart.pngThe tweet, sent at 8:32 p.m., immediately sparked Gamecock fans' curiosity:

@GamecockRadio:  Frank Martin told me tonight that he played the offensive line coach in the movie "Any Given Sunday."

That's right.  "Any Given Sunday," the Oliver Stone-directed, Al Pacino-starring, 1999 film-turned-basic-cable staple about the fictitious Miami Sharks.  Before he rose to small-screen stardom as a successful college basketball coach, Frank Martin played an extra in the film when it shot on location in Homestead, Fla.

Any Given Sunday.jpgNot all stories - especially one as far-fetched as this - can be explained in 140 characters.  So here's the backstory from Coach Martin himself:

At the time, Martin was working as a high school coach in his native Miami.  His athletic trainer, who had signed up to play a referee in the movie, approached him in school one day.  The football players in the movie - all of whom were actual ex-football players - were grumbling.  They hated the actors who had been cast as coaches, believing they were inauthentic.

The directors asked Martin's athletic trainer if he knew any real coaches who could fill the roles.

"He said, 'Hey, they want new coaches.  Are you interested?'" Martin said.

It was after basketball season, so Martin figured why not.  He ended up spending eight days on set, playing the Sharks' offensive line coach during the film's game scenes.  (No word on whether this makes Martin part of Al Pacino's coaching tree, too.)  The days lasted from 6:30 in the morning until 8 o'clock at night, and Martin remembers them mostly for standing around between scenes.  He recalls earning somewhere betwen $100 and $200 per day.  He didn't receive a credited role, either, which explains why he doesn't appear on any IMDb.com page. 

Incidentally, the man who choreographed the football scenes in "Any Given Sunday," Mark Ellis, is the brother of Gamecock football radio voice Todd Ellis.  The two re-united at Thursday's edition of "Carolina Calls."

Now for the second-most popular question:  can you see Martin in the film?

Good luck.  The final cut melded him into the background of most shots.  He says his staff has tried to spot him for ages, to no avail.

Although it might require a change to the movie poster.    -Andy Demetra

 

Movie Poster.png 

 

 

 

Inside The Chart.pngWhen the Gamecock basketball team boarded its charter flight in Columbia, S.C., Monday, it was 64 degrees.

 

When they landed in Columbia, Mo., it was 18 degrees.  And dropping.

 

Some cold snaps, they can't avoid.  Others, they hope to shed.  After suffering through their poorest shooting game in 15 years Saturday, the Gamecocks look for kinder rims and better results when they visit Mizzou Arena to face the #22 Missouri Tigers (13-4, 2-2 SEC).

 

Mizzou Arena.jpgTalented but enigmatic, Missouri has battled inconsistency all season, especially on the offensive end.  After an 83-52 blowout loss to Florida Saturday, head coach Frank Haith questioned his team's ability to handle adversity.  To add to the fog, best all-around big man Laurence Bowers (team-high 16.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg) will miss a fourth straight game with a sprained MCL.  Senior guard Keion Bell (8.9 ppg) may also not play because of a sprained ankle, and fellow guard Earnest Ross (9.6 ppg) could miss action with a back injury.

 

Cold, indeed.

 

The Gamecocks hope it becomes ideal conditions for a road win.  Pre-tip reads before the first-ever showdown between the Gamecocks and Tigers (7:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):

 

What's New Is Old Again:  While at Kansas State, Frank Martin and his staff coached five times at "The Zou," racking up a record of 1-4.  That may not sound like much, but consider:  Missouri has gone 87-4 on its home floor since the '08-09 season.  Last year, Martin's team dealt Missouri two of its four regular-season losses.  Associate head coach Brad Underwood was recruited by Missouri before opting to play at K-State.    

 

Glass Warfare:  South Carolina's most consistent strength has been its offensive rebounding.  Entering Saturday's game with Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks ranked 2nd in the nation in Offensive Rebounding % (OReb%), grabbing a board on 44.1% of their misses.

 

That number nosedived against Vandy.  Unable to seal their defenders inside or win long caroms, the Gamecocks only grabbed 26% of their misses in a 58-51 loss.  For the first time all season, an opponent had a higher OReb% than South Carolina.

 

A more imposing task awaits them in Columbia.  Helped by an Effective Height that ranks 8th in the nation (compared to the Gamecocks' 291st), the Tigers rank 11th nationally in OReb%. 

 

Offensive Rebounding % - NCAA Rank            Effective Height - NCAA Rank

3.            South Carolina    (42.6%)                       8.     Missouri   

11.          Missouri               (40.1%)                      291.  South Carolina

 

With injuries robbing them of size - forward Tony Criswell has also been playing with a broken finger - the Tigers have fallen to 13th in the SEC in OReb% in conference games-only (26.5%).  Look for 6'9," 255-pound UConn transfer Alex Oriakhi (team-leading 8.2 rpg) to play an increased role Tuesday.  Haith warned that South Carolina "is going to test your manhood."  Can the Gamecocks test the Tigers' intensity on the glass early?

 

Speaking of Rebounds...  Senior Lakeem Jackson pulled down a team-high 10 boards against Vanderbilt.  It marked the first time that Jackson had consecutive games with double-digit rebounds.

 

Phil Pressey.jpgThe Art of Su-"Press"-ion:  Missouri's Phil "Flip" Pressey may not be the best point guard in college basketball, but he certainly makes a case as its most electrifying.  The SEC's Preseason Player of the Year, Pressey runs the Missouri offense with ball-on-a-string aplomb, ranking 8th nationally with 7.2 assists per game.  He's especially deadly on screen-and-rolls, slicing to the basket or making sleight-of-hand passes with deadly timing.  Earlier this year, Pressey tied an SEC record with 19 assists in an overtime loss to UCLA.

 

Yet in two games against Missouri last year, Martin's Kansas State teams throttled Pressey, holding him to 3-of-17 field goal shooting with 10 assists and 10 turnovers.  K-State handled Missouri, an eventual NCAA Tournament 2-seed, in both games.

 

Phil Pressey vs. Kansas State Last Year

Game #1 (W 75-59):        0-6 FG,    0-2 3pt.,  3-4 FT,  3 pts.,  3A,  4 TO

Game #2 (W 78-68):        3-11 FG,  2-6 3pt.,  0-0 FT,  8 pts.,  7A,  6 TO

 

Why did Pressey struggle against Martin's defense?  The tape reveals this:

 

·         They forced Pressey out high.  Kansas State's defenders crowded him on the dribble - "crawling up in him," in coaching parlance.  Pressey had to continually break five-second counts, expending precious energy while dribbling farther away from the rim.

 

·         They jammed screeners.  Pressey accepts the majority of his screens in the middle of the floor, above the top of the key.  By jamming the screener, K-State prevented Pressey's screen-and-roll mate from running toward the rim.  Meanwhile, Pressey's defender would jump underneath the pick, re-establish contact, and continue extending his pressure. 

 

·         They denied wing passes.  Missouri is stocked with shooters, waiting to take advantage of drive-and-kicks from Pressey.  Kansas State's wing defenders never let them drift too far from sight.  Without those passes available, Pressey often had to create one-on-one, where he occasionally gets reckless.

 

Can the Gamecocks duplicate that Tuesday?  Unlike Kansas State, Carolina doesn't have a true "goaltender" center, waiting to deter drives to the basket.  Also, Missouri's wings are much taller this year - even with pressure, they could raise up and rain down three's.  Watch for Oregon transfer Jabari Brown, who leads the Tigers in scoring in SEC play (16.5 ppg) while shooting 45% from three-point range.  Other than Brown, Missouri has struggled to find a reliable scoring option from outside. 

 

Brenton Williams vs. Vandy.jpegBruce Ellington will need his matchless athleticism against Pressey, and not get clipped on screens.  A player like Brian Richardson, whom Martin calls his "most understanding perimeter defensive player," could also factor on the wings.   We'll see if the same principles apply, even if the personnel has changed.

 

Finish Him:  Vanderbilt's long guards repeatedly clogged driving lanes and denied clean looks at the basket.  Missouri has a similar silhouette - besides Pressey, the Tigers can send out 6'5" Earnest Ross, 6'5" Jabari Brown, and even 6'7" Negus Webster-Chan to recreate "Hands Across America" around the arc. 

 

Brenton Williams has gone 16-of-18 from the FT line over the last 2 games, mainly from driving to the basket.

 

That shouldn't scare off the Gamecocks, though - the Tigers are also the second-most foul-prone team in the SEC, averaging 15.1 fouls per game.  If Carolina attacks the rim with conviction, or gets inside the paint before Missouri sets its defense, they could get rewarded.  Brenton Williams has been excellent lately, attempting 18 free throws in the last two games off runs to the rim.  

 

And Finally...  In what may be a college basketball first, Tuesday's game features a pair of sons of former pro handball players.  The fathers of Missouri forward Stefan Jankovic and South Carolina forward Mindaugas Kacinas played the sport professionally in Europe.

 

Our pre-game coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  See you in the other Columbia.  -AD--

 

 

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--

January 17, 2013

LSU sophomore Johnny O'Bryant III was a McDonald's All-American, rated the #4 high school center in the class of 2011. 

South Carolina freshman Michael Carrera went unrated by Rivals.com's recruiting service, and only garnered a 3-star ranking from Scout.com. 

Michael Carrera.jpegYet down the stretch in Baton Rouge, the freshman from Anzoategui, Venezuela, outworked and outfoxed his more decorated counterpart.  Carrera poured in 12 points and 7 rebounds - all while battling four fouls - over the final 5:00 of regulation and overtime, paving the way for an 82-73 Gamecocks victory

"Michael played like a kid who didn't want to lose tonight," head coach Frank Martin said in our post-game interview.

