After the thrilling win over Ole Miss Tuesday night, Alabama heads back on the road for a two game stint against two of the lesser teams in the conference. First up is the South Carolina Gamecocks (9-15, 2-9 SEC). The Gamecocks haven't seen the kind of progression under Frank Martin that they expected when they hired him before the 2012-13 season, but to be fair, he hasn't had much to work with. Bruce Ellington declaring early for the NFL Draft didn't help that cause. Neither did Junior G Tyrone Johnson's ankle injury. The Gamecocks are a pretty terrible basketball team, but they did get a win against Vanderbilt Thursday night, so there's that.
South Carolina's backcourt is led by a senior and a bunch of young players. Senior G Brenton Williams (13.8 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.9 SPG) is a heck of a shooter. With Johnson (for now) and Ellington (for always) both out of the picture, Williams is really the only true threat that the Gamecocks have in this area. But he is a good one to have. Williams shoots 42.5% from the field, including a 42.3% clip from long range, and he also shoots a phenomenal 96.3% from the free throw line. He is basically automatic from the charity stripe; it would be a good idea not to foul him. His size (5'11) really hurts his ability to create shots, but you definitely don't want to leave him open. His size also limits his ability to rebound or play defense. Freshman G Sindarius Thornwell (13.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.6 BPG) is as good of an all-around player as they have, and has been a nice addition as a new guy. He shoots pretty well (40.4% FG%, 35.2% 3P%, 73.3% FT%), rebounds well for a guard, forces turnovers, and likes to make things happen on offense. However, he is definitely still a freshman. He turns the ball over and fouls about 3 times a game each, and that puts his team in trouble at times. Fellow Freshman G Duane Notice (7.8 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.8 APG) is a physical guard who is dangerous when he can get some space around the basket. He doesn't shoot particularly well (33.3% 3P% and 65.7% FT%), but he can score (44.8% FG%) at a good rate because of his slashing ability. Like Thornwell, he likes to make things happen, but he also forces the issue a bit, as evidenced by his 2.8 APG and 2.6 TOPG. The only other guard who gets much playing time is another Freshman G, Jaylen Shaw (3.2 PPG, 0.6 RPG, 1.3 APG). Shaw can shoot (42.9% FG%, 44.4% 3P%, 87.0% FT%), but he doesn't get very involved in the game most of the time.
South Carolina's frontcourt has plenty of young bodies, but they are lacking in production. Sophomore F Michael Carrera (6.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 0.4 APG, 0.9 SPG, 1.0 BPG) is a very high-energy player, and has really been a key leader for this team the last two years. He isn't a very talented shooter (41.7% FG%, 25.0% 3P%, 63.9% FT%), but he is a good rebounder and probably their best defender. However, his assist-to-turnover ratio is pretty terrible, not because he turns it over a ton, but he just isn't a very good passer. The two starting big guys, Sophomore F Mindaugas Kacinas (5.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 0.6 BPG) and Freshman C Demetrius Henry (4.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0.5 SPG, 0.8 BPG) are solid, young post players. But there isn't really much to say about them. They are mediocre rebounders, aren't anything special defensively, and Henry is a terrible shooter. Kacinas is a pretty good low post scorer though (54.2% FG%). Sophomore F Laimonas Chatkevicius (4.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 0.5 SPG, 0.6 BPG) is the tallest on the team at 6'11 and uses that size well in his limited time. He shoots 61.8% from the floor and rebounds at a pretty good rate. He also has the best defensive rating on the team. Honestly, I'm not sure why he doesn't get more playing time. Finally, Freshman F Desmond Ringer (2.5 PPG, 2.1 RPG) rounds out the rotation in the post.
What To Watch For
1. South Carolina's Three Point Ability? The Gamecocks come into this game 2nd in the SEC in 3P%, at 36.9%. From that stat alone, one would think that they are pretty effective at knocking down threes and putting pressure on opposing defenses. However, they really only have one guy currently on the roster who sees significant playing time and can knock down threes at a good rate (Williams). Shaw can be expected to come in and knock one or two down, but he doesn't play a whole lot. Williams averages nearly 6 three point attempts per game, so Alabama needs to make it as difficult as possible for him to get open looks.
2. Youth. South Carolina is one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in the country. Williams is the only upperclassman currently playing for the Gamecocks, and that inexperience really has hurt them this year.
Three Keys to Victory
1. Force Turnovers. This key is easy to pick up on. South Carolina is a really young, frustrated bunch. They force things a lot. Alabama is pretty good at forcing turnovers, so this looks like a huge advantage in favor of the good guys. Alabama needs to pad the turnover margin in this one in order to come away with their first road victory of the year.
2. Hit the Glass on Offense. Frank Martin coached teams have always been extremely aggressive on defense, and because of that, they are very vulnerable to giving up second chances. They are 307th in the country in defensive rebounds, so Alabama needs to hit the glass and take advantage.
3. Fouls and Free Throws. Again, this is a Frank Martin coached team. They are very physical. They play tough on defense and look to draw lots of contact on offense. Because of their inexperience, this has really backfired his first two years in Columbia. They foul a ton, and they aren't very good at knocking down all those free throw attempts. Alabama needs to make more free throws than South Carolina does. Fingers crossed on that one.
If Alabama is ever going to win a road game this year, this would the best opportunity. The game is set for 3:00 pm CST and will be televised by SEC TV.