Saturday, January 30, 2010

USC Prime To Salvage NCAA Tournament Goal

South Carolina has thrived, struggled, run, scrapped, pressured and fought their way to a seemingly disappointing 12-8 record following the upset of the #1 Kentucky Wildcats.  The regular season is now two-thirds complete with 10 games remaining before the SEC Tournament.  Five of the remaining games are at the Colonial Life Arena, which has quickly become an exciting place to see basketball if you're a Gamecock fan and a hostile place for visiting teams with its' sixth man affect, The Garnet Army.  Under second year Head Coach Darrin Horn, South Carolina has an 85% winning percentage at home.

The season obviously started with the hopes of a NCAA bid, with the addition of newcomers with various support skills to improve on a team that just missed a chance to play in the NCAA the previous season.  But a season ending injury to the 6'7" star forward Dominique Archie and the dismissal of starting 6'7" forward Mike Holmes, placed a cloud of doubt over the season.  Adding insult to injury, the adjusting Gamecocks squad lost a shocker to the little regarded Wofford Terriers and the season and its' goals seemed destined for failure and disappointment.  Local and national analysts began writing South Carolina out of the SEC eastern division race, where they were co-champions the previous season.  After opening with wins over Auburn and LSU, considered to be non-contenders, the Cocks dropped contests against Vanderbilt, Ole Miss. (16-4), and a heart-breaker to Florida.  The Florida loss may prove to be a positive and valuable loss.  Devan Downey leading the team and the SEC in scoring (in SEC Play) has emerged as the nucleus of danger to opponents and the spark that starts a fire in the Horn defensive and offensive schemes.  The recent upset of the Wildcats followed the Gator loss and was accomplished with increased effort. Horn and his coaching staff, along with Downey, have sold effort and poise to a basically young unit that have been forced to grow into vital roles early and effectively. So the result is a 12-8 3-3 season with 10 conference games remaining, 5 at home against Georgia (9-9), Florida (15-5), Tennessee (15-4), Mississippi State (15-5) and Alabama (13-7),  3 tough games at Tennessee, Kentucky (19-1) and Vanderbilt (16-3), 2 other road match-ups that are favorable to the Gamecocks when their playing their best at Georgia and Arkansas (9-11).  The game formula is; 3-3 plus 5 at home minus 3 on the road plus 2 on the road equals 10-6 in the SEC for the regular season (19-11 overall).  Add one - two wins minimum in the SEC tournament for the 20-win season with a win over #1 on the resume and an NCAA bid is highly probable.  Add any additional road games to the formula and it becomes a lock.  Following the loss to Florida, South Carolina fell to 88 in the RPI, but the Kentucky win followed by a Georgia victory should move the Cocks to the high 70's and closer to the field of 64.

The real emphasis is for the Gamecocks to protect home court for the remainder of the season, take at least 2, maybe even three on the road, win a tournament game and let the NCAA bid talk begin.  Continue the discussions with Player of the Year and Coach of the Year honors. This is the road map to March Madness, now lets play it out one game at a time.  The first goal beat Georgia and the journey begins.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Georgia Guards Will Struggle Against Downey & Company

We've all seen what Devan Downey can do to a team with great guards, now Georgia Head Coach, Mark Fox, will have to contend with a game preparation with a struggling Bulldog back-court.  6'10 Sophomore sensation, Trey Thompkins scored 24 points against Florida and Senior Guard Ricky McPhee also scored 21 in the game, but the team, committed 19 turnovers leading to 33 Florida points in a 87-71 Gator victory.  Georgia, often playing in a three guard lineup with the lone senior McPhee at 6'1", Dustin Ware 5'11" and Travis Leslie 6'4" will have to rely on extremely improved play to counter Coach Darrin Horn's back-court combinations starting with the virtually impossible to stop Downey at 5'9", the physical Lakeem Jackson 6'5" and streak shooter Brandis Raley-Ross 6'5".

Coach Horn will have the luxury of going back to his full court and half court trapping combinations, which he vacated in the Kentucky game to use other schemes to counter the much larger and athletic Wildcat squad.  With the Bulldogs struggling to protect the ball the Saturday evening contest will open the door to harassing defensive pressure in the hostile confines of the Colonial Center, where Horn has developed a prompt advantage for his Gamecock program.  The Garnet Army will verbally harass the opposing teams while inspiring the USC players and motivating louder cheers from the remaining general fan base. 

