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Bama Basketball Breakdown: South Carolina

The Crimson Tide look to avenge their loss to the slumping Gamecocks

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

In what can only be explained as the sports world equalizing itself for all of Alabama's successes in other sports, the Crimson Tide are coming off another brutal, gut-wrenching loss as they get ready for the next contest. Coincidentally, Anthony Grant's team will be looking for revenge against a team that gave them a similarly disheartening loss earlier this season: the South Carolina Gamecocks (13-13, 4-10 SEC). Frank Martin's squad has had a tough time of it in conference play as well this season, as they can't seem to get over the hump against most of the league (with the strange exception of Georgia). The main culprit is their complete inability to shoot the basketball, as they are currently 311th in the country in FG%, a truly horrendous stat. However, this is a tough, physical team that is well-taught defensively. They are clearly capable of winning against Alabama, as they proved back in early January in Columbia.

The Starting Five

  • PG Ty Johnson (9.3 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.2 SPG)
  • SG Duane Notice (11.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.6 APG, 0.9 SPG)
  • 3G Sindarius Thornwell (11.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.3 SPG)
  • PF Michael Carrera (5.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 0.9 BPG)
  • C Laimonas Chatkevicius (8.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.3 BPG)

From last time:

Johnson's a decent shooter (43.8% FG%, 28.1% 3P%), but he is very good from the line (82.6% FT%). With 1.8 TOPG, he has an assist-to-turnover ratio greater than 2, and his ability to steal the ball makes it tough on opposing players. Notice has been a reliable scorer from all around the court (44.2% FG%, 36.8% 3P%, 81.3% FT%), and his athleticism makes him a very tough defender, as he usually takes on the opponent's best offensive guard. Thornwell's offensive performance has frustrated Gamecock fans (36.2% FG%, 21.8% 3P%, 67.9% FT%), but he hasn't let that affect his effort, as he is one of the better defenders in the conference (84.0 DRtg, 1.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG), and he is the second-leading rebounder for USC. Henry and Chatkevicius have been solid, efficient players for the Gamecocks, and it has made a huge difference. Neither is going to impose their will offensively, but they can both score from the inside at a solid clip (Henry: 50.0% FG%, Chatkevicius: 58.3% FG%). Chatkevicius also has the ability to hit the three (44.4%), and is actually the greatest threat from downtown. Despite being 6'5, Carrera has played in the post most of his South Carolina career, and he's done a good job at it. He hasn't played as much this season, due to other, taller guys stepping it up. However, he is a scrappy player who likes to battle on the boards and play strong defense (87.0 DRtg).

Of all the teams Alabama will have played twice this season, no team will have changed as much as South Carolina has, and not in a good way. For one thing, Demetrius Henry has been suspended for the rest of the season, forcing Carrera back into the starting line-up. Bigger than that though, South Carolina has regressed really badly in the shooting department. Considering they weren't very good at that to begin with, it's been a serious problem for the Gamecocks. Nearly every player across the board has seen shooting percentages drop. Johnson's now shooting 36.1% from the field, Notice's stat line has dropped to 36.9% FG%, 32.8% 3P%, and 76.4% FT%, and Chatkevicius is now down to 31.8% from beyond the arc. These guys have really struggled on the offensive end, and it has gotten pretty ugly. In the SEC, only Missouri has fielded a worse offense in recent weeks.

The Bench

  • G Marcus Stroman (4.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.6 APG)
  • G Justin McKie (3.8 PPG, 1.9 RPG)
  • F Brian Steele (1.9 PPG)
  • F Mindaugas Kacinas (6.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG)

From last time:

The Gamecocks, like many of Alabama's opponents this season, don't have a ton of depth on the team. Stroman is a freshman with lots of potential. He can score well from inside the arc (41.1% FG%), but he is not a threat at all from three at this point in his career (11.1% 3P%). He has also struggled from the free throw line (58.3%). However, Stroman is a great passer, leading the team in assists despite being a freshman who starts the game on the bench. McKie is a solid overall guard, as he does an admirable job on the boards and on defense. He can also score at an above-average rate (40.0% FG%, 78.9% FT%). Kacinas is the leading rebounder on the team, plays well around the basket (56.9% FG%, 85.7 DRtg), and knocks down his free throws (80.6%).