Carrera's fearless, unflinching play at LSU inspired me to look up his "crunch time" statistics this year.  I'll define "crunch time" as the final five minutes of regulation and overtime, with South Carolina leading or trailing by five points or less. 

By that definition, Carolina has played six "crunch time" games this year (Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Missouri State, Manhattan, Mississippi State, Auburn, and LSU).  In those games, Carrera has played 30:49 of a possible 45:00 of crunch time. 

His numbers? 

Michael Carrera - Final 5:00 of Regulation/Overtime, Gamecocks Up/Down by 5 pts.

Minutes:               30:49

Points:                  28

Rebounds            13

FG's                     9-14  (64.3%)

FT's                     9-10  (90.0%)

Carrera has scored 28 points and 13 rebounds, while shooting 64% from the floor and 90% from the free-throw line.  Those shooting and free-throw percentages far outpace his season averages of 48.6% FG and 82.4% FT.  In the most nerve-grinding moments of a game, Carrera averages a staggering 36.3 points and 16.9 rebounds per 40 Minutes. 

South Carolina may have more close games on the horizon - and their recent record suggests they will.  But with a certain freshman on their side, a close game may be nothing to fear.

-Andy Demetra

 

Thumbnail image for Inside The Chart.pngWhen the Gamecocks last saw new LSU coach Johnny Jones, they were eating a team meal at a New Orleans steakhouse before last year's SEC Tournament.  Jones' previous team, the North Texas Mean Green, was on the surrounding flat-screens, battling for the Sun Belt Tournament championship.

Johnny Jones.jpgFilets and dinner rolls captured most of the Gamecocks' attention, the game conceding to the camaraderie of a team dinner.  But the team Carolina watched that night will closely resemble the team they'll face Wednesday, when South Carolina visits Jones' LSU Tigers (9-4, 0-2 SEC).  Like his teams at North Texas, Jones brought an uptempo, freewheeling style to Baton Rouge that frustrates and exhausts in equal parts. 

Before taking over at his alma mater, LSU, Johnny Jones spent 12 seasons as head coach of the University of North Texas. 

Frustrated was not part of Frank Martin's attitude when discussing South Carolina's close losses to begin SEC play.

"I only care about LSU.  Everything else is irrelevant," he said at his Tuesday press conference. 

Resolve unbowed, the Gamecocks head to Baton Rouge Wednesday, looking to deliver the same result to Jones that they saw on TV that March night:  a loss.

Pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks head to Death Valley's next-door neighbor, the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (8:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):

Stealing The Show:  Bruce Ellington had one offensive rebound against Auburn.  

Make no mistake, though:  Ellington rebounded.

After a nightmarish, 9-turnover night against Mississippi State, the Gamecock point guard committed only two in 36 minutes against Auburn, while adding 5 assists and a team-high 18 points.

Bruce Ellington vs. LSU.jpegHis turnaround comes at an opportune time.  LSU ranks 6th in the nation in Steal Percentage, getting a strip on an astounding 14.3% of possessions. 

(Next-highest SEC team in that category?  Mississippi State, which harassed the Gamecocks into 24 turnovers in a loss last week.) 

"If you take a lazy dribble or make a lazy pass, they make it into a comedy show," Frank Martin said Tuesday. 

LSU boasts one of the fastest, most larcenous backcourts in the country in sophomore Anthony Hickey (2nd in the nation with 3.5 steals/game) and senior Charles Carmouche (2.5/game. 4th SEC).  The Tigers don't rack up steals by trapping or full-court pressing.  They prefer their mayhem to come from gambling, pestering, and jumping into passing lanes.  Think of it like a blitzing secondary in football.  Often, those steals have snowballed into big runs - the Tigers have 12 runs of 10-0 or more this year.

The Gamecocks' turnover troubles are well-chronicled.  So is the Tigers' ability to force them.  What will Carolina need to do to avoid LSU's larceny?   Make sharp cuts off the ball, "meet the pass," and avoid the soft skip pass (Hickey is particularly adept at snatching cross-court passes).

Fast Times at the PMAC:  LSU's steal-hungry defense - and guard-driven offense -- creates speed.  Lots of it.  The Tigers' 72.9 possessions per game rank 22nd in the nation, a significant jump from the Trent Johnson years. 

To further quicken the tempo, LSU shoots three-pointers fearlessly, averaging 22 attempts per game.  Hickey (11.3 points/game) works in and out of ball screens well, while backcourt mate Andre Stringer has "team bus range" - his range begins approximately when he steps off the bus.  Meanwhile, forward Shavon Coleman (team-leading 13.4 points/game, 8.4 rebounds/game) uses isolations at the elbows and circle to penetrate and create.

So will LSU's blinding speed give the Gamecocks motion sickness?  Not necessarily.  Carolina has played four teams that rank in the Top 100 nationally in tempo.  They've beaten all four, averaging 85 points per game. 

Fastest Tempo Teams vs. South Carolina - 2012-13

NCAA Rank            Team                                 Result

20.                          LSU                                   1/16

50.                          Jacksonville                       W, 91-74

52.                          Morgan State                    W, 87-71

58.                          Rider                                 W, 88-76

76.                          Appalachian State            W, 74-69

 

.Toweling Off:  Michael Carrera's hustle doesn't end on the referee's whistle.  For the past two games, Carrera has grabbed a towel during a dead ball, bent down on both knees, and mopped up the puddles of sweat he had left behind.

Michael Carrera vs. Clemson-2.jpegCarrera's custodial detail drew a standing ovation in Columbia, and bemused applause from the fans in Starkville.  Still, they have ball boys for that.  I asked Carrera why he did his own mop work. 

"[It's] just a humble thing.  I've always done it," he replied.

(Side note:  I asked Casey Manning when he would mop up my sweat at courtside.   His reply:  "When you break one."  Fair point.)

As seen vs. Auburn, Michael Carrera (left) gives new meaning to the phrase "dirty work."

Foul Magnet:  After a quiet night against Mississippi State, Carrera brought his familiar, wrecking-ball energy to the floor against Auburn.  The freshman from Anzoategui, Venezuela, finished with 6 points, 7 rebounds, and a career-high 5 assists, showing no fear against Auburn's taller, senior-laden front line.  He also showed another side of his game:  an irritating knack for drawing fouls.  Though he hasn't played enough minutes to qualify, Carrera's average of 6.9 Fouls Drawn per 40 Minutes would rank 2nd nationally among all freshmen.

No Deep Catches:  In addition to a fleet of quick guards, LSU has an imposing pair of forwards on the low block.  6'9," 257-pound power forward Johnny O'Bryant has a man-among-boy's blend of strength and athleticism.  A high ankle sprain has limited O'Bryant, but the densely-muscled sophomore can face the basket or "bang and hang" with his back to the rim.    

Martin said his forwards allowed Auburn's 6'10" center Rob Chubb to catch too close to the rim, resulting in easy hook shots or free-throw trips.  They also failed to front the post, a fatal flaw for an undersized front line.  Can they avoid the same pitfall against O'Bryant and 7'3" center Andrew Del Piero?

Stat of the Auburn Game, Pt. 1:  The Gamecocks and Tigers were separated by three points or less for 35:43 of a possible 40:00.  That's nearly 36 minutes played a narrow, throat-closing one possession apart.

Stat of the Auburn Game, Pt. 2:  Offensive rebounds for Damien Leonard in 33 minutes vs. Auburn:  6. 

Offensive rebounds for Leonard in 346 minutes of SEC play last year:  5.

And Finally...  The Gamecocks will notice something they didn't see on their last trip to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center:  a 900-pound, life-size bronze statue of LSU legend Shaquille O'Neal.  The "Big Aristotle" statue -- complete with shattered backboard -- welcomes fans outside the PMAC.

 

Shaq Statue.jpgOur pre-game coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  See you on the Bayou.  -AD--

 

Inside The Chart.png

 

Some made them wince.  Some made them grit their teeth.  Others made them shake their heads. 

No matter the emotion they evinced, they all felt the same.  South Carolina's chance at an SEC-opening win collapsed Wednesday under the weight of 24 turnovers in a 56-54 loss to Mississippi State.  After back-to-back games with a turnover count in the single digits, the Gamecocks relapsed at an inopportune time.

When he recapped the game with his team Thursday, Frank Martin wanted his players to have a takeaway beyond - well, the takeaways.

"Rather than make plays to win the game, we played tentatively and unaggressively, and actually made plays to help them win the game," Martin told his players.  "It's a process.  You have to learn.  You have to believe.  And you have to go out there and do it."

The Gamecocks will look to put an SEC win in their grasp - figuratively and literally- when they welcome Auburn to Colonial Life Arena Saturday (1:30 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network).  After a tepid start, the Tigers (7-7, 1-0 SEC) have played some of their best basketball lately, losing by two points to #12 Illinois before defeating ACC champion Florida State and 9-2 LSU. 

Pre-tip reads before the Tigers roll into Columbia:

"Don't Fight Pressure":  Martin said in his post-game radio interview that Mississippi State's 1-3-1 zone "bothered us all night."  The Bulldogs extended the perimeter, pressured Carolina's guards, and lifted their wing defenders to prevent easy catches.  Ballhandlers got sped up.  Teammates off the ball weren't spaced properly.  The Gamecocks found themselves marooned, with a giveaway often the end result. 

Frank Martin.jpegThe Gamecocks may get a do-over against Auburn, which runs plenty of 2-3 zone under third-year head coach Tony Barbee. 

