Big East/SEC Challenge Face-Off: Providence @ South Carolina

Posted by Gerald Smith on December 1st, 2011

To preview the match-ups in the Big East/SEC Challenge, the RTC Big East & SEC Microsites are facing off in conversational analysis. Gerald Smith and Patrick Prendergast will battle one-on-one to break down Providence’s visit tonight at South Carolina.

Gerald Smith: The first Big East/SEC Challenge matchup is a cold, calculated move by the WORLDWIDE LEADERS at ESPN: After 30 minutes of Providence at South Carolina, fans nationwide will be eager to jump into the St. John’s @ Kentucky game 30 minutes later. Prior to Providence’s better performance against Holy Cross Tuesday night, both teams scored less than 62 points their last three games. Opponents of bothhave been averaging seven three-pointers made per game. The Gamecocks and Friars didn’t have the highest of expectations this season yet both have chalked up some disappointing losses — Providence was manhandled by Northern Iowa and South Carolina dropped its fourth game of the season to Southern California on Saturday.

Will Gill Get Rowdy? (credit: 247sec.com)

Perhaps the national audience might get drawn in if freshman forward Anthony Gill gets kinda rowdy early. When Gill is active, coach Darrin Horn’s team has a pulse: Gill uses his athleticism and size to grab rebounds (5.2 RPG), score inside (61.3% FG on 31 attempts) and draw fouls. When Gill is too rowdy, he is forced to sit; Carolina is 1-3 when Gill plays 23 minutes or less. Gill is a legitimate talent that could steal SEC Freshman of the Week honors at least once this season.

For Providence, which player (or players) might keep fans from switching the channel?

Patrick Prendergast: The Friars (5-2) run on the “3 Cs,” a backcourt trio consisting of 6’2” junior point guard Vincent Council (18.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 5.7 APG), 6’5” sophomore wing Gerard Coleman (16.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.7 APG) and 6’1″ shooting guard Bryce Cotton (14.6 PPG). With no seniors on the roster the junior, Council is the leader and floor general. Coleman, a starter a year ago,” has been used predominantly in a sixth-man role to add scoring punch off the bench for a team that can be offensively challenged. While Council and Coleman lead the charge, Cotton may be the best barometer of success for Providence as he has averaged 19.2 points per game in their five wins and just three per game in their two losses.

Gerald Smith: The Gamecocks are also led by a “C” of their own: Malik Cooke. The 6’6″ senior forward leads his team in scoring (11.5 PPG), free-throws made and attempted (20-27, 74.1%), and defensive rebounds (three per game). Cooke is doing his best to contribute in an offense that could be graded as an “F.”

With sophomore point guard Bruce Ellington playing as a stint as a kick returner for the South Carolina football team, coach Darrin Horn really needs a point guard to initiate the offense. Horn has tried using sophomore guards Eric Smith (averaging 2.1 assists per game, 2.6 turnovers a game) and Brian Richardson (averaging 1.1 assists per game and one turnover per game) to little benefit. Instead the Gamecocks spend most offensive possessions desperately working out the shot clock and forcing contested shots.

South Carolina could use a whole lot more “As” — they are the 259th in the nation in assists (64), 288th in assists per game (10.7) and 288th in assist-to-turnover ratio (0.74, meaning they commit more turnovers than assists).

What has been holding back the Friars from scoring so far this season?

Patrick Prendergast: The main issues are an overall lack of depth, particularly in the front court, coupled with the fact that they are not a great three-point shooting team. Providence is currently playing with only eight scholarship players. Two players that could help with scoring punch are sitting out with suspensions and have yet to play this season. Freshman guard Kiwi Gardner (check him out on YouTube!) is suspended due to an issue with a high school class and awaiting NCAA ruling on an appeal. 6’9″ red-shirt sophomore Kadeem Batts (7.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG last year) is out indefinitely for an unspecified violation of team rules.

Henton Is Off to a Hot Start This Season (credit: Prov Journal)

The Friars have scoring ability and South Carolina’s propensity for turnovers may help them get it going, as they are strongest in the open floor and getting to the basket with their guards along with 6’6″ freshman forward LaDontae Henton, who is off to a solid start to his collegiate career averaging 11.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

Gerald Smith: South Carolina might have a solution for their turnover problem once Bruce Ellington returns. A member of the 2010-11 SEC All-Freshman team, Ellington returned to the basketball team on Monday and may see some action against Providence. He will not start — Eric Smith will likely get point guard duties at first — but if Ellington can come in and provide several minutes of controlled play, the Gamecocks will be much more likely to give Providence a shock.

Prediction time: I’m doubtful that South Carolina can produce the right combination of plays for victory. But I do think they get an offensive push with Ellington back in uniform. I’m guessing Providence 70, South Carolina 67.

Your final thoughts and prediction?

Patrick Prendergast: Providence was a horrific road team under now-departed coach Keno Davis. New coach Ed Cooley is trying to instill a defensive mentality and toughness into this group that is critical to hanging in the Big East and winning on the road. The results have been mixed. While the Friars picked up a good win on the road at Fairfield (the school from which Cooley came), their first road win in almost two years, they were outplayed by Iowa State and Northern Iowa on a neutral court in the South Padre Island Invitational over Thanksgiving. Providence also played on Tuesday night in a game that came down to the wire with Holy Cross. The Friars had three players play all 40 minutes and those players could feel the effects tonight. That said, it appears Providence has enough of a talent advantage to take this one. Providence 74, South Carolina 68

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