Obviously, with Henry's suspension, this Gamecock team has become even more limited on the bench. It hasn't helped that Stroman has missed the last four games after suffering a horrible throat infection, and he will be a game time decision Tuesday night. McKie has continued his solid play, and Kacinas has been a strong player off of the bench all season for South Carolina, but this is a weak, thin bench right now. Steele has only recently played due to Henry's suspension and Stroman's injury.

What to Watch For

  • The Injury Report. At this point, it's pretty safe to assume Ricky Tarrant probably won't be returning to the court this season for the Crimson Tide. It's a shame, really. Tarrant could have been the difference the other night, but injuries aren't an excuse. Especially considering how badly Georgia's been bitten by the injury bug this year. The bigger name to keep an eye on will be Stroman. He's been the best passer on the team for South Carolina, and they have really struggled to get good looks since his injury, especially when Johnson comes out for a breather.
  • Motivation. Both Alabama and South Carolina have seen once-promising seasons come to a disappointing end. South Carolina crashed and burned when SEC play started, while Alabama's NCAA Tournament chances suffered death by way of multiple daggers to the chest. Whichever team shows up with more energy will have a big edge in this game.

Three Keys to Victory

Last meeting's keys:

  1. Take Care of the Ball. South Carolina, in case you missed it before, is a really good defensive basketball team. The main reason that is the case is because they are very good at smothering their opponents. It is very hard to get a good look off against the Gamecocks, much less make the shot. What Alabama can not afford to do is make scoring even more difficult by giving away possessions. Carolina's guards have active, quick hands and their forwards can swat shots. Every possession is critical when playing a defense as good as the Gamecocks.
  2. The Three Point Line. The best way to get good looks against South Carolina is by extending the court and knocking down three-pointers. The Gamecocks are 4th in the country in 2P allowed and 26th in 2PA allowed this season. However, they are 84th in 3P allowed and 201st in 3PA allowed. In other words, they will give their opponent the three point line, because they are locking down everything else inside the perimeter. Alabama hasn't been a great three-point team this season, but for some reason that hasn't stopped the Tide from throwing up their fair share of deep balls. Expect to see quite a few of them this game. If Alabama pulls off the road win, 3P% will probably be a key reason why.
  3. Take Away the Two. These three keys all flow together nicely, because just as South Carolina fails to shut down the three-point line, they also fail to use the three-point line to their advantage. The Gamecocks are 310th in the country at 29.7% 3P%, which is a dreadful stat. Florida and Ole Miss both successfully forced South Carolina into uncomfortable shots by denying penetration and forcing them outside. Anthony Grant loves to utilize the 2-3 Zone, which would be a fantastic idea for this game. Alabama just needs to be aware of the two big guys who can leak out and knock down perimeter shots.

While these keys are all still very relevant (especially the importance of forcing South Carolina into taking deep jumpers, where they are now 336th in the country in 3P% at 29.2%), there are a couple that should be added if Alabama wants to come out victorious this time around. For one, the Tide have to rebound the ball much better than last time, especially on the defensive end. Carrera may have won that game single-handily for South Carolina with the amount of offensive rebounds he collected down the stretch. In total, South Carolina out-rebounded Alabama 33-23 that night. The other factor that will play a huge role in Tuesday's rematch will be fouls and free throws. Neither Alabama nor South Carolina are good offensive teams, but they can both knock down their freebies (with the excruciating exception of Saturday night for the Crimson Tide). The Gamecocks have shot 74.0% from the line this season, and they happen to get a huge chunk of their points from the charity stripe. Obviously, Alabama does not need to bail them out with fouls. To add to that, because of South Carolina's shallow depth right now, getting them into foul trouble would create a huge advantage for Alabama. This will definitely be a game where Bama needs to take it to the rim and draw contact.

The long-shot dreams of a late season run to entice a NCAA Tournament invite are officially over for Alabama. However, there are four games left this season, and nobody wants to see a big, ugly "L" in the results column. South Carolina has been reeling for over a month now; it's time for the Crimson Tide to get some revenge.

The game will tip-off at 6:00 PM CST and will be televised by the SEC Network.