Martin explained his philosophy on handling zone pressure on "Carolina Calls."

"I use a phrase.  It's called 'Don't fight pressure.'  That means if you don't have the ball, and they're pressuring you, the last thing you do is run closer to the halfcourt line or run to the ball. 

"Always try to cut the zone.  Run to the rim and move out, rather than fight the pressure by running away from it.  We did that [Wednesday] night.  It's unfortunate, because if you don't attack pressure, then that pressure eventually overcomes you," he said.

The Gamecocks will need to be strong with the ball, and rotate quickly from side-to-side to escape Auburn's pressure.  The Tigers have long, athletic guards at the top of their zone, and guard Josh Wallace (1.8 steals/game) is one of the better pickpockets in the SEC.  Auburn forced 23 turnovers in their meeting last year, a conference high for Carolina.

Driven For More:  Unable to find consistent creases in MSU's 1-3-1, the Gamecocks scored their lowest percentage of points from the paint and free-throw line this season.

% of Points from Paint/FT Line

                                        Points in paint   FTM       Total Points         %

Mississippi State               20                     6            54                       48.1  (Season low)

Rider                                 34                    11           88                       51.1

Missouri State                   20                     22          74                       56.7       

 

Carolina's two best penetrators, Bruce Ellington and Brenton Williams, didn't score a single basket in the paint against MSU.  Barbee has lamented his team's ability to defend the dribble.  Can the Gamecocks return to their fearless, slashing ways, and get the high-percentage looks they need? 

Frankie Sullivan Auburn.pngMan To Stop:  Auburn guard Frankie Sullivan.  Not to be confused with the Frankie Sullivan who co-founded the band Survivor (which, incidentally, wrote the song "Eye of the Tiger"), Auburn's senior guard has nonetheless played a frontman role.  The 6'1," 206-pound Sullivan leads AU with 12.6 points per game, and poured in a season-high 22 against Carolina last year.  

Sullivan isn't overly athletic, but makes up for it with craftiness, an accurate shot, and a high basketball IQ.  He also has a knack for drawing fouls, where he's ripped off streaks of 27 and 21 straight made free throws in his career. 

Martin got an advance screening of Sullivan when Kansas State and Auburn played in the same tournament in Hawaii last year.

"The second you take a play off or catch your breath, he finds a crack and he attacks it.  Last year he was pretty much a perimeter shooter," Martin said. 

"He kind of didn't do anything off the dribble.  This year, he's in attack mode.  He's doing things off the dribble.  He's getting in the paint.  He's getting to the foul line.  He's a good player."

Equally important for Carolina:  not let a secondary scorer emerge.  Pay attention to 6'6" forward Allen Payne - he's scored in double figures in his last three games.

Defend The Three:  Dating back to the Presbyterian game, Carolina's opponents have missed their last 20 three-point attempts. 

Three-Point Defense  (Last 3 games)

Team                                  3pt. FG

Presbyterian                       4-13       (Missed last 3 to end game)

South Carolina State          0-7

Mississippi State                 0-10

 

R.J. Slawson vs. Presbyterian.jpegMost likely to end that drought?  Guard Noel Johnson, a Clemson refugee who has rediscovered his shooting stroke in his senior season (43.4% 3pt.).

Physical Exam:  When asked to name a defining characteristic of Auburn, Martin sighed.

"We better rebound the basketball," he replied.  "Auburn's going to be, I think from what I've seen, the most physical team that we've played against all year.  They get on that glass, and they're really physical.  It's going to be a big, big part on who finds success - who handles that part of the game."

R.J. Slawson and the Gamecocks will face a physical Auburn front line.

Perhaps that sigh stemmed from what unfolded against Mississippi State.  The Gamecocks' perimeter players grabbed almost as many rebounds (18) as their post players (20). 

Rebounds vs. MSU

Frontcourt  (Jackson, Kacinas, Chatkevicius, Carrera, Slawson):  20

Backcourt (Ellington, Richardson, Leonard, Williams, Smith):        18

 

That won't cut it against Auburn, who have several brawny big men led by 6'10," 250-pound center Rob Chubb (9.3 ppg, team-best 7.4 rebounds/game).  Payne (5.1 rpg) can also throw his weight around, and the Tigers deploy 7-footer Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (4.7 rpg) off the bench.  Can the Gamecock frontcourt "muscle up," and play with the same intensity and abandon that wore down several opponents this season?  More importantly, can they do it without running into foul trouble?

And Finally.... Auburn freshman Shaquille Johnson has a high school dunk mixtape that's been viewed more than 2.3 million times on YouTube.

The Gamecocks hope for less friendly skies Saturday.

Our pre-game coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  See you there.  -AD--

 

Inside The Chart.png 

Some see "down year."  The Gamecocks see "opportunity." 

Yes, the SEC has taken its share of lumps following a number of early-season faceplants.  That matters little to South Carolina, which looks to rebound from a disappointing 2012 by mixing it up in a wide-open league in 2013.  The journey begins Wednesday at Humphrey Coliseum, where they'll look to snap a six-game losing streak to Mississippi State (5-7, 0-0 SEC).

Pre-tip reads as the Gamecocks descend into the Golden Triangle (8:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):

Brenton Williams-2.jpegScouting The Bulldogs:  Few teams endured a more tumultuous offseason than Mississippi State.  After backsliding into the NIT, head coach Rick Stansbury retired after 14 seasons.  Guards Brian Bryant and Dee Bost (a noted Gamecock killer) graduated.  Post players Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney declared for the NBA Draft.  6'8" guard Rodney Hood, arguably the team's most talented returning player, transferred, as did reserve guard Deville Smith.  New coach Rick Ray, a former Clemson assistant, dismissed two more players in September for a violation of team rules.  Add in three season-ending knee injuries, and Mississippi State is down to an astonishing seven scholarship players.

Brenton Williams and the Gamecocks (70.1% FT, 4th SEC)  will try to get to the free-throw line against an MSU team that doesn't permit many attempts.

With so few bodies, the Bulldogs can ill afford to run into foul trouble, and send opponents on jaunt after jaunt to the foul line.  To their credit, they've dodged that problem:  MSU leads the SEC, and ranks 7th nationally, in free-throw rate  (22.9%).  In fact, they're the only team in the Top 10 of that category with a losing record.  For all their depth and scoring issues, the Bulldogs don't let opponents get to the foul line often. 

When South Carolina has excelled this year, the Gamecocks have harvested free throws, getting to the line on dribble-drives or off offensive rebounds.  Can they do the same against a team that doesn't run into "foul ground" often?

Oddly Enough:  Despite scrambling to fill an eight-man rotation, Mississippi State doesn't have a single player who ranks in the Top 10 in the SEC in minutes played.  The Bulldogs and Gamecocks play at an almost identical tempo.

Man To Stop:  It only takes one player to tap a team's confidence.  For that reason, junior guard Jalen Steele earns "Man To Stop" status against the Bulldogs.  A former Mr. Basketball from Knoxville, Tenn., the 6'3" Steele missed the first month of the season with a fractured shooting wrist.  In four games since, he's averaged 11.0 points per game while shooting 46% (8-17) from three-point range.  He's also made his last 27 free throws dating back to last year. 

Jalen Steele.jpgEven with a lethal screen-and-roll player like Dee Bost last year, Steele often drew the "shooter" label on an opponents' scouting report.   If Steele knocks down a few jumpers early, it could stretch the floor for MSU's long, athletic slashers like freshman Fred Thomas (10.3 ppg, 2nd team) and swingman Roquez Johnson (team-high 12.4 ppg).  A few three-pointers by Steele could also kickstart the Bulldogs' shaky shooting confidence.  MSU ranks 328th in the nation in three-point percentage (27.5%), last among major-conference schools.

Mississippi State junior Jalen Steele (right) is MSU's best outside shooting threat. 

Senior Leadership:  Lakeem Jackson is South Carolina's Swiss Army knife, a broad-shouldered senior who has played everywhere from point guard to center during his career.  Jackson's consistency has drawn consistent praise from Frank Martin during the Gamecocks' 10-3 start.

How vital has Jackson's steady play been?  In their three losses, Jackson averages a plus-minus of -18.0, worst on the Gamecocks' roster.  In Carolina's 10 wins, his plus-minus jumps to +10.8.

Lakeem Jackson Plus-Minus

Wins:                     +10.8

Losses:                  -18.0                          (vs. Clemson: -14               Worst on team)

                                                                 (vs. St. John's:  -26            2nd Worst of team)

                                                                 (vs. Elon: -16                      2nd Worst of team)

 

("Plus-minus" is a count of how many points a team outscores an opponent -- or gets outscored -- while that player is on the floor).

 

Lakeem Jackson vs. Alabama.jpegNo player has a greater +/- discrepancy between wins and losses than Jackson.  With Michael Carrera uncertain because of a sore hip, Jackson will need to bring his steady, scrap-iron play to the Humphrey Coliseum paint.  The Bulldogs offensive-rebound well, and will look to scavenge for high-percentage baskets around the rim.

 

Lakeem Jackson has been a barometer of South Carolina's wins and losses.

 

Power Play:  What South Carolina lacks in height at the power forward position, they gain in quickness.  Between Carrera, Mindaugas Kacinas, and even Jackson, the Gamecocks have three players capable of drawing out taller forwards, and taking advantage of their speed off screens.  Mississippi State's deepest position may be at the "4," where junior Colin Borchert and sophomore Roquez Johnson each like to stretch the floor, slash, and shoot from outside.  Do the Gamecocks have the type of power forward to neutralize them? 

