Saturday, February 6, 2010

#14 Versus Unranked, USC at Tennessee An Even Match

Devan Downey Highlights          Darrin Horn Pregame     

Ranked 14th in college basketball and hosting unranked South Carolina (13-8, 4-3) may provide no advantage for the Tennessee Vols (17-4, 5-2).  Other than the rankings and records, today these teams are extremely close and competitive.  The odds makers call it even, and under the surface it is even closer.  Lets look at the picture, undermanned due to key player losses, Tennessee hosted #1 Kansas and pulled the shocker of the season, a 76-68 upset.  But that was then, fast forward 16 days and South Carolina undermanned with key losses of starters, and totally unconsidered, hosted then #1 Kentucky and completed the bigger shocker with a 68-62 victory over the Wildcats.

The two teams have a few similar features.  First there is the point guard position; 6'3" Bobby Maze has become a very effective floor leader showing the saavy of a inner city ball player and the poise of a coach on the floor, versus Devan Downey at 5'9", who has become this season's most exciting player leading the SEC in scoring (22.9 ppg & 31.6 in SEC games) and the country in steals (3 spg).  Both point guards average over 3 rebounds a game to go with their other contributions.  Then there is the supporting cast, the Vols now count on primary scoring from Maze, Wayne Chism and J.R. Prince, who have averaged 36.1 points per game over the last three games or 55% of the offensive production.  The Gamecocks on the other had look for scoring from Downey, Sam Muldrow and Brandis Raley-Ross contribute 42.6 points per contest or 57% of the team scoring.  The Vols can get double figures from 6'7" guard Scotty Hopson (13.3 ppg) any night, although his scoring has been down as of late.  South Carolina counts on explosive transition baskets from 6'5" guard/forward Lakeem Jackson who can offer double digits attacking the paint.  6'9" Chism averages a double-double (14 pts/10 rebs) in SEC play, while 6'9" Muldrow is coming off a double-double (19 pts/11 rebs) in their come-from-behind victory against Georgia.  Defensively both teams like to put pressure on the back-court, trapping, jumping passing lanes and generating turnovers.  Both teams are riding two game win streaks after 2 and 3 game losing streaks.

Then there are the coaches; Tennessee Head Coach Bruce Pearl is intense, aggressive and animated, while South Carolina Head Coach Darrin Horn is intense, aggressive but non-animated in his corporate demeanor.  The difference in this game will likely come down to bench play and scoring, along with the disruptive mis-match that Downey has presented for most teams this season, but definitely all teams in the SEC.  Count on both teams being prepared and focused. 

Keys to a Tennessee victory will be to find a way to keep Downey out of the paint, limit offensive rebounds by Muldrow, Jackson and Austin Steed.  Offensively protect the basketball and score in the mid range, finding spots that will be left open with the USC trapping defensive schemes.  Create turnovers and convert to fast break and transition points, while protecting the basketball in the half court sets.  Big day by Chism, Prince and Hopson is a must.

Keys to a South Carolina victory are to get the obvious points from Downey while others attack the offensive glass for second chance points.  Place pressure on the Tennessee bench which is prone to turnovers, make the extra passes and make open shots that will be available in the aggressive Volunteer half court defense.  Keep Tennessee off the offensive glass.  Bench scoring will also be critical for the Gamecocks.  Points from Raley-Ross, Jackson, Steed or Muldrow and defensive board control by the post players.  Muldrow's shot blocking could also be key.

In a half court possession oriented game the advantage will appear to go to South Carolina with no half court defensive answer for Downey.  While a fast paced transition game will favor the home team with its' athletic players that handle the basketball from perimeter to post in its' three guard lineup as good as any team in the country.  At best the most decisive advantage may be home court.

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