While Georgia is a fairly good shooting team, and was able to generate 59.6% shooting (57.1% from 3 point range) against Florida, the 19 turnovers limited their shots to 47 for the game.  In recording a 16 point win, Florida shot 53.3% overall and 43.8% from long range.  But the 33 points off steals and forced turnovers provided 13 more shots, most of which were fast-break layups.  A 13-7 advantage in offensive rebounds also provided the assistance to the margin of victory.

Expect more of the same, as the front-court of the Gamecocks, led by Sam Muldrow, Austin Steed and Jonathan Jefferson, will be able to hold their own in the paint with the defensive harassment taking place in back-court and around the perimeter.  The 40 minutes of expected high risk defense should not offer too many easy baskets to the Bulldogs and USC will only need continued success of Downey offensively, who appears to be in a zone right now.  All other game average contributions by the Cocks should lead to an eventual easy victory for the host club.

Thompkins may be one of the best big men in the SEC, McPhee, Ware and Leslie are good perimeter shooters, but the USC man-to-man and trapping defenses should make spot up shooting extremely difficult.  Likewise, the Georgia back-court are good athletes but may not be very good "on ball" defenders.  Expect to see a few zone schemes by the Bulldogs in an attempt to keep Downey out of the lane as much as possible.  If the Gamecocks have come down from the Kentucky victory and have retained the motivation for the defensive floor effort, all have become accustomed to, an upset by the Athens bunch should not be a reality.

UGA v UF Highlights          UGA-UF Stats

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Downey Out Plays Wall and Horn Out Coaches Calipari

Game Stats      Post Game Video       Video Highlights

With John Wall anointed the best player in college basketball and John Calipari already in discussions as the best coach modern day College Hoops,  few considered the basketball mastery of Devan Downey nor the basketball IQ of the second year South Carolina Head Coach, Darrin Horn.  Kentucky was just recognized as the Number 1 team in the land, following a 101-70 trouncing of Arkansas and South Carolina recently lost a heart breaking buzzer-beater in Florida to set the stage for an anticipated Kentucky dominated game for the kings of basketball from the bluegrass state.  Somebody forgot to tell Horn, Downey and Associates that they were supposed to lose.  Coach Horn, who is 3-0 against Kentucky since coming to USC, prepared the Gamecocks for another SEC game with emphasis in half court pressure, inbounds challenges to Wall and Company taking away their rhythm, ball control, possession management and the easy decision to leave the green light on for Downey to attack late in possessions, while his bigs attacked the offensive glass.  ESPN tabbed this Big Tuesday Game never realizing the monumental ending USC 68 - Kentucky 62 for the 48 hour #1 ranking, an upset by standards, but just another big win in the early resume of Horn, Downey and Associates in less than two seasons.

Horn, who has been a genius in a season and a half in creating one of the most hostile environments for visiting teams, has trained his Garnet Army  personally in the art of team support, energy creation and competitor distraction.  The Garnet Army sets the tone for excitement, Horn's defensive pressure schemes generate opponent disruptions, while entertaining a supporting crowd that feeds off the Garnet Army enthusiasm.  The result is a basketball arena the we can honestly say is the "House That Horn Rebuilt".  If there was ever a time to believe in the Under Armour tag "Protect This House", Horn has established an 88% home winning percentage for his young career and it appears that he values his property.  Horn has taken a team reduced by talent and experience with the loss of two key starters prior to conference play and has sold role playing, increased effort, team defense and confidence to a young squad under great floor leadership.  Horn recently said that he was not building a team but that he was building a program, it appears he is well on his way.  Even President Barack Obama tried to encourage the Calipari group that South Carolina wasn't a challenging venue to play, during his thank you call to the Wildcat team for their efforts in raising over $1.3Million for the Haiti Relief initiative.

Some of the key points to see in this game that makes his coaching and success a potential mystery to the novice fan or to a statistician;

In victory South Carolina shot 34.4% to 38.6% for Kentucky.  Downey was only 9-29 in scoring his game high 30 points, with 3 assists of the team's meager 6 assists.  DeMarcus Cousins was 9-17 scoring 27 points to go with his 12 rebounds.  South Carolina shot 26.7% from the field in the first half.  So how did South Carolina win? 