 

Swordfight, Part I:  Freshman guard Craig Sword has a nickname more suited to playing for the Gamecocks, not against them:  "Chicken." 

While "Chicken" (8.4 ppg) isn't a prolific three-point shooter, the Gamecocks need to keep him in front of them.  Head coach Rick Ray said of Sword:  "He just has so many more fast-twitch fibers than everyone else." 

Perhaps that explains the nickname.

Swordfight, Part II:  They may not have the most experienced backcourt in the country, but Mississippi State certainly has the best-sounding one:  Craig Sword and sophomore Trivante Bloodman.  Can Bruce Ellington and Eric Smith vanquish a Sword/Bloodman backcourt?

And Finally...  Senior guard Shane Phillips (Pittsburgh, Pa.) had a connection to South Carolina long before he set foot on campus.  Phillips' Dad, Oliver, coached linebackers at Duke from 1980-1982 alongside an up-and-coming offensive coordinator named Steve Spurrier.  He also had coaching stints at Brown, VMI, and Carnegie-Mellon and VMI.

Two factors steered Phillips to basketball.  For starters, he didn't have ideal size for a football player.  Secondly - and more poignantly - Phillips said basketball was one of the few sports he could practice on his own while his Dad was encumbered with the long hours of coaching football.

Our pre-game coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. EST on the Gamecock IMG Sports Network.  We'll see you in Starkville.  -AD--

 

Inside The Chart.pngThe practice floor had emptied out, another two-a-day in the books for the Gamecocks.

Yet there was Brian Richardson, alone with manager Bubba Wright, bounding around the halfcourt.  All the shooting drills he and his teammates had done over the last hour still hadn't satisfied the junior guard.  Richardson wasn't leaving until he made 10 baskets from six different spots around the three-point arc.

At this point, why would he want to stop? 

Midway through the season, the 6'4" guard from Wilson, N.C., has enjoyed a career year, averaging 8.3 points on 43% three-point shooting for the Gamecocks (9-3, 0-0 SEC).  Last Saturday, making his first start of the season against Presbyterian, he nearly equaled a career high with 16 points.  More importantly, he has begun to shed his reputation as a player who struggled to find a "Plan B" if his shots weren't dropping.

"I feel like I'm playing at a high level," Richardson said after practice.

"Brian's been awesome," head coach Frank Martin said on Thursday's "Carolina Calls." "In the beginning with Brian, everything was about getting him to believe that he could do these things.  That was a challenge, just getting him to play with courage and energy, and that confidence that guys who those traits play with."

B-Rich.jpegRichardson traces his transformation to the first meeting he had with Martin last Spring.   

"He told me that he's going to play players that he trusts," Richardson said.  "I'm not just an outside shooter; I can do multiple things.  And I have to do that to open my game up."

Laid-back off the court, Richardson dedicated himself to Martin's message.  He also benefitted from some liberating shooting advice from his new head coach.

"I told Brian like all the other guys:  I'm not going to take you out for making a physical mistake.  But if you've got an open shot, and that's a shot you've proven you can make, and you don't shoot, I will take you out. 

"I don't know if that's helped him or not, but he's playing confidently right now," Martin said.

The numbers suggest it has.  Richardson only averaged 27% from three-point range as a freshman and sophomore, a lackluster percentage for a volume-shooting guard.  Halfway through this season, his average has jumped to 43%. 

More impressively, Richardson has used his fluid, oily-jointed athleticism to get to the rim.

Brian Richardson 2-point FGM

Freshman Year:         12        (30 games)

Sophomore Year:       15        (25 games)

Junior Year:                13        (12 games)

 

Not surprisingly, that confidence has spread virally to other parts of the floor.  His physical gifts no longer hidden in a standstill shooter's game, Richardson has become a more complete player in his junior season.  He needed all of five games to surpass his block (1) and assist (10) totals from last year.  He's rebounding at a career rate (2.7 rpg), which allowed Martin to make the previously unheard-of move of starting Richardson at small forward against Presbyterian.

And with SEC play around the corner, Martin says Richardson can make just as big an impact on the defensive end.

"He understands our defensive concepts better than any guard on our team.  With his length and athleticism, he can create some problems for people defensively," he said.

"I think he's starting to believe it."

Richardson is turning plenty of other people into believers, too.

-------

More notes as the Gamecocks head toward their final non-conference game against South Carolina State (1:30 p.m. EST Saturday, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):

Battling It Out:  With Michael Carrera bothered by a left hip injury, freshman Mindaugas Kacinas returned to the starting lineup against Presbyterian.  Kacinas responded with a 13-point, 3-rebound effort to earn SEC Freshman of the Week honors.

 

Kacinas.jpegMartin says his freshmen have benefitted from constant competition in practice.

 

"Michael plays a very physical, emotional game.  Mindaugas having to deal with that physicality and that emotion every day in practice has made him better prepared to deal with it in real games.

 

"Mindaugas' skill level is understanding how to play on offense where he plays a little slower.  He tries not to get sped up.  It's helped Michael tone down that energy and enthusiasm.  They kind of learn off each other," Martin said.

 

With Carrera still sidelined, Kacinas' play at the "4" will be even more critical.  Though not as tenacious a rebounder as Carrera, he's a cagey, capable passer from the high post, and can stretch out opposing power forwards on the perimeter.

 

Stone Cold:  In the first 35:00 of game time, Kacinas shoots 58% from the foul line.  In the final five minutes of regulation and overtime, his percentage spikes to 83%.

Kacinas FT%

40:00-35:00                 11-19               57.9%

5:00-0:00 (incl. OT)     10-12               83.3%

 

A Note On Turnovers:  South Carolina hasn't fully cleansed itself of its turnover problem - the Gamecocks are still averaging 18 per game - but Brenton Williams has done his best to lower that count.  Despite handling the ball often, Williams, the Gamecocks' leading scorer (13.0 ppg) has only committed 1 turnover in the last 91:07 of game time. 

 

Martin also hailed Eric Smith's improvement during the Gamecocks' semester-break practice.

 

"We didn't have the practice time to get him to make corrections.  We tried to show him film, but you always have to prepare for the next game," Martin said.

 

The numbers bear that out.  Look at Martin's assist-to-turnover count both before and during exams.

 

Eric Smith Assist/TO Ratio

                                    Assists            Turnovers

Before exams:              24                    23

After exams:                 24                    11

 

And Finally.... Among those who attended South Carolina's game against Manhattan at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn was former Gamecock great Jim Graziano.  A 6'9" center from Farmingdale, Long Island, Graziano was one of the nation's most sought-after prospects when the Gamecocks signed him in 1977.  To convince Graziano to come to South Carolina, head coach Frank McGuire had to win a heated recruiting battle with.... Frank Sinatra?

Sinatra.png

Legend has it that Sinatra, a friend of UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian, volunteered to help in Graziano's recruitment.  Ol' Blue Eyes even placed a call to Graziano's home, making a recruiting pitch on UNLV's behalf.

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

 

 

Inside The Chart.pngThe practice floor had emptied out, another two-a-day in the books for the Gamecocks.

Yet there was Brian Richardson, alone with manager Bubba Wright, bounding around the halfcourt.  All the shooting drills he and his teammates had done over the last hour still hadn't satisfied the junior guard.  Richardson wasn't leaving until he made 10 baskets from six different spots around the three-point arc.

At this point, why would he want to stop? 

Midway through the season, the 6'4" guard from Wilson, N.C., has enjoyed a career year, averaging 8.3 points on 43% three-point shooting for the Gamecocks (9-3, 0-0 SEC).  Last Saturday, making his first start of the season against Presbyterian, he nearly equaled a career high with 16 points.  More importantly, he has begun to shed his reputation as a player who struggled to find a "Plan B" if his shots weren't dropping.

"I feel like I'm playing at a high level," Richardson said after practice.

"Brian's been awesome," head coach Frank Martin said on Thursday's "Carolina Calls." "In the beginning with Brian, everything was about getting him to believe that he could do these things.  That was a challenge, just getting him to play with courage and energy, and that confidence that guys who those traits play with."

B-Rich.jpegRichardson traces his transformation to the first meeting he had with Martin last Spring.   

"He told me that he's going to play players that he trusts," Richardson said.  "I'm not just an outside shooter; I can do multiple things.  And I have to do that to open my game up."

Laid-back off the court, Richardson dedicated himself to Martin's message.  He also benefitted from some liberating shooting advice from his new head coach.

"I told Brian like all the other guys:  I'm not going to take you out for making a physical mistake.  But if you've got an open shot, and that's a shot you've proven you can make, and you don't shoot, I will take you out. 

"I don't know if that's helped him or not, but he's playing confidently right now," Martin said.

The numbers suggest it has.  Richardson only averaged 27% from three-point range as a freshman and sophomore, a lackluster percentage for a volume-shooting guard.  Halfway through this season, his average has jumped to 43%. 

More impressively, Richardson has used his fluid, oily-jointed athleticism to get to the rim.

Brian Richardson 2-point FGM

Freshman Year:         12        (30 games)

Sophomore Year:       15        (25 games)

Junior Year:                13        (12 games)

 

Not surprisingly, that confidence has spread virally to other parts of the floor.  His physical gifts no longer hidden in a standstill shooter's game, Richardson has become a more complete player in his junior season.  He needed all of five games to surpass his block (1) and assist (10) totals from last year.  He's rebounding at a career rate (2.7 rpg), which allowed Martin to make the previously unheard-of move of starting Richardson at small forward against Presbyterian.

And with SEC play around the corner, Martin says Richardson can make just as big an impact on the defensive end.

"He understands our defensive concepts better than any guard on our team.  With his length and athleticism, he can create some problems for people defensively," he said.

