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Mizzou Hoops Preview: South Carolina

The final week of the regular season begins in Columbia East, where the Gamecocks are carrying a wretched offense with a pretty great defense.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Do you see that? Off in the middle distance? It’s not a light at the end of the tunnel necessarily... no, it’s almost a shade darker. Almost like a fork in the tunnel, inviting weary travelers one of many unknown paths that could inevitably follow the dark of their current road. It’s the end of the season, and it’s fast approaching.

Before we get to that decision point, however, we still have a few games to deal with. Missouri is currently in the midst of a season-worst losing streak, a far cry from just a few weeks ago, when it seemed not impossible for the Tigers to claw their way out of the basement of the SEC. Now? They’re firmly entrenched there, doomed to the play-in games in Nashville. And before that, two of the more winnable games on the schedule await.

We always knew the stretch of February from-middle-to-end was going to be tough sledding for this group. Even with an Alabama win and two genuine conference road victories under their belt, playing five top 50 KenPom teams was going to be a challenge. However, everyone but the most pessimistic of fans could’ve hoped that the Tigers would at least find a way to steal one or, god forbid, two more along the way. Instead, Missouri has lost by 19-plus in four of five, the lone exception coming in a late blown lead at home to Mississippi State.

There’s not much more to say about this team that you haven’t already read. You’re probably getting sick of the tone of these articles, and I don’t think I blame you — thanks for reading, though! At this point in the season, we’re just playing out the string, waiting for the decision that is sure to come from the offices of Desiree Reed-Francois in the weeks following the SEC Tournament. Cuonzo Martin is under contract for 2022-2023, but the underachievement of this season’s meager expectations seems to demand at least an acknowledgement of the difficult circumstances the program finds itself in. Until we get to that point, everything else feels sort of secondary. The loyalists will watch no matter what, and the cynics (and arguably the realists?) aren’t reading this.

The Scout

Projected Starters

Position Missouri (10-19) South Carolina (17-11)
Position Missouri (10-19) South Carolina (17-11)
PG Jarron Coleman (Jr., 6'5", 210) Erik Stevenson (Sr., 6'4", 209)
CG Javon Pickett (Sr., 6'5", 215) James Reese V (Sr., 6'4", 170)
WING DaJuan Gordon (Jr., 6'3", 190) Jermaine Couisnard (Jr., 6'4", 211)
PF Kobe Brown (Jr., 6'8", 250) Keyshawn Bryant (Sr., 6'6", 187)
POST Trevon Brazile (Fr., 6'9", 215) Wildens Leveque (Jr., 6'10", 255)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

Players to Watch

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Mississippi Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

No one gets indisputable minutes on Frank Martin’s team this year, but there are a few bodies on which he depends slightly more often than the others; they’re mostly upperclassmen. Transfer seniors James Reese V (the driver) and Erik Stevenson (the shooter) have been the main minutes eaters this year, giving Martin a dependable pair of guards to which he can turn. Neither are particularly prolific in any one area, but their all-around games translate to above average offensive ratings and a solid defensive presence. Junior Jermaine Couisnard is also back as the team’s prototypical defend-and-distribute point guard, whose increased role in the offense is translating to more turnovers.

Senior Keshawn Bryant and junior Wildens Leveque are also back in the front court. They play a similar game — strong rebounders and defenders — but Bryant’s extra mobility and average jumper allow him to fill the role of stretch four while Leveque mans a traditional post role.

Role Players

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Martin runs a deep bench, and this year’s reserve class is ripe with talented freshman. Devin Carter provides a flawed skill set, good defense and a nose for the basket dragged down by inefficient shooting and a knack for turnovers. He should be a factor in Martin’s program for a long time. Jacobi Wright is more of the same, a talented passer who hasn’t figured out the speed of the SEC at this point. Ta’Quan Woodley has the physical tools to become a menace in the front court if he can figure out how to defend without fouling or stop turning the ball over.

Senior transfers AJ Wilson and Brandon Martin provide support minutes, though the former has proven much more effective than the latter, giving Martin an additional rebounder and post threat off the bench. Sophomore Josh Gray and his 7-foot stature have a lot of potential, but there’s too much fouling and not enough defensive stability to surpass the regular options at this point.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. South Carolina Defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Missouri 103.9 (172) 18 (248) 46.4 (312) 21.4 (327) 31.1 (85) 29.1 (219) 27.6 (354) 48.9 (216) 73.5 (111) 9.6 (247) 10.9 (317)
South Carolina 95.1 (33) 17.2 (90) 47.5 (67) 21.8 (33) 32.5 (329) 41.4 (348) 31.9 (87) 47.3 (77) 69.5 (74) 13.4 (27) 10.9 (69)
NCAA Basketball: NCAA Basketball-Missouri at Texas A&M Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Play to contact before and after the shot

South Carolina isn’t very good this year, but it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that their defense is actually quite good. Ranking 33rd in overall efficiency, the Gamecocks are in the green (top 100 or better) across KenPom with two dark red outliers — rebounding (329th) and free throw attempts allowed per field goal attempt (348th). They’re going to make life miserable for Missouri just about everywhere on the court. But if the Tigers can get the ball in deep and not shy away from the physicality of the game, they should find ample opportunity to both draw whistles and find put backs.

When South Carolina has the ball...

South Carolina Offense vs. Missouri Defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
South Carolina 103.5 (185) 16.2 (35) 48 (267) 21.7 (336) 34.4 (22) 29 (221) 31.6 (280) 48.4 (235) 66.8 (324) 8.1 (100) 11.8 (350)
Missouri 102.1 (139) 17.7 (209) 51.1 (226) 18.3 (191) 31 (289) 35 (291) 35.8 (293) 49.5 (171) 69.8 (86) 11.4 (66) 9.6 (144)
NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Mississippi Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Limit second chances

It may startle you to learn that, despite their very good defense, the Gamecocks are actually a touch worse than the Tigers offensively in overall efficiency. While Missouri does a lot of things poorly with some exceptions, South Carolina does just about everything poorly with one notable exception — offensive rebounding. The Gamecocks feast off of second chances, particularly from the hands of Keyshawn Bryant and Wildens Leveque. If Missouri crashes the glass harder than they usually do, they could really grind this one into the hardwood and stick with Martin’s team until the final buzzer.

KenPom predicts...

South Carolina 71, Missouri 63 | It’s a game that may stretch the very boundaries of watchability; not because these are two of the worst teams you’ll see all year, necessarily, but because they both represent underachieving units in the styles of Cuonzo Martin and Frank Martin. I’ve refrained from using the term “murder ball” this whole preview, because it’s cliche every time these two meet up. But someone has to win the damn thing, and two wretched offenses almost guarantee it’ll come down to the wire. Why not Missouri?