Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: USC Upstate

Offense

They can shoot! That’s it

Look: these games are honestly kind of sluggish fixtures, and they aren’t a ton of fun to write about. We all know Tennessee is going to win this game by many, many points, and we all know that it will feature something goofy at some point. Other than that, it’s not going to be a terribly memorable fixture. And yet: I’ll try and figure out something interesting you should watch for here. It’s my job, right?

In the third of three games against a winless opponent, Tennessee finally draws a group that can shoot! Okay, we need some qualifiers, of course, but the point is still there. USC Upstate’s actually had quite a good season from downtown, converting 38.3% of their three-point attempts. Despite being 0-7 and losing to a Division II team by double digits, these Spartans have cracked the double-digit made threes mark in three games recently, and it’s almost helped them pull off a win. They’re doing a good job at getting their shooters (Bryson Mozone below) some solid looks.

Dave Dickerson, formerly of Tulane, runs an offense that’s predicated on on-ball screens and off-ball movement. With better players, it would probably look like a better unit, but such is life in the KenPom 300s. His 250th-ranked offense, as of now, is his best offense through three seasons at Upstate…which is genuinely a very sad thing to write out, but is indeed progress. Like a lot of teams out there, Upstate will use these ball screens to draw attention away from the perimeter, which can free up one of their four main shooters for a good look.

Lots of turnovers and bad, unfortunate misses

Unfortunately, that’s about all of the positives I can feature from Dickerson’s offense. Generally, I think they have fine shot selection, but Dickerson allows his players to do a lot of gross stuff with these ball screens. I’ve seen a lot of missed jumpers off the dribble while scouting this team:

And the turnovers. My goodness, the turnovers. USC Upstate ranks 267th nationally in offensive turnover percentage, which doesn’t sound that bad, but it honestly feels a tad lucky it’s not lower. Upstate’s ball-handlers have committed lots and lots of mistakes against defenses that are not exactly on the same level as Tennessee’s:

In four straight games, the Spartans have posted a 22.4% TO% or worse, which seems like a recipe for serious disaster against a Tennessee team that’s forced season-lows for offensive efficiency for all five opponents thus far. This could be a wonderful pick-me-up for a variety of guys on the Tennessee roster:

Most criminally to me, USC Upstate gets a ton of really, really good looks right at the rim and just…doesn’t convert. CBB Analytics has the Spartans in the fifth-percentile nationally in terms of finishing shots within three feet of the rim, and some of these misses kill me to watch:

Tennessee shouldn’t have very much trouble defensively in this one, even despite the quality deep shooting; if Upstate can’t hit 10 threes, they probably aren’t going to break 60.

Here’s a quick scout of the USC Upstate rotation. A minimum of 10 minutes per game is required to receive coverage.

  • #1 Dalvin White (guard). White is a 5’10” guy that takes and makes a lot of threes (11-for-22 this year) but also surrenders the ball to the other team on 31% of his possessions. Boom or bust! Pulls up off the dribble for a jumper frequently.
  • #10 Tommy Bruner (guard). Bruner and White both serve as Upstate’s point guard, meaning the initial lineup for most games is a double-PG lineup. Bruner isn’t hitting much of anything, but he shoots all the time and is the best passer on the team.
  • #5 Bryson Mozone (wing). Get in the MoZone! This guy takes nearly seven threes a game and is a better three-point shooter (39.2%) than two-point shooter (38.5%) for his career. Much more likely to catch and shoot than to pull up off a dribble.
  • #34 Josh Aldrich (wing). Torvik grades Aldrich out as the worst rotation player the team has, so of course he’s started all six games against D-1 competition. Bad shooter that turns it over a lot and commits lots of fouls.
  • #4 Khydarius Smith (center). Might be the second-best player after Mozone. Good rebounder that rarely shoots but knows what shots work for him (dunks).
  • #12 Everette Hammond. Hammond started the first six games but has lost his starting spot because he is an absurd 6-for-39 on two-pointers.
  • #35 Nevin Zink. Center that lost his starting spot to Smith after Georgia Southern loss on December 5. Zink is efficient at the rim but doesn’t contribute any other standout positives.
  • #2 Cartier Jernigan. Amazing first name. 4-for-13 from the field through three games, but 4-for-7 from three.

NEXT PAGE: The most upset I have been over a defense in some time

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