South Carolina Better Than Expected, But Needs to Improve on the BoardsPosted by Justin Bridgman on November 16th, 2013
Frank Martin was quite clear in his impressions a day after his team lost to Baylor by two points earlier this week. He felt that his team gave the game away, and blamed a variety of factors for the loss: weak perimeter defense, a lack of off the ball movement on offense, a complete lack of rebounding. Martin used a zone defense to help negate the size advantage that Baylor had inside, and for the most part he made the right choice. The Bears only shot 38 percent from the floor and their starting five only attempted three three-point shots. The problem was that Martin failed to make the necessary adjustments when Baylor’s best shooter, Brady Heslip, was in the game. Heslip made five three-pointers and led Baylor with 18 points for the game.
Martin placed the perimeter defensive struggles on a lack of understanding by his players. “The personnel is there, it’s just a matter of developing their understanding and a desire to do it on a more consistent basis.” That is the kind of thing that will develop as the season goes on as players learn to trust the zone concept more and put forth the necessary effort to recover. If the Gamecocks can add a stronger perimeter defense while staying in their zone, it will force their opponents to take a lot of contested, inefficient jump shots.
The lack of off the ball movement is another area where a little coaching and playing experience will go a long way. Ball movement itself was clearly not the problem as 14 of the team’s 18 field goals were assisted. The problem is that the team shot 50 times and only made 36 percent of those shots. That means that they were not getting the kind of efficient and open shots that come when an offense is run properly. More movement without the ball will reduce the number of contested shots for the team, and some of the “bunnies” that Martin said his team missed would have been open. A lot of times shots close to the basket may seem ideal but they are actually playing into the hands of the defense. Considering the fact that 42 of the 50 South Carolina shots were inside the arc, its clear Baylor was prepared to run them off the line to channel them toward the shot-blockers in the paint.
Those are two very correctable and coachable points that will fix themselves with additional practice over time. Martin will certainly have South Carolina better prepared as the season goes on, and the team will naturally progress with off-ball movement and defending the perimeter. One thing that has to change immediately is the team’s rebounding, though. “Rebounding got us.” Martin said. He’s exactly right. With a packed zone defense, his team should have been in excellent position to grab a bunch of rebounds. Even though Baylor has some good rebounders, South Carolina should not have been out rebounded by 11 in this game. Martin specifically mentioned how Heslip got three of his treys off of offensive rebounds, and those second chances alone directly cost his team nine points. Rebounding is an effort skill as much as it is a physical skill, and that becomes glaringly obvious when the zone defense keeps the big men near the basket.
In the end, South Carolina is going to be a better team than expected this season. Martin is an excellent coach and his Gamecocks have already proved capable of sticking with a good team on the road. As his eight new players begin to understand each other’s tendencies, the offense will create more open shots and the defense will start to lock down the three-point line. The make-or-break area of improvement for the team in the long run will simply be rebounding. Without better work on the glass, the Gamecocks’ improvement in the other areas will largely go to waste.