"I think he's starting to believe it."

Richardson is turning plenty of other people into believers, too.

-------

More notes as the Gamecocks head toward their final non-conference game against South Carolina State (1:30 p.m. EST Saturday, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):

Battling It Out:  With Michael Carrera bothered by a left hip injury, freshman Mindaugas Kacinas returned to the starting lineup against Presbyterian.  Kacinas responded with a 13-point, 3-rebound effort to earn SEC Freshman of the Week honors.

 

Kacinas.jpegMartin says his freshmen have benefitted from constant competition in practice.

 

"Michael plays a very physical, emotional game.  Mindaugas having to deal with that physicality and that emotion every day in practice has made him better prepared to deal with it in real games.

 

"Mindaugas' skill level is understanding how to play on offense where he plays a little slower.  He tries not to get sped up.  It's helped Michael tone down that energy and enthusiasm.  They kind of learn off each other," Martin said.

 

With Carrera still sidelined, Kacinas' play at the "4" will be even more critical.  Though not as tenacious a rebounder as Carrera, he's a cagey, capable passer from the high post, and can stretch out opposing power forwards on the perimeter.

 

Stone Cold:  In the first 35:00 of game time, Kacinas shoots 58% from the foul line.  In the final five minutes of regulation and overtime, his percentage spikes to 83%.

Kacinas FT%

40:00-35:00                 11-19               57.9%

5:00-0:00 (incl. OT)     10-12               83.3%

 

A Note On Turnovers:  South Carolina hasn't fully cleansed itself of its turnover problem - the Gamecocks are still averaging 18 per game - but Brenton Williams has done his best to lower that count.  Despite handling the ball often, Williams, the Gamecocks' leading scorer (13.0 ppg) has only committed 1 turnover in the last 91:07 of game time. 

 

Martin also hailed Eric Smith's improvement during the Gamecocks' semester-break practice.

 

"We didn't have the practice time to get him to make corrections.  We tried to show him film, but you always have to prepare for the next game," Martin said.

 

The numbers bear that out.  Look at Martin's assist-to-turnover count both before and during exams.

 

Eric Smith Assist/TO Ratio

                                    Assists            Turnovers

Before exams:              24                    23

After exams:                 24                    11

 

And Finally.... Among those who attended South Carolina's game against Manhattan at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn was former Gamecock great Jim Graziano.  A 6'9" center from Farmingdale, Long Island, Graziano was one of the nation's most sought-after prospects when the Gamecocks signed him in 1977.  To convince Graziano to come to South Carolina, head coach Frank McGuire had to win a heated recruiting battle with.... Frank Sinatra?

Sinatra.png

Legend has it that Sinatra, a friend of UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian, volunteered to help in Graziano's recruitment.  Ol' Blue Eyes even placed a call to Graziano's home, making a recruiting pitch on UNLV's behalf.

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

 

 

Inside The Chart.pngNo way can this be true.

Matt Figger has to be lying, or exaggerating, or self-aggrandizing.  Plenty of coaches make sacrifices for their careers.  But this?  Horatio Alger, the king of the "rags to riches" tale, would've dreamed up something so laughable. 

Living in an empty warehouse?  Giving dance lessons to middle schoolers?  Driving a bus?  Not even the most hard-bitten hoops addict would put himself through this kind of existence to pursue his dream of coaching.

Yet there's Figger, matter-of-factly recalling his rise from junior-college assistant to a top lieutenant for Frank Martin at South Carolina.  With each new story, it dawns on you:  there's nothing fake about it.  This story actually happened. 

And if someone has that much fortitude and persistence - my gosh, what will he do for your school?

--

Not many kids reverently studied the bios of Bear Bryant and Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall.  Matt Figger did. 

Figger knew early on that he wanted to be a coach.  He preferred a life in the gym to a life in the coal mines, where most of the folks in his dust-speck hometown of Jenkins, Ky. (population: 2,400) wound up.

He was a good shooter at Jenkins High School, but as he describes it, "if you couldn't play for Kentucky, nothing else mattered."  Figger instead enrolled with a few of his childhood friends at Pikeville College in Pikeville, Ky.,1 where he spent three years as a reliever on the baseball team.

One of those friends, Pete Wyatt, dropped out of Pikeville after his sophomore year.  Six-foot-10 centers rarely slip out of sight, though, and Pat Smith, the head coach of Wabash Valley Community College in Mount Carmel, Ill., convinced Wyatt to restart his career there. 

Matt Figger.jpegDutiful friend and aspiring coach that he was, Figger drove 250 miles every weekend to watch Wyatt's practices and games.  Instead of coming home for semester break, he spent his vacation crashing with Wyatt and shadowing the team. 

Gamecock assistant Matt Figger (left) never played college basketball.

Toward the end of the season, Smith approached Figger.

"Have you ever thought about getting into coaching?" he asked him.

"Coach, that's been my dream since I was a child," Figger replied.

"Well, why don't you come up and help me?"

Smith created an assistant job for him.  It paid $5,000 a year, and came with a catch.  Figger - who had transferred to Eastern Kentucky to pursue a B.S. in Physical Education - had to leave school, 18 hours shy of his degree. 

He didn't hesitate.

"This is the chance of a lifetime for me.  This guy actually wants me to be a part of something," Figger thought.

He left school and accepted the job.  So began a new journey, a three-year juggling act of coaching, studying, and working that tested the limits of Figger's resolve, to say nothing of his sanity.

--

At the lowest rungs of college basketball, coaches often work second jobs to make ends meet.  Some teach.  Others tend bar.  Whatever the job, the goal is the same:  to bankroll their dream just long enough to get a full-time position.

At Wabash Valley Community College, Matt Figger's first side job came with the town parks and recreation department.  Every morning at 5 a.m., he mowed lawns, weeded fields, and lined baseball diamonds before reporting to the basketball offices. 

"And every day [Coach Smith" would have a sheet of tasks he'd have me do.  There could be 200 things on that sheet throughout the day," he said.

During basketball season, Figger switched to a job more compatible with his schedule:  he drove a bus around the Mount Carmel school district, transporting international students who didn't have American driver's licenses.   Figger literally was the bus driver, taking everyone to school.  Between practice, study hall, and bus routes, Figger's days lasted from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

"I didn't sleep much," he said, as if that needed clarification.

The days were exhausting, but Figger's first season was exhilarating.  Wabash Valley finished 29-3, rising as high as #3 in the national junior-college rankings.  Figger got the introduction to coaching he had craved.  Plus, summer school had moved him within three credits of graduating from Eastern Kentucky.     

Then Smith, his mentor, accepted a head coaching position at Barton Community College in Kansas.  Figger wanted to follow him, and Smith was ready to take him along.  But there was a hang-up.

"I still didn't have my degree," Figger said.  "So I couldn't go out there with him."

--

Here's where Matt Figger's story veers towards the implausible. 

Unable to join Smith, the man who gave him his first break, Figger landed an assistant coach's position at Vincennes University, a junior college in Vincennes, Indiana.  Asked to recall his salary, Figger shrugged and said "Nothing."

Not surprisingly, his living situation fell somewhere between austere and absurd.  He lived, rent-free, in a room in an empty warehouse, courtesy of a friend of the head coach.  He had a mattress, a shower, and little else.  After practice, he clocked a second job as a janitor in the Vincennes student union, working the 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift.  He can still recall, with crystal clarity, his daily diet: a Hardee's biscuit for breakfast, a McDonald's #2 Value Meal for lunch, and a Long John Silver's $1.99 meal deal for dinner.  If he played his cards right, he could survive on five dollars a day.  When hunger crept in, he ate from a sack of potatoes that he stored in his room.

There was also the matter of finishing his degree, which cost him his first climb up the coaching ladder.  At the start of his second year at Vincennes, a three-credit Physical Education course - the final hours he'd need for his degree - opened up at Eastern Kentucky.

There was only one problem:  he had to attend it in person, three days a week, 250 miles away in Richmond, Ky. 

So in the fall of 1995, Figger developed a brutal regimen.  On Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, he clocked out of his janitor's shift at 2 a.m., went home to shower (mercifully, he had moved into a dorm room by then), and hopped in his car, a red, 1988 Ford Festiva that he purchased for $8002.  He then drove four hours to EKU, stopping every 100 miles to replace his oil because his car would leak it all out.

Once Figger arrived, he pinched a couple hours of sleep in his Festiva before heading to his 10 a.m. "Instruction of Dance" class.  As part of the coursework, Figger had to drive to area middle schools, where he taught tweens the finer points of the two-step and Charleston.  After class, he raced back to Vincennes in time to make the team's 3:30 practice. 

"I never missed a class," Figger said.  "I talked to the teacher one day, and told her what I did.  She looked at me like I had six heads.  She said, 'What are you doing?'

"I said, 'I'm trying to get my degree.'"

Four months, and 50,000 miles later, he had earned it.

---

That diligence quickly paid dividends for Matt Figger on the recruiting trail.  In his third season at Vincennes, he refused to take "no" for an answer from a scarecrow-thin forward out of Clarksville, Tenn.  That player, Shawn Marion is now in his 12th year in the NBA.  Eddie Fogler plucked another player, William Unseld, to play for him at South Carolina.3  Figger's reputation for teaching, winning, and recruiting had begun to grow. 

Shawn Marion.pngGrooming Division I players is coin of the realm for junior-college coaches, and after five seasons at Vincennes, Figger accepted an assistant position at Odessa (TX) JC in 1999.  The job paid him $21,000.

"I thought I had made it," Figger said.

