After defeating Georgia on Jan. 14, South Carolina secured its second SEC win of the season and looked like a team intent on improving its issues. The win was absolutely massive from a mental standpoint, and the Gamecocks will look to build upon it moving into a tough stretch.
One of South Carolina’s most prominent issues throughout the season has been its inconsistent offense. Frank Martin declared early in the season that this was the best shooting team he's ever coached, but lately the Gamecocks have struggled to generate points.
Part of this stems from the lack of reliable playmaking. Hassani Gravett, who was the starting point guard every game until he missed the last few with an injury, did not often drive into the paint. Other than Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar, no player on the Gamecocks seemed willing to drive.
Another glaring problem this created was turnovers off of double teams on South Carolina’s bigs. The defense did its homework and knew that neither Silva nor Kotsar are gifted passers out of a double team, and it rendered its drives and posts ineffective most of the time. While Silva is an All-SEC caliber player, he has shown that he does not yet have strong enough ball-handling or passing acumen to run an offense completely through him. Even with players such as Justin Minaya and Frank Booker on the floor to try and help space the offense with their shooting, opponents knew that Silva and Kotsar were not going to get them the ball in a timely manner.
Despite being dominated for most of the Missouri game, one positive was that Wesley Myers was being more aggressive and driving more often. Myers is a gifted scorer and must be willing to take the ball to the basket more often. His selflessness when running the point is admirable, but this team needs him to be aggressive and collapse defenses. Against Vanderbilt, Myers had 17 points, and, not coincidentally, Silva scored 27. It is much harder for opponents to double team and focus on Silva when guys like Myers, and to some degree David Beatty, are a threat to drive and make plays when given a bit of room. When paired with shooters such as Minaya and Booker, the offense thrives.
Silva also seems to excel when Felipe Haase is on the floor, due to Haase’s shooting and exceptional passing ability. The combined threat of 3-point shooting and aggressive drives leads to good ball movement and high percentage shots that come in rhythm.
With this newfound aggressiveness and spacing, the Gamecocks’ offensive production should improve.
For most of the year, South Carolina’s defense has looked slightly off. Two aspects in particular were lacking: that extra gear of intensity and defending the 3-point line. After the Vanderbilt game and looking back on how his team played against Missouri, Martin talked about the lack of intensity.
“What I can’t stand is when guys play with no 'oomph' to them. And that’s what happened in the Missouri game," Martin said. "We had no resolve. We played like a team whose feelings [were] hurt.”
For much of the season, the Gamecock defense looked decent, but never great. In particular, the Gamecocks, whether it was effort, mental breakdowns or a combination of the two, have been late to close out on 3-point shots. This creates two issues: it leads to better looks from three, and it leaves the team open to giving up easy drives. During the Clemson game in December, these issues were prominently on display. While some players, especially Minaya, did a good job of trying to limit the attempts, the game simply showed the problems South Carolina had been dealing with.
After these issues came to their peak with Missouri hitting 14 threes and shooting over 58 percent from behind the arc, the Gamecocks clamped down on Vanderbilt. Another team talented at shooting the three, South Carolina held them to just over 27 percent from the arc. The next game, however, Alabama shot nearly 60 percent from the field and over 40 percent from beyond the arc. Both are completely unacceptable numbers for a defense. The Gamecocks, developing a pattern, followed that poor performance with a gritty win at Georgia. For a young team short on experienced playmakers, finding consistency on defense will be key to consistent success.
The game against Vanderbilt showed improved effort from the Gamecocks, as well as a dedication to correct their shortcomings and improve as a team. South Carolina can use that game to springboard their season and win more games using the same formula. At least for the moment, the team’s game plan for success looks clearer.