Aggressive defense often kept the ball early out of the hands of Wall.  South Carolina attacked the guards Wall and Eric Bledsoe at the point of entry or outlet, they hindered their run-outs, they controlled the pace of the game and with Downey's weaving penetration he curled a left hand layup as the first half expired and the Wildcats were nursing a hard fought 29-26 lead.  Offensively, the Gamecocks kept the floor spread and ran a patient and deliberate offense and often with time running down, Downey broke down the Kentucky defense and either made a shot or missed a shot that allowed the USC big men to collect 17 of 20 offensive rebounds, the remaining 3 went to Downey himself at 5'9".  The defense caused 9 turnovers from the heralded freshman back-court of Wall and Bledsoe.  Sam Muldrow who collected 9 blocks against Kentucky last year in Columbia, was a human eraser again with 5 blocked shots.  While the game had it's big moments with big shots it was the little things.  The USC pressure and defensive success did not allow Calipari to use much of his bench and when he did it was not for long, his starters were forced to play extremely longer than normal with four players playing more than 31 minutes for the Wildcats.  South Carolina supposedly thinner on the bench was able to get more productive minutes from its' bench.  Kentucky received no points from its' bench.  South Carolina was more efficient with the basketball, with only 11 turnovers, leading to 1 point for Kentucky.  USC on the other hand scored 7 points on 15 Wildcat turnovers.  Kentucky known for its high potent offense, large roster, actually considered to be the tallest team in America and its' transition game could only score 3 second chance points and scored a mere 5 points on fast-breaks.  South Carolina on the other hand had 16 second chance points.  Muldrow's 9 pts/11rebs/5blks along with Bandis Raley-Ross' 17 pts/5 rebs was all the scoring support necessary, to go with the 13 pts scored by the remaining USC, to make up the staff performance of Horn, Downey & Associates. 

If you don't believe Horn is building a program just ask the senior partners of national powerhouse known as Calipari, Wall, Cousins, Bledsoe & Patterson.  Oh, did I forget to mention, NBA bound Patrick Patterson took only four shots for a total of 5 points in 35 minutes.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Payback For Gators & Parsons In Win Against Gamecocks

Game Stats              Highlight Video

Almost one year to the day, Florida found themselves in Columbia, SC with a one point lead and Chandler Parsons at the free throw line with a one and one opportunity be missed the free throw and with 3.3 seconds to go Mike Holmes throws a touch down pass to Zam Fredrick, who scores as time runs out USC wins 70-69.  Now fast forward to one year later, the scene, Gainesville, FL, 5.1 seconds Devan Downey had just scored on a leaner to give the Gamecocks the lead 56-55.  Erving Walker receives the inbounds pass and races up the floor with no timeouts, with Parsons asking for the ball on the left wing, Walker delivers and Parsons hits the three pointer to give the Gators a Buzzer-Beater Payback win 58-56 against the Gamecocks.  Parsons finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. He missed his first three 3's, but hit the only one they needed.  "Honestly, I was just in the right place at the right time," Parsons said. "I struggled shooting all game long, but it felt good and it definitely felt good to do it at home and get a win like this."

The game was highlighted by the Devan Downey Show.  Downey's accomplishments were overshadowed by the Parsons' game winner, but it was not a distraction for fans, scouts, analysts and commentators.  The 5'9" Downey played 38 minutes, scored 36 points on 12 of 25 shooting, scoring from NBA range on 3's, dropping buckets on Florida post players in the paint with relative ease and never allowing his harassing defense to be affected by his offensive showing.  Billy Donovan, Florida's Head Coach said that Downey's performance reminded him of LSU's All American Chris Jackson who scored 44 against a Rick Pitino coached Kentucky team at Rupp Arena.  Basically both players in different eras scored big in small bodies against double teams and special defensive schemes.

The teams were very evenly matched and it was apparent early that this game could come down to the team with the best late run or the team with the ball last as the game offered 17 lead changes and 11 ties with Florida holding the largest lead at one point of only 6 points in the second half.  Florida was able to place 4 players in double figures on 22-53 shooting.  South Carolina on the other hand saw no player with more than 6 points on 21-55 shooting, other than Downey's 36 points by shooting 25 of the team 55 attempts.  It was nearly a one man victory for Downey and the Gamecocks.  It appears that even the best of efforts of what is currently the leading scoring in the SEC and possibly the Conference MVP, can generate a win without assistance of the remaining 8 players in game rotation.  Downey is forced to work hard for his points, making the game often a play ground highlight showing and the