Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Game Preview - at South Carolina

Before I write about the game at South Carolina, I wanted to shed a few more tears about the game this past Saturday. DJC is an invaluable member of the team that contributes to this blog. His recaps are always well-written and informative. I always look forward to them. In fact, I always read them before my customary second viewing of the most recent game. As I've mentioned in the past, I like to go back and give each game a second viewing, divorced from the emotion and anxiety that typically accompany the first viewing of the game. Reading DJC's perspective, which is always rational, is a great precursor to these second viewings because it gives me things to look for in the game.

He nailed it in his last recap: this Alabama team simply doesn't match up well with Auburn. That's painful to write, but barring a horrendous shooting day from Auburn, Alabama wasn't going to win either game. I believe the decision by Avery to stay in zone despite the Tigers hot shooting had a lot to do with the fact that our guys had a hard time containing the quickness of Auburn's guards when they had the ball in their hand. Physically, our guys couldn't match up. I don't like the guy, but Pearl had a great game plan. Alabama didn't help themselves with the turnovers (the quickness of Auburn vs our lack of quickness, much like Arkansas earlier in the week, had a lot to do with the turnovers) or missed free throws, but I'm not sure it would have meant much in the long run. Pearl has a year on Avery when it comes to recruiting, and that was painfully obvious in the two games played.

I was harsh towards the coaching staff in the emotional aftermath of that game. DJC's recap and my second viewing didn't lessen my belief that a sweep by Auburn is horrible from a perception standpoint, but when you can't match up physically with a team, there's only so much you can do as a coach. Avery's recruiting is going to put the two programs on equal footing talent-wise in the very near future, but Auburn is the better program right now. It's a temporary situation so I encourage our friends from the east to enjoy it while it lasts. Hit the jump break to see your normally scheduled preview.

Alabama is coming off arguably their worst two-game stretch of the season with back-to-back losses to Arkansas and Auburn. For their sins, this week they will play two of the best teams in the conference, South Carolina and Kentucky. First up is a trip to Columbia to play the Gamecocks, currently ranked in the AP poll and alone at the top of the conference standings. Game time is 5:30 PM on Tuesday. SEC Network will handle the television duties.

South Carolina

69.4 PPG 72.7

65.1 OPP 61.5

42.3 FG% 42.6

41.5 OPP 37.9

48.5 EFG% 48.3

48.2 OPP 42.3

32.3 3PT% 36.8

37.4 OPP 26.3

65.1 FT% 69.2

66.7 OPP 70.1

41.4 FTRATE 37.5

38.8 OPP 48.5

39 RPG 37

32.6 OPP 34.6

35 OREB% 35.2

25.4 OPP 32.2

14 TOPG 13.4

14.7 OPP 17.2

20.4 TO% 19.3

21.5 OPP 24.9

65 KenPom Ranking 25

My Two Cents: DJC made an interesting comment in his recap when he wrote that our guys match up well with South Carolina and he expects a competitive game. I think he's right, South Carolina does play at a tempo more to our liking. But the major difference is they have more experienced playmakers on the floor (Sindarius Thornwell, P.J. Dozier and Duane Notice for starters), they are outstanding on defense (currently ranked number one at KenPom in defensive efficiency), and Frank Martin's culture is now firmly in place while Avery is still in the process of building a program. 

Players to Watch: From an offensive standpoint, Dazon Ingram has played well in the last three games, averaging 15 ppg, 3 rpg, 3.6 apg and 2.6 spg. Turnovers remain an issue (3.3 pg in the last three games), but the team now has two guys averaging double figures. The formula for a win seems to be Dazon and Braxton must play well, and then hope at least one more guy emerges to have a big game.

Sindarius Thornwell is the current frontrunner for SEC Player of the Year. His numbers (19.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 38% from 3) are part of the story, but there's more to him than mere stats. No other player in the league may be as valuable to his team as Thornwell from a presence and leadership standpoint. Three of Carolina's four losses happened when Thornwell was serving a 6-game suspension. He may not have the NBA futures of other players in this league, but he's been irreplaceable for South Carolina. He's been in this program with Frank Martin from the beginning, through the seasons at the bottom of the league to a breakthrough season this year that could result in a conference title and various individual awards. Four years playing for Frank Martin can't be easy, yet Thornwell stuck it out. He's a great example of how patience and working to improve instead of looking for the easy way out sometimes pays off. 

Prediction: After two straight losses in which this Alabama team was thoroughly outplayed, the hope is that this team comes out with a sense of urgency from the opening tip. They match up well enough physically that they can challenge South Carolina, but can they be the tougher team for 40 minutes? The Gamecocks have their flaws (not always efficient offensively, turnovers have been a problem for them), but what makes them a good team is they've been able to play through those weaknesses. I think our guys will compete, but fall short in the end. South Carolina - 67 - Alabama - 57

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