12-year NBA veteran Shawn Marion was Figger's most prized recruit at Vincennes.

Four years later, his own Division I offer arrived.  John Pelphrey, himself an eastern Kentucky native, got to know Figger when they worked University of Florida camps together.  He offered him a spot on his new staff at South Alabama.

Years later, Figger reached out to another counselor at those camps, a fiery Miami high school coach who had sent six of his players to Figger at Odessa JC.  In 2007, Figger joined Frank Martin's bench at Kansas State.

--

We know what you're thinking.

Was there ever a point when Matt Figger wanted to give up?  When the workload became too crushing, the pay too abject, the sacrifices too many to continue his coaching dream?

Figger barely permits himself the introspection.  

"I never really thought about that, to be honest with you," he replied.  "I've always known that hard work doesn't guarantee a victory, but at least people see how hard you work.  And people who work hard normally get rewarded in the end." 

On that, Figger heads back to the Gamecock locker room, another practice day in the books. 

His coaching journey will pick up again the next day.  But finally, Matt Figger has a job that's too good to be true.

---

 

1 Pikeville is more famously known to Gamecock fans as the school that Grady Wallace attended before transferring to South Carolina.  His coach at Pikeville, Frank Johnson, followed him to USC, and spent 14 full seasons as the Gamecocks' head coach.

2 Figger had to park his Festiva on top of a hill.  As he tells it, "The battery was dead, so it wouldn't start unless I rolled it downhill and popped the clutch."

3 One year at Vincennes, four of Figger's five starters signed to play Division I basketball (two at Tennessee, one at Memphis, one at N.C. State).  The 10th man on that team became the leading scorer at Tennessee Tech. 

 

Throwback Thursday: Jamel Bradley

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It's Throwback Thursday! Today's picture is of Jamel Bradley (1999-2002) who led the Gamecocks in scoring in the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons and still holds the Carolina career and single-season records for three-point field goals made and attempted. Check out the Gamecock Throwback feature on Jamel from The Frank Martin Show below:




 

 

Inside The Chart.pngDecember 5, 2012

Frank Martin believes in developing stars, not signing them.

It's a good thing, too.  If he didn't, Michael Carrera may never have arrived at South Carolina, the last (and least heralded) of the Gamecocks' 4-man signing class.  Instead, the 6'5" freshman from Anzoategui, Venezuela, has become an instant fan favorite, charming Colonial Life Arena crowds with his hustle, charisma, and knack for tough scoring. 

Michael Carrera.jpegIn his first career game against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Carrera posted 17 points and 15 rebounds, the first double-double by a Gamecock freshman since 2008.  Then, after a concussion sidelined him for three games, he sank a three-pointer as time expired to force overtime against Missouri State.  Through it all, Carrera has peppered his play with a flair not often seen from a wet-behind-the-ears freshman. 

Michael Carrera (left) has endeared himself to Gamecock fans with his hustle and outsized personality. 

His game may blue-collar, but Michael Carrera wears it with style.

It begs the question:  how did such a productive player slip through the major-college cracks?  It's not as though Martin discovered him, Blue Chips­-style, in some basketball backwater.  Carrera averaged a double-double his senior year at Montrose Christian School, a respected basketball powerhouse in Rockville, Md., that counts Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant among its alumni.  He also has good basketball bloodlines:  his father, Luis, played professionally in Venezuela, in the same league where Gamecock assistant Lamont Evans once played.

Yet when the Class of 2012 rankings were released, Carrera garnered only a two-star rating from ESPN.com.  Rivals.com didn't even rank him.  Perhaps, at 6'5," he wasn't tall enough to project as a power forward at the high-major level.  Perhaps he hadn't played long enough in the United States - Carrera came in 2009 -- to establish himself on the AAU circuit. 

Udonis Haslem.jpgNone of that deterred Martin when he signed Carrera in late July.  He loved his 7'2" wingspan (Martin believes in length more than height).  He was enamored with his hustle.  As for his lack of "star" power, Martin compared him to a pair of players he coached at Miami Senior High School in Miami, Fla.

Frank Martin invoked the names of two NBA players when describing Carrera's under-the-radar nature.

"There are two guys that I'm going to use who all the so-called experts that rank players, and all this other nonsense, said neither are good enough:  Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem.  Last time I checked, both are in their 10th year in the NBA, and both led their team to [NCAA] national championship games," Martin said on a recent edition of "Carolina Calls."

"I care about kids that want to win and want to compete.  It's not our job to listen to what other people's opinions are of other players.  It's for us to find players who fit who we are, and our personalities."

Michael Carrera vs. Clemson.jpegSo far, Carrera's stats (10.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg) have outshined his stars.  As his freshman year progresses, Martin says he'd like to see him use his energy more responsibly.  Too often, an early second or third foul has chased Carrera to the bench, turning into an idle (but still animated) spectator.  Carrera and center R.J. Slawson are the two most foul-prone starters in the SEC, a big handicap for a team that's undersized in most of its matchups. 

Most Foul-Prone Starters - SEC

Player                                Team             FC/40*

       1.       R.J. Slawson             SC                  7.8

      2.       Michael Carrera        SC                  7.5

      3.       Ray Turner                 TAMU            6.0

         Eddie Ludwig            LSU                6.0

      (as of December 5)

      *-FC/40:  Fouls Committed per 40 minutes

 

           

"He can't allow the emotion of the game to get him so wrapped up in the moment that he can't listen, and get himself ready for the next moment.  That's the case with all young players," Martin said.

As long as he can channel his energy wisely, Carrera will continue to gain notice at South Carolina - something that seemed elusive even a few months ago.

More early-season notes as the Gamecocks head toward their December exam break:

High Percentage, High Reward:  One of the most drastic upswings in the Gamecock offense?  Last year, the Gamecocks only scored 58% of their points in those characteristic high-percentage areas of the paint or the free-throw line. 

This season, aided by Frank Martin's high post-heavy offense, the Gamecocks have raised their percentage to 68%. 

% of Points In Paint or at FT line

2011-12                       57.9%

2012-13                       68.9%

 

That's an average of 13 more points per game from the paint or foul line than the Gamecocks averaged last year.  It's a promising development for a team that will often play with a height disadvantage.

Tough Kid:  Nobody can question Brenton Williams' toughness.  The junior from Kissimmee, Fla., suffered a nasty fall on a dribble-drive against St. John's Nov. 29, causing him to be carried off on a stretcher.  After X-rays proved negative, Williams was released from a New York City hospital that night, and rejoined the team bus at the LaGuardia Airport tarmac - while still in full uniform.

Join us throughout the season for more stats, notes, previews, and anecdotes on Gamecock basketball.  Thanks for diving "Inside The Chart" with us.  -AD--

 


We're getting in on Throwback Thursday around here and starting off with the 1971 ACC Champion Men's Basketball team photo. This Carolina squad won was the first to ever make the NCAA Tournament. How many of the names do you recognize?


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This year's Gamecocks take on St. John's in New York tonight as part of the SEC vs. BIG EAST Challenge! Tune in at 7:30 PM on ESPNU or Gamecock IMG Sports Network radio. Be sure to come cheer them on at home this Sunday vs. CLEMSON at noon!

Tonight's preview: http://www.gamecocksonline.com/sports/m-baskbl/spec-rel/112812aab.html

Frank Martin Comments on New Signees

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South Carolina Men's Basketball has announced three signees, Desmond Ringer, Justin McKie and Sindarius Thornwell. Head Coach Frank Martin shared his thoughts on them:

 

Martin on Desmond Ringer (F/C - 6-9 - 260 - McDonough, Ga. - Eagle's Landing) "Desmond Ringer gives us size, strength, athleticism and skill on the front line.  He comes from a very successful high school program, and we're excited to have him be part of our family.  He is a guy that understands how to play, and he has great size and real good hands.  Desmond is someone that we feel will become a big-time presence on the front line for many years to come."

 

Martin on Justin McKie (G - 6-4 - 180 - Columbia, S.C. - Irmo) "With his name alone, it should give people an understanding of the kind of bloodlines that he has.  Justin loves to win, and he is coached by Tim Whipple, one of the great coaches in the country, not just in high school basketball or in this state.  In my seven months here, Justin has improved as much as any player that I have watched.  We really like his toughness, his ability to play defense in a system that is similar to ours and his length and size on the perimeter.  He is someone that, as we move forward, we think he is definitely a great part of building a championship program."

 

Martin on Sindarius Thornwell (G - 6-5 - 180 - Lancaster, S.C. - Oak Hill Academy) "Sindarius Thornwell is an extremely talented guard, and he is a winner.  In today's day and age, you have players that are highly ranked across the country that have a sense of entitlement, and he does not.  He remains very humble and very loyal to his state.  With his choice to play at South Carolina, it shows the kind of love that he, along with the other guys, have for this University.  For he and Justin, representing their state was something very important to them.  Sindarius has a chance to be a special player in our program.  He is another big guard, who can play the point guard position, as well as the two and three.  He is the consummate winner; he defends, he rebounds and he is a great decision maker with the basketball." 


Full release on the entire signing class will be coming soon on GamecocksOnline.com!

Newcomers Make a Splash in Men's Hoops Debut

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Men's Basketball won their season-opener against Wisconsin-Milwaukee Sunday in thrilling fashion. The Gamecocks charged back from a 15-point halftime deficit to win in overtime, 82-75.

While the stylish new staff donned bow ties, it was the newcomers on the court who grabbed attention. LaShay Page, a Dillon, SC, native who transferred to Carolina for his final year of eligibility, led the team with 19 points - all but two of them coming in the second half.

