Colonial Life Arena during South Carolina's matchup with Drexel. (Photo courtesy of Gary Moore)
One of our favorite parts of a school from the area playing a school from the Carolinas is the scouting report exchanges between this site and our good friend Gary Moore, who is now based out of Columbia with his outstanding site, The College Hardwood. Over the past several years, Gary has been a guest contributor whenever someone from his region played a New York-area team, and we are proud to continue the tradition tonight, as South Carolina takes on St. John's at Mohegan Sun Arena. We have already sent Gary a scouting report on the Red Storm that he will post before Tuesday night's opening tip, and since he was on hand at Colonial Life Arena to see the Gamecocks dispose of Drexel, he has more than enough background knowledge on what Frank Martin's team brings to the table against Chris Mullin's group. Without any further ado, here is Gary to shed some further light on South Carolina:
Hi, my name is Gary Moore, author of The College Hardwood, and here is a scouting report for the University of South Carolina Gamecocks.
Frank Martin is in his fourth season at the helm of the Gamecocks' men's basketball team. In Martin's first three seasons, the Gamecocks have slowly improved. In 2012-13, they were 14-18 and 4-14 in the SEC. In 2013-14, the Gamecocks went 14-20 and 5-13 in the SEC, but they also knocked off Auburn and Arkansas to make the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. Last season, South Carolina finished over .500 overall for the first time since the 2008-09 season. The Gamecocks went 17-16 and 6-12 in the SEC. They won two games again in the SEC Tournament before losing to Georgia in the SEC quarterfinals.
This season, Martin's Gamecocks are off to their best record since the 1932 team started out 17-0. They surpassed the 1970-71 team that made the NCAA Sweet Sixteen (back when it was incredibly difficult to make the NCAA Tournament) when they defeated Clemson on Friday 65-59. That 1970 Gamecocks team was coached by the legendary Frank McGuire and had terrific players like John Roche, Tom Owens, Kevin Joyce and Tom Riker.
The main reason for the strong start for South Carolina is that they have greatly improved their scoring. Last season, the Gamecocks averaged 65 points per game. This season, they are averaging 81 points per game.
One reason for this is due to balanced scoring with five players averaging in double figures. Second, they are shooting much better from the field. So far, South Carolina is shooting forty-six percent overall and nearly forty percent from beyond the arc. Last season, the Gamecocks only shot forty percent from the field and thirty percent from beyond the arc.
South Carolina has a very solid five-guard rotation in junior Sindarius Thornwell (11.2 ppg), junior Duane Notice (11.6 ppg), freshman PJ Dozier (8.6 ppg), sophomore Marcus Stroman (2.1 ppg) and junior Justin McKie (1.9 ppg). Thornwell, Notice, Dozier and Stroman average between sixteen (Stroman) and twenty nine (Thornwell) minutes per game. McKie averages nine minutes per game.
The six-foot-seven Dozier has come on strong the last several games, averaging double figures in scoring in four of the past five games. Dozier is a difficult matchup for opponents. He can play the point, and due to his speed and size, he draws a lot of fouls. Against Drexel, he was ten-of-sixteen from the line. He also adds another rebounding weapon for the Gamecocks. He had nine rebounds vs. Hofstra in the Paradise Jam.
Though considered the two guard and the scorer of the bunch, the six-foot-five Thornwell averages five assists per game. He has never been a good outside shooter, as he is only shooting thirty-three percent from the field and twenty-eight percent from beyond the arc. Thornwell does a good job of getting to the line, and has increased his free throw shooting percentage this season to seventy-eight percent. He is also a rebounding dynamo, averaging five-and-a-half rebounds per game, and has eight or more rebounds in four or more games.
Notice has become a three-point threat, nearly shooting forty percent from beyond the arc. He has scored in double figures in seven of the ten games. Notice has scored as many as twenty-seven points in a game (vs. Marshall on 12/1/2013).
Stroman is the true point guard of the bunch. He rarely shoots, and that's likely due to the fact that he knows it's not a strong part of his game. Stroman is only shooting twenty-nine percent from the field and only averages about two shots per game. The six-foot-four McKie is a victim of the numbers game, as he only averages nine minutes per game, but he is very capable. He scored twelve points against Marshall last season. Redshirt freshman TeMarcus Blanton has only played in four games. He buried two three-pointers in three minutes vs. Drexel.
The senior triumvirate of Mindaugas Kacinas (13.0 ppg), Laimonas Chatkevicius (12.1 ppg) and Michael Carrera (12.4 ppg) provide a great deal of leadership for the Gamecocks. They were all a part of Martin's first recruiting class for South Carolina. They are finally reaping the rewards of all the work they have put in the prior three seasons.
