Frank Martin hasn’t forgotten about tonight’s game.
In an hour’s time, Kentucky looks to extend their three game win streak when they play host to South Carolina. Former Kansas State head coach, Frank Martin, now finds himself
yelling at people roaming the sidelines in Columbia after five seasons in Manhatten, Kansas. Unfortunately for Martin, the team he inherited isn’t exactly as talented as the one he left. Currently, South Carolina is 12-9 with several bad losses to Elon, Mississippi State, and Auburn. Not only have Martin’s Gamecocks dropped 6 of their past 8, but they’ve been defeated by a grand total of 50 points in their past two contests. Things don’t look to improve tonight either as Kentucky supposedly returns to full strength with the addition of Willie Cauley-Stein. South Carolina may enter Rupp Arena as heavy underdogs, but they do certain things well enough to remain competitive.
The Gamecocks have three players in Bruce Ellington, Brenton Williams, and Michael Carrera that average over 10 points per game. Unfortunately for USC, only one of the three previously mentioned players, Brenton Williams, is efficient while on offense.
Through his team’s 21 games, Williams, a 5-foot-11 junior, is averaging 10.6 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game. While this may seem rather ho-hum, he has acquired these numbers despite averaging only 21.8 minutes per game. Also, Williams is the Gamecocks’ leader in three point shooting percentage (41.3%) , free-throw shooting percentage among active players (83.1%), and ranks second in fouls drawn per-40 minutes (5.1).
As a team, South Carolina is highly inefficient offensively, ranking 172nd nationally in adjusted offense according to Kenpom.com. While struggling to shoot from both the perimeter (33.5%) and the interior (48.1%) makes life hard on a team, the biggest detriment to the Gamecock offense is turnovers. Frank Martin’s squad enters tonight’s contest coughing up the ball on 24.0% of possessions, placing them 322nd nationally. The biggest contributor to the turnover problem is Bruce Ellington, he loses the rock 3.7 times per game. While they struggle offensively, there’s one bright spot on that side of the ball, the uncanny ability to rebound. South Carolina is currently ranked 4th nationally in offensive rebound percentage, pulling down 41% of their missed shots. This facet of the game is potentially dangerous for Kentucky as many of our close games this season were the result of an opponent getting to the offensive glass at a high rate.
While the Gamecock offense has struggled at times to be efficient, their defense has struggled even more. At the moment, South Carolina is ranked 222nd nationally in adjusted defense according to Kenpom.com. While they’re nothing more than average at forcing turnovers and grabbing defensive boards, they struggle with fouling and keeping opponents in-check from inside the perimeter. The Gamecocks have a defensive free throw rate of 42.1% (298th) and opponents manage to connect on 49.1% of attempted twos (232nd). Such a struggle is easily understood when examining their total team height, or lack there of. The average height of this year’s South Carolina squad is 75.2 inches (or 6’3”), placing them 327th nationally. This screams monumental mismatch as Kentucky is the nations’s 15th tallest team (78.1 inches) and just so happens to rank 47th in free-throw rate (41.4%) as well. Knowing this, tonight’s game plan should involve feeding Noel, Poythress, and even Wiltjer often down on the low block.
Kentucky is currently a 17-point favorite over the Gamecocks, and it’s easy to see why. The Wildcats are at home, are much more efficient on both sides of the ball, and hold a significant height advantage over Frank Martin’s squad. If Kentucky is able to efficiently work the ball down low on offense while keeping South Carolina’s players off the offensive glass, this game should go like the oddsmakers and computers say it will. However, this season’s outcomes have taught us to be cautious in predicting games, but barring a massive deviation from season averages, tonight should see the Cats take their 6th straight over South Carolina.