"The first half I was really anxious with it being my first game at South Carolina. Second half I relaxed, Coach [Martin] said let the game come to me and I did just that," Page said after the game.

CAR-MIL 11.11.12 001 ALS.JPGMichael Carrera (pictured left, #24) is likely to be a new fan favorite after his emotion-filled debut. The very expressive freshman from Venezuela contributed 17 points and a team-high 15 rebounds and at one point received healthy applause from the crowd as he headed to the bench for a breather.

"Carrera is a great player," said Page about his teammate. "High-energy guy, great on the glass...15 rebounds - that's very impressive...What you saw on the court is him every day at practice; he's going to play hard."

Carrera earned his first career double-double in his first game as a Gamecock. It was also the first double-double by a Carolina freshman since 2008 (Mike Holmes). 

Freshman Mindaugas Kacinas made his presence known with 13 rebounds and 8 points, especially down the stretch with some key boards as Milwaukee started to miss the shots that gave them an early lead in the first half. 


Your next chance to come cheer on the newcomers and the entire Gamecock men's basketball team is Friday, Nov. 16, at 7 PM vs. Morgan State. See you there and GO GAMECOCKS!!!



Basketball Season Tickets Surpass Last Year's Totals

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As basketball season approaches (two exhibition games this week and our #HoopsTakeover event!), season ticket sales have progressed steadily during the offseason. After an impressive run to the Sweet Sixteen by Dawn Staley's women's squad and the hiring of Frank Martin to lead the men's team, fans are looking forward to seeing what's in store at Colonial Life Arena this season. Both coaches are excited about getting the season started and seeing the returning players mesh with newcomers. (Check out a recap of their comments at last week's SEC Media Day here.)

With well over 5,900 season tickets sold so far, the men's team has already surpassed last year's total of 5,864 tickets. The women's team has also surpassed last year's number with almost 2,000 season tickets sold for 2012-13. Fans who have already purchased their season tickets should be receiving them next week.

Men's Basketball won their opening exhibition game Tuesday night vs. Kentucky Wesleyan and Women's Basketball will take on Anderson in an exhibition game this Sunday, November 4th, at 3 PM. Admission is free for exhibition games and seating is general admission.

Both teams will participate in our one-of-a-kind #HoopsTakeover event this Friday, November 2nd, featuring live interviews throughout the day streamed on GamecocksOnline.com, broadcast on 107.5 The Game in Columbia, and distributed via all South Carolina social media channels. The event will conclude with My Carolina's Basketball Preview Party for alumni association and Gamecock Club members exclusively.

To purchase season tickets online, go to the GamecocksOnline.com Tickets homepage.


This Week's Home Events: #HoopsTakeover Time

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THIS WEEK IN GAMECOCK COUNTRY...


Basketball season tickets promotion.JPGBasketball gets going this week with two exhibition games and our first-ever "Hoops Takeover" event (follow along with the #HoopsTakeover hashtag on Twitter). The one-of-a-kind event, which will run from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. ET, will include live interviews throughout the day streamed on GamecocksOnline.com, broadcast on 107.5 The Game in Columbia, and distributed via all South Carolina social media channels. The event will conclude with My Carolina's Basketball Preview Party.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Men's Basketball vs. Kentucky Wesleyan (Exhibition) - 7 PM
- First opportunity to watch the new 2012-13 squad
- Free admission
- General admission seating in the lower bowl
- Free team posters available


Friday, November 2, 2012

#HoopsTakeover  - 9 AM - 7 PM
- Tune in on 107.5 The Game, GamecocksOnline.com, and all our social media channels for this one-of-a-kind event!



Sunday, November 4, 2012

Women's Basketball vs. Anderson (Exhibition) - 3 PM
- First opportunity to watch this year's team!
- Free admission
- General admission seating in the lower bowl
- Free team posters available




Gamecocks on the road...
Women's Golf at Kiawah Classic - Monday - Tuesday
Women's Soccer at SEC Tournament - Monday vs. Arkansas, if they win they advance to play Texas A&M at 1 PM on Wednesday
Equestrian at Georgia - Friday, 2 PM
Volleyball at Missouri - Friday, 7:30 PM
Volleyball at Kentucky - Sunday, 1:30 PM
Swimming & Diving at Virginia - Saturday, 11 AM
Men's Soccer at Kentucky - Sunday, 1 PM
Women's Tennis - UNM Fall Invitational - Friday - Sunday
Men's Tennis - Winthrop Invitational - Friday - Sunday

Gamecock Basketball head coaches Frank Martin and Dawn Staley took time out this morning to head to Birmingham, Alabama, for the annual SEC Media Day. The coaches rotate through a whirlwind of stations at the Wynfrey Hotel to meet with various print, internet, radio, and television media outlets before the start of the season.

One of Coach Staley's areas of emphasis was that last year's seniors who helped lead the squad to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament left a "legacy of leadership". She expects this year's team to hit the ground running with the leadership of seniors Ieasia Walker and Ashley Bruner, while hoping newcomers will get in the fold as well. Staley shared a lot of praise for freshman guard Tiffany Mitchell out of Charlotte especially and her play so far in preseason practice.

"Practice is going well considering we have just as many newcomers as we do returners. Our team is really working hard...we don't have to coach effort,"  Staley told the SEC Digital Network. "The players really understand how we want to play, the make-up of our team."

First-year coach Frank Martin fielded many questions about getting to know his new team, how Bruce Ellington will fit in after the football season, and his thoughts on the toughness of the SEC. Martin noted that returning junior guard Eric Smith and senior transfer LaShay Page have stood out so far in the pre-season and how much he has enjoyed getting to see the passion of the South Carolina fan base at other sports including baseball, football, and volleyball. Right now he is focused on building the foundation for this team to hope to compete for championships.

"The players have been great. I couldn't ask for them to be more excited, more enthusiastic, to compete as hard as they compete," Martin told the SEC Digital Network. "They've been phenomenal."

Martin reiterated to the media that Ellington will be welcomed to the team with open arms once the football season is over but that in the meantime the team will work and prepare without him. While he is still very much in contact with his basketball teammates and the new staff, dropping by the offices regularly, Ellington will not join the team until January (not in the December interim before any potential bowl game). Martin emphasized how difficult it is to play two sports on this level and how much respect he has for Ellington for being successful and really good at both sports.

The addition of Missouri and Texas A&M to the league was a hot topic today as media sought coaches' opinions on how tough the SEC would be this season. Martin noted that Missouri and Texas A&M have had consistently strong teams appearing regularly in the NCAA Tournament and that their addition makes an already competitive league including powers Kentucky and Florida even tougher.

"If this league doesn't get seven to eight teams in the NCAA Tournament this year I'll be extremely surprised," said Martin.


Check out behind-the-scenes photos of the two coaches' trip to SEC Media Day:




Video of Coach Martin's comments to the SEC Digital Network

Video of Coach Staley's comments to the SEC Digital Network


Check out @GamecockMBB, @GamecockWBB, and @SpursUpBlog on Twitter and the #SECMD12 hashtag for more tweets and photos from the action at SEC Media Day!


Season tickets are available now for both men's and women's basketball! Purchase online here


From ESPN:

ESPN.com senior college basketball writer Andy Katz will sit down with NCAA head men's basketball coaches at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World for the sixth annual year of Katz Korner to discuss the biggest topics in the game today. ESPNU will air the roundtable discussions in four 30-minute specials Thursday and Friday, July 26 and 27. 

Three of the 2012 Final Four coaches will be profiled, including national championship coach John Calipari of Kentucky along with Louisville's Rick Pitino and Kansas's Bill Self. Viewers can also expect to hear from head coaches at Villanova, South Florida, Marquette, Old Dominion, BYU, Illinois State, Maryland, Baylor and many more on the state of the game. See the entire list of coaches below.

 Date

Time

Coaches (School)

Thu, July 26

11 p.m.

John Calipari (Kentucky), Mark Gottfried (NC State), Kevin Stallings (Vanderbilt), Johnny Dawkins (Stanford) and Tom Izzo (Michigan State)

 

11L30 p.m.

Rick Pitino (Louisville), Dan Muller (Illinois State), Donnie Tyndall (Southern Miss), Stan Heath (South Florida), Buzz Williams (Marquette) and Mark Turgeon (Maryland)

Fri, July 27

11 p.m.

Bill Self (Kansas), Rick Barnes (Texas), Dave Rose (BYU), Rick Ray (Mississippi State), Richard Pitino (FIU), Scott Drew (Baylor) and Jay Wright (Villanova)

 

11:30 p.m.

Billy Donovan (Florida), Johnny Jones (LSU), Brad Brownell (Clemson), Frank Martin (South Carolina) and Cuonzo Martin (Tennessee)


South Carolina head men's basketball coach Frank Martin had the opportunity this weekend to attend the Seventh Annual Dick Vitale Gala in Sarasota, Florida. Led by noted college basketball commentator Dick Vitale, net proceeds from the event benefit pediatric cancer research through The V Foundation. This year's event netted a record amount, over $1.6 million. The V Foundation for Cancer Research was founded in 1993 by ESPN and the late Jim Valvano, legendary North Carolina State basketball coach and ESPN commentator.   

Martin met Valvano early on when he was a high school coach in Miami and Valvano came to recruit his players. Once he became a college head coach he knew he wanted to get involved with Vitale and The V Foundation to use his new job title and elevated exposure to help the cause.

"Vitale has utilized his place in society to do great things and the gala is spectacular - the amount of money that is raised, celebrities who believe in him and believe in the cause," said Martin. "Even though Jimmy V has been gone for so long, it goes to show just how powerful he was that even since his passing he still continues to touch so many lives."