Kacinas has arguably been the most improved player on the Gamecocks. He has more than doubled his scoring average from last season (6.1 ppg). He is shooting sixty percent from the field and thirty-seven percent from beyond the arc. Kacinas also averages six rebounds per game. He's had two double-doubles on the season, and had a career-high twenty-three points against DePaul earlier in the season. The six-foot-seven Lithuanian Kacinas reminds me of another Lithuanian, past Hofstra player Aurimas Kieza.
Another Lithuanian, Chatkevicius has also improved from last season, averaging four more points per game. The six-foot-eleven forward is shooting a career-high fifty-eight percent from the field and he can actually hit the three-pointer, as he is shooting forty-four percent from beyond the arc. He has scored in double figures five times this season, including a career-high twenty-seven points vs. Oral Roberts.
Carrera is the heart and soul of the Gamecocks. No one hustles more than the six-foot-five Venezuelan Carrera, who plays three to four inches taller than his listed height. He too has improved as well, as he is averaging five more points per game than last season, is shooting fifty-four percent from the field, sixty percent from beyond the arc, and eighty-two percent from the line.
Freshman Chris Silva provides athleticism and shot blocking ability off the bench. The six-foot-nine forward from Gabon also provides a defensive presence for the Gamecocks. Silva has had five games with two or more blocks. He was quite impressive against Drexel with nine points, seven rebounds, two blocks and two steals. His emphatic one-handed putback dunk against the Dragons was the highlight of the night.
Freshman Eric Cobb provides a big space eater in the middle for the Gamecocks. The six-foot-ten, 275-pound Cobb plays about nine minutes per game. He had a career high-six points in the win over Oral Roberts.
Frank Martin has had a long, illustrious career. He was a high school coach in Miami, then an assistant coach at Northeastern, Cincinnati and Kansas State. Then he took over for Bob Huggins at Kansas State and took the Wildcats to five straight NCAA Tournaments, including an Elite Eight in the 2009-10 season. It took him a while to turn around South Carolina, but it appears that in his fourth season, the Gamecocks are a serious contender for a NCAA Tournament berth.
Martin is known as one of the most intense coaches in the game. When he sits a player for not properly guarding on defense, his stares toward the player walking by him to go to his spot on the bench are truly a treat. He's had to even apologize publicly for a verbal tirade against one of his players two years ago. But if you have watched Gamecocks games over the four years like I have here in Columbia, South Carolina, the Gamecocks team has improved over the time he has been there.
When he first got there, he inherited a team, to be very honest, was a mid major talented level team. He is not afraid to recruit international players as Kacinas, Chatkevicius, Carrera, and Silva have shown. His team plays with tenacity, especially on the boards.
Not too many teams have embraced the new freedom of movement rules like the Gamecocks. They average sixteen more points per game, and the ball movement is the crispest I have seen in my four years of watching Martin's teams. They are a rebounding machine, second in the SEC in rebounds at 41.7 per game. They are twentieth in the country in offensive rebounding percentage at 38.7 percent.
When you look at their KenPom numbers, you don't see many weaknesses as there is basically all green for offensive and defensive statistics (green in KenPom categories means positive numbers). Other than rebounding, the category that really stands out is two-point field goal percentage defense, as they are eleventh in the country at 39.9 percent. This is likely due to the fact they have a great amount of height. Of their ten players that average nine minutes or more per game, eight are six-foot-four or higher, seven six-foot-five or higher. When the Gamecocks play a lineup of Chatkevicius, Kacinas, Carrera, Thornwell and Dozier, it's very hard to shoot over them and extremely hard to rebound against them.
There are two weaknesses to this Gamecocks team. First, they are not a good free throw shooting team, as they average sixty-eight percent from the charity stripe. Second, even though they are shooting forty percent from beyond the arc, historically Martin's teams are not good three-point shooters (as noted, they shot thirty percent from three last season). When Thornwell and Stroman are in the game together, teams tend to play zone, noting that Stroman won't shoot and Thornwell is not a high percentage three-point shooter.
This is a Gamecocks team that's experienced, especially in the frontcourt, athletic in the backcourt. As noted, their overall height, especially in the backcourt, gives opponents fits, especially from a rebounding standpoint. They haven't played a strong schedule, with their three best wins being over Tulsa, Clemson and Hofstra, all of which though were either neutral site or on the road. St. John's best bet is to play a zone and hope that South Carolina will settle for three-pointers, but if the Gamecocks move the ball around as they have all season, it could be a very long day in Connecticut for the Red Storm.