Show Me My Opponent: South Carolina (#2)

WHAT THEY BRING

Still a gross offense, just less so

Largely, this is just going to be the same preview from about a month ago. South Carolina is functionally the same team it’s been all season offensively; they’ve had a couple really good offensive games against the dregs of the SEC, but for the most part, they’ve been the same all the way around. (Defense is where stuff has changed; we’ll touch on that shortly.) As such, the offensive half of this preview is unchanged except for numbers from last month’s game for ease of reading.

Of Tennessee’s 26 unique opponents this season, South Carolina ranks 22nd in eFG%. They’re shooting just 31.6% from three and 61.6% from the free throw line. A combined total of 93.2% makes it the second-worst mark by any Tennessee opponent this year, almost surpassing the depressing Florida A&M offense. Somewhere in Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball, he mentions that Eric Snow would be the guy you’d call if you needed an NBA guard to brick a jumper in order to save your life. Perhaps Simmons should watch this offense for inspiration.

Rim game is only existent in transition, even though they’re great at converting their attempts

The Gamecocks only attempt 29% of their shots at the rim, but they hit nearly two-thirds of them. Should they be attempting more shots at the rim? Certainly!

Am I the head coach of South Carolina basketball? Nope, more 14-footers for their fans to watch. Actually, once you get into half-court, South Carolina almost ignores layups/dunks entirely. Just 24.2% of their half-court possessions end in a rim attempt, per Synergy, which is quite galaxy-brained considering they convert 61.6% of said attempts. Once you subtract putbacks off of offensive rebounds from the equation – their leading half-court at-the-rim play type! – that falls to just over 16.2%.

Those same splits are 44%/71% in transition, which, again, would make any normal person wonder why they don’t do it more.

A whole lotta non-rim twos, just like last time

For whatever reason, then, we won’t talk a ton about how South Carolina creates baskets at the rim. They do, sometimes, but it’s not nearly as emphasized as it has been with other opponents on Tennessee’s schedule. One player far outpaces the rest of the roster in terms of non-rim two-point attempts: Maik Kotsar (55-of-134, 41%).

Kotsar was the best player in the game in South Carolina’s one-point loss to Tennessee last month, scoring 18 and rebounding eight. He’s gotten more comfortable with taking more shots, and you can bet South Carolina will find a way to get the ball in his hands.

Three others take a high amount of non-rim twos: Jair Bolden (37-of-86, 43%), Jermaine Couisnard (25-of-77, 32.5%), and A.J. Lawson (24-of-59, 40.7%). Bolden likes to pull up as the ball handler in ball screen sets, along with shooting off of off-ball screens.

Lawson is probably the best individual shot creator on Carolina’s roster, as he also likes to pull up off of a screen.

Couisnard was the hero in South Carolina’s surprising win over Kentucky, but he hasn’t been great on the season as a whole. He’s not as much a “bad jump shot” guy as he is a “bad floater/runner” guy, though he does hit 43% of them.

(15:27 1H A&M Couisnard 2)

The guys that take threes and sometimes make them

South Carolina misses over 68% of their three-point attempts, taking about 19 per game. You might as well get to know the guys that take ‘em. Lawson is 46-of-129 (35.7%) and is mostly a catch-and-shoot, spot-up guy.

Bolden is 35-of-87 (40.2%), the best percentage on the team, and operates both in handoff situations and pulling up off of screens.

Couisnard is on a bit of a hot streak as of late, raising his season-long percentage all the way to…31.9%.

Defensively on a hot streak

Here’s the part that is different. Per Torvik, South Carolina’s defense has posted the 11th-best adjusted defensive efficiency over their last ten games. This has included some fairly impressive outings: holding Arkansas to 0.941 PPP in a 79-77 win; holding all of Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia, and Tennessee to 0.8 PPP or lower. That’s not bad! However, here’s why it seems short-lived: this is almost entirely driven by a super-poor run of opponent 3PT%. Over the last ten games, teams are shooting 56-of-225 (24.9%) from three against the Gamecocks.

It’s nice that they’re shooting poorly, of course; it’s also nice that Carolina has continued forcing turnovers and blocking shots at the same high rate they have all season. They do several legitimately great things.

However: Carolina is also fouling opponents like crazy, having posted an opponent Free Throw Rate of 54.5%, which ranks 351st of 353 teams. Also, during this 10-game stretch, South Carolina has gotten better at guarding threes, posting a 55/45 Guarded/Unguarded split on Synergy…but considering opponents have made just 23.3% of open threes, I’m thinking serious regression is due.

Interior defense still offering odd struggles

At the rim, a lot of different guys get in on the action, but Kotsar, Minaya (who’s injured), and Wildens Leveque – absolutely incredible name, goodness – have combined for 37 of Carolina’s 56 rim blocks.

However, we run into the same problem with this as we did Arkansas’s rim protection: for a team that blocks so many shots, opponents still convert a lot of their looks.

Of the 39 teams in America that block 14% or more of opponent rim attempts, the Gamecocks rank 38th in rim FG%. Opponents make over 68% of these unblocked looks, with South Carolina having trouble working against both cuts and post-ups.

South Carolina blocks a lot of non-rim twos, so I’d prefer Tennessee take fewer of them, but I am sure they will go happily along taking them. It is what it is. Here, South Carolina’s had issues staying with shooters off of off-ball screens, as well as more scattered issues in defending post-ups. Yves Pons’ beloved turnaround jumper could be of real use here.

As mentioned, there’s opportunities available from deep

In the first game, Tennessee got a metric ton of wide-open looks from downtown…and pretty much missed all of ‘em. Of Tennessee’s 31 threes, 24 were catch-and-shoot attempts, the best kind. 15 of them had no defender within four feet. They made just two of those 15 wide-open threes.

Tennessee got good shots; they should continue getting good shots against this defense.

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