Frank Martin Has South Carolina on an Unlikely UptickPosted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 4th, 2014
If only we could all go to Hawaii when things aren’t going so well. The islands were apparently just what South Carolina needed, because in the span of two weeks the Gamecocks have turned their season completely around. Before departing for the Diamond Head Classic before Christmas, Frank Martin‘s team dropped consecutive home games to Manhattan (by 20 points) and USC Upstate. But the sunshine must have been therapeutic because while there the Gamecocks beat previously unbeaten St. Mary’s, lost to a good Boise State team, and wrapped up the tournament with a good win over Akron.
The winning didn’t end in Hawaii. South Carolina came home and, in a scheduling quirk, beat Akron again before picking off Marshall last Monday by 27 points. The Thundering Herd were without leading scorer Elijah Pittman, but after the way the Gamecocks left Columbia, any win was a good win. [Ed. Note: They followed that up with a win last night against South Carolina State, which happened after this piece was written.] How did South Carolina turn things around so quickly? For one, they are turning the ball over at a considerably lower rate. Garnet and Black Attack writes that:
“Carolina protected the basketball quite well last week, never eclipsing 17.5% except for the putrid 26.9% mark posted against the Broncos. Given the way the Gamecocks rebound offensively – more on that in a second – that means possessions end with made baskets or, in many cases, two or three looks at the basket. You don’t have to shoot particularly well (and the Gamecocks don’t) to effectively play offense under those circumstances.”
South Carolina does indeed create second chances for itself. The Gamecocks grab nearly 38 percent of their misses, good for 18th in the country in that metric. They have reached this point with Michael Carrera regressing on the offensive glass, and given his youth, it’s reasonable to think he will improve. In addition to not turning the ball over, freshman guard Duane Notice has also emerged for the Gamecocks. Notice had scored 19 points on the season before heading to the Diamond Head Classic. Since then, he has reached double figures in five of the South Carolina’s six games. He also brings a balanced offensive game to the table: He takes 38.3 percent of his shots at the rim while still remaining effective from deep (38.5%).
Fellow freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell‘s hot start, on the other hand, has cooled during the recent period of improved team play. He had at times carried the Gamecocks through the first few weeks of the season, but has scored only 11 points in the last two games. This downturn might not be entirely Thornwell’s fault, though. Upperclassmen Ty Johnson (8.3 FGA per game) and Brenton Williams (7.5 FGA per game) are high-ish volume shooters, and with Notice’s emergence there’s suddenly a crowded backcourt in Columbia. Martin has to find ways to get all four involved as the season goes along.
There is still a long way to go for South Carolina, especially on the offensive end. They rank 200th or worse in the country in effective field goal percentage, two-point shooting percentage, overall shooting percentage, and shooting efficiency. But the formula is there for the Gamecocks to continue their solid run of play into the SEC and surprise a few teams. A Martin calling card at Kansas State was good field goal defense, and South Carolina has the 73rd most effective field goal defense in the country (46.1%) and 49th best three-point defense (30%). They have been especially good the last two games, limiting Marshall to just 37.8 percent and Akron to 32.5 percent. Pair this with a backcourt laden with offensive potential, and the Gamecocks could pick up more than a handful of conference wins.
As the Garnet and Black Attack article lays out, with last night’s win over South Carolina State and a reasonably successful conference season (such as 7-11 or 8-10), the Gamecocks could be in the running for a postseason invitation. That’s a far cry from where they stood walking off the court after the USC Upstate loss.