Frank Martin at Dick Vitale Gala.jpg

























Martin (right) with Coach Jim Haley of Ocala Vanguard High School at the Dick Vitale Gala (Photo courtesy of HeraldTribune.com)


Around 800 people attended this year's event, among them college basketball coaches, entertainers, professional athletes from multiple sports, governors and politicians, professional sports team owners. Several kids fighting cancer and their families also attended the gala and a separate event for them at Vitale's home. This year's coaching honorees were former Maryland head coach Gary Williams, Villanova head coach Jay Wright and legendary football coach Lou Holtz, who led the Gamecocks from 1999-2004.They each shared speeches of their own, including how their lives have been affected by cancer.

"Everybody has a great time. It's great to see people who live their lives in front of the cameras in a relaxed setting where they can kind of let their hair down and just enjoy the moment," said Martin. "I still get starstruck when I see people who have impacted the business that I'm in and made coaching a better profession to allow me to be a part of it now, whether it be Lou Holtz or Gary Williams who are retired from coaching, or Josh Freeman, quarterback for Tampa Bay who I knew from his Kansas State days there with [Pro Bowl wide receiver newly signed with Tampa Bay] Vincent Jackson. And to have Vincent Jackson come over and say he's a big fan - a guy who's that successful as an athlete to say he's a big fan of what we do is a lot of fun."

"The amount of college coaches who are there from John Calipari to Bob Huggins to guys that coach Division II, just shows how powerful it is. This time of year is down time for us - students are off campus, it's a recruiting dead period and coaches tend to relax with their families - but these coaches are traveling across the country to support Dickie V and Jim Valvano in the battle to fight cancer."

Read Dick Vitale's own recap of the event.


ABC Columbia's features on the "The Midlands 10 Most Fascinating People" continued yesterday with a feature on South Carolina Men's Basketball head coach Frank Martin.

Check out their interview:




ABC Columbia also shared some bonus footage on their website:




Check out other South Carolina coaches who also made the list:

ABC Columbia's "10 Most Fascinating...": Steve Spurrier

ABC Columbia's "10 Most Fascinating...": Dawn Staley

ABC Columbia's "10 Most Fascinating...": Ray Tanner


Written by student assistant Rebecca Duensing

6116220.jpegOn Monday night's "Inside the Roost" radio show host Derek Scott and Athletics Director Eric Hyman were joined by the new Men's Basketball Associate Head Coach Brad Underwood to discuss the new staff and their transition, recruiting, and Head Coach Frank Martin (pictured left).

Underwood discussed the rest of the staff joining Coach Martin here at South Carolina including Andy Assaley, the Director of Basketball Operations, who runs the day-to-day operations of the program and Assistant Coach Lamont Evans. Evans started with Martin as a manager, continued as a graduate assistant, and became full-time when a position opened last year. Evans played overseas for eight years and Underwood says his time overseas has given him a "wealth of experience and knowledge." Also joining the staff as Assistant Coach and Recruiting Coordinator is Matt Figger, who has known Martin for a long time. Prior to his time at Kansas State, he had a brief stint at Arkansas and worked at South Alabama under John Pelphrey from 2003-07.

The last and, according to Underwood, the "unsung hero" of the staff is Strength & Conditioning Coach Scott Greenawalt. Underwood says his position is "vital because he gets to spend so much time with the students...strength and conditioning is a big part of [the] program." In terms of which coach will work with which players, Underwood's main responsibility will be the "big guys- the power forwards and centers," while Figger and Evans will focus on the guards.

Martin has stressed the importance of the continuity of a program's staff and Underwood agrees. He says even though this staff is from all different parts of the country, they "all gel together" and he attributes their friendships as one of the reasons they've had success. He echoed Martin's statements that the team would always play hard.

"We're about championships, we don't strive for anything else, and that's why we're here," said Underwood. "Winning games is hard and at this level there is no guarantee, but the one thing I can guarantee is that we're going to play hard every single night out and we'll be an exciting team to watch."
When asked if it was difficult for him to leave Kansas State after spending so much time in the area (Underwood is a Kansas State grad), Underwood said it was a "no brainer...I believe in Frank, I believe in the program, and this is a great institution."

Coming into a new school can make for some tough transitions, but Underwood says the staff has two top priorities: the players and recruiting. He says their number one goal is trying to build relationships with the players who are already here.

Underwood notes the staff is "very big in terms of communication; we don't want them to feel like we don't want them." In fact, he says, they've "tried really hard to embrace them and make them feel comfortable."

Their second focus is recruiting. The staff wants to do everything they can to keep local talent coming to South Carolina; they know how important it is to keep up relationships with high school coaches. According to Underwood, "building relationship is what this business is all about."  He knows there are some needs that have to be filled now but they also need to get recruits lined up for the future. Right now they're in the middle of a recruiting period and all the coaches are out actively recruiting.

When singling in on Frank Martin, Eric Hyman wasn't sure how well the hire would be received. He said he knew "the national media would recognize Coach Martin, but [he] wasn't sure if the local media would understand the significance of someone like him, and [he] wasn't sure our fans would either."

When the hire was announced, Twitter blew up with mentions and hashtags. At one point "Frank Martin" was a national trending topic, which has given Hyman reason to be excited about fan response.

"There's a tremendous buzz in the area about Frank," Hyman noted.

Not only is Martin held in high regard for his ability to build winning programs, he's also well known for his courtside persona. The legend of his fierce look grew to simply be entitled, "The Stare", but those who know him confirm that it's not his real personality.

"Everybody sees 'The Stare'," said Underwood, "but when people get to know him and they see him away from the court and not during a game, he's one of the funniest, most likable people you'll ever know. He's as loyal as the day is long, he's got a great personality and he's great to work for."

"There's no question that the people of Columbia are going to grow to love Frank Martin," said Underwood.


Be sure to catch "Inside the Roost" every Monday night from 7:00-8:00 p.m. on 107.5 The Game for weekly insight into Gamecock Athletics with Derek Scott and AD Eric Hyman along with special guests.

Frank Martin announced five new men's basketball staff members today coming to join the Gamecocks from their previous stint at Kansas State. The new staff arrived in Columbia today and had some first day comments to share.

Brad Underwood - Associate Head Coach
"We're all very excited to be here and for the opportunity and challenge to take a program that has made such significant facility changes in the last few years and bring it to the level it deserves. The SEC is a tremendous conference.  The people have been great, and we're excited about the future of Gamecock basketball."

Matt Figger - Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator
"I'm extremely excited about being at South Carolina, the loyalty our staff has with one another and working with Frank Martin, who I trust and who is a dear friend of mine. I grew up not far from here, so being back in the South is a great thing for me and I'm looking forward to the challenge of the SEC."

Lamont Evans - Assistant Coach
"I'm very excited about the opportunity to be at South Carolina.  I'm looking forward to staying energized and bringing our work ethic to build success in the program."

Andy Assaley - Director of Operations
"We're extremely excited to be here and welcomed into the South Carolina family. To be able to bring our whole staff to a place that has made a tremendous commitment to basketball is something I look forward to. We're appreciative of the South Carolina administration and Mr. Hyman for showing faith in us.  We look forward to many years of success."
 
Scott Greenawalt - Strength and Conditioning Coach
"I'm excited about the opportunity to be at South Carolina and working with Coach Martin and the staff.  We're a very tight-knit staff and always have been.  I'm anxious to get to work with the players.  That's the most important part, getting the players better, and that is going to start today and continue. I'm excited about such a great University and great people."

 

Gamecock Fans Rave About Frank Martin

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frankmartin2.jpg



















With the official announcement Tuesday morning that Frank Martin would be the new head coach for South Carolina Men's Basketball, fans took to social media to share their excitement. Check out some of the comments:



South Carolina Gamecocks
Over on the official South Carolina Gamecocks Facebook page,


Bob Horner: "Welcome to Columbia. Watched the press conference and he is impressive"

Katie Guenther: "Spurrier, Tanner, Staley and now Frank Martin. Good luck finding a better group of coaches at any institution in the US."

Joel Umanzor Jr.: "Frank Martin is the type of disciplined coach the Gamecocks need."


Garret Suggs: "Nice tie, Coach! Looking forward to your success as a Gamecock. Welcome to the family!"

Larry King: "Welcome Frank Martin!!! GO GAMECOCKS!!!!"

Kimberly Hallums: "Welcome to the USC family, Coach Martin"


On Twitter "Frank Martin" was a trending topic almost all day as everyone buzzed about the hire. Gamecock fans used the #FrankMartinSC hashtag on Twitter to join the conversation. Here is a sampling, but check out all the tweets here, there was a lot of excitement!


















Gamecocks' SEC Great Henry Martin to be Honored

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MartinH.jpgAt this week's SEC Tournament in New Orleans, the conference will recognize a new "SEC Great" at each school's first game. The Gamecocks face Alabama at 3:30 p.m. ET today in the first round. (TV: SEC Network, Radio: Gamecock IMG Sports Network).

South Carolina will honor Henry Martin, Forward, 1943; 1947-49. Henry Martin played basketball at Carolina during the 1943 season and again from 1947-49. He was the first Carolina basketball player to score 1,000 career points, finishing his career with 1,082 points, an average of 12.2 points per game. He scored at a clip of 16.0 points per game during his senior season. He capped off his career with a 32-point performance as the Gamecocks defeated archrival Clemson in 1949. Martin was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 2008. 

Martin was no longer able to make the trip to New Orleans while recovering from an injury, but members of Martin's family will be on hand at halftime to accept the recognition on his behalf.

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