The opening week of February was, without a doubt, the most disheartening week of Alabama basketball in a long time. The Crimson Tide (13-9, 6-4 SEC) saw all of its momentum from the first half of the conference slate go completely down the drain, with a blowout loss in Fayetteville followed up with a second loss of the season to the hated Auburn Tigers. The Tigers sweep over Alabama marked the first time since 2009 that Auburn was able to accomplish that feat, and make no mistake about it, recruits will take notice of that fact. The last two games were pretty much the worst case scenario for ‘Bama Hoops.
So how is Alabama rewarded for such a disastrous week? How about back-to-back games against the top of the SEC? The crazy thing is that, even though #15 Kentucky comes to town on Saturday, it’s actually Alabama’s first opponent of the week, #19 South Carolina (19-4, 9-1 SEC), that finds themselves at the very top of the conference standings. Frank Martin has officially rebuilt this program, led by his incredibly physical style of play. The Gamecocks boast the best defense in college basketball, according to Ken Pomeroy’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, so this could be an ugly one.
- PG 6’5 Sindarius Thornwell (19.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.0 APG, 2.4 SPG, 1.1 BPG)
- OG 6’2 Duane Notice (10.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.9 SPG)
- 3G 6’7 P.J. Dozier (14.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.7 SPG)
- PF 6’9 Chris Silva (9.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.6 BPG)
- C 6’10 Maik Kotsar (6.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.7 SPG)
South Carolina’s success hinges on their outstanding guard play. Between Thornwell, Notice, and Dozier, only Kentucky and their three potential lottery picks can rival the Gamecocks’ trio of guards within the SEC. Thornwell very well may win SEC Player of the Year. Nobody in the conference affects the game on both ends of the court the way he does (118.7 ORtg, 83.0 DRtg), as the Gamecocks have only loss once when Thornwell has taken the court, and that was in Lexington when the ‘Cocks were missing Dozier. It doesn’t hurt that he is shooting 43.9% from the field on 13.5 FGA per game, 42.5% from downtown, and 83.5% from the free throw line. He has been incredible.
Dozier seems to be following in the footsteps of the senior point guard, as the lanky sophomore has been very good on both ends of the court himself (106.3 ORtg, 85.5 DRtg). He’s shooting 42.3% from the field on just over 12 attempts per game and 37.3% from three-point land. Notice is a long time player with a bunch of experience as well. He’s not been the impact player that Thornwell and Dozier have been, but he’s been pretty darn good as the high-volume deep shooter (35.1% 3P% on 5.8 3PA per game).
In the front-court, the Gamecocks haven’t been as effective offensively as they have been in years past, but they haven’t needed to be. Silva (83.8 DRtg) and Kotsar (89.4 DRtg) both bring it on the defensive side of the court, and both can rebound at a strong rate as well (Silva: 17.2% RB%, Kotsar: 13.5% RB%). Silva is also blocking nearly one out of every ten opponent two-point attempts when he is on the floor, which is pretty ridiculous.
- G 6’4 Justin McKie (5.2 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.8 SPG)
- G 5’10 Rakym Felder (6.0 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 1.5 APG)
- G 6’1 Hassani Gravett (4.3 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 1.5 APG)
- F 6’9 Sedee Kaita (1.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG)
- C 6’10 Khadim Gueye (0.5 PPG, 1.0 RPG)
The Gamecocks are led off of the bench by senior guard McKie, who can score (38.9% FG%, 34.6% 3P%) and provide a nice lift at times. Felder has been a bit under-utilized as a true freshman, but his 46.4% 3P% shows that he is a force to be reckoned with when he’s in the game. Gravett doesn’t bring much on the offensive end, but he plays solid defense (94.8 DRtg).
The two post players that see time off of the bench don’t really make much of an impact. The Gamecocks lost both starters in the front-court from last season, and that departure has been felt significantly on the two-deep. Both have good size and potential, but they just haven’t consistently shown that they provide more than rest for Silva and Kotsar.
Player to Watch
Dazon Ingram. If Alabama has any chance of pulling off the upset in Columbia on Tuesday night, they will need Ingram to play a pivotal role. His size/speed combo will be critical to Alabama’s success on both ends. Not only is he long enough to get to the rim consistently (which is the way to attack South Carolina, who is 19th in the country in 3PA allowed and 1st in 3P% allowed), but his athleticism will allow him to adequately defend any of the Gamecocks long, explosive guards.
Three Keys to Victory
- Contain Thornwell and Dozier. Frank Martin’s club beats their opponents by bludgeoning them on the glass, suffocating their half-court offense, and getting enough from their two main scorers to win the game. In a way, this year’s Alabama team is basically a poor man’s version of South Carolina. So let’s ask Alabama fans: what is the best way to keep the Tide under 62 points? Take away Dazon Ingram and Braxton Key. Same concept, except Thornwell and Dozier have made an even bigger impact for USC,
- Defend the Perimeter. Apparently, the Crimson Tide decided to put on a clinic on how not to guard the three-point line last week. Arkansas and Auburn shot a combined 26/50 from downtown as both teams had numerous wide-open looks that they cashed in on. That’s 78 points in two games from beyond the arc. That’s completely unacceptable. South Carolina isn’t an amazing three-point shooting team (36.9%), but they’ve got a couple of different guys who can light it up when they are on. Additionally, the Gamecocks get next-to-nothing in the post offensively, and they are shooting an abysmal 45.5% from inside of the arc.
- Hustle Points. South Carolina’s defense has completely shut down nearly every opponent on their schedule, so it stands to reason that Alabama’s mediocre offense will have a tough time generating enough points to win this game if they rely solely on their half-court offense. Points in transition and second chance efforts will be crucial to the Tide tonight.
Alabama came crashing back down to Earth last week after an inspiring effort to start conference play. Unfortunately, the Tide is staring a .500 record in conference play directly in the face, with South Carolina and Kentucky on the schedule this week. Alabama desperately needs to ‘get one back’, so to speak, following another loss to Auburn. The good news is that Alabama actually matches up decently well with South Carolina, but they will need to create offense wherever they can.
The game tips-off a bit early tonight, at 5:30 PM CST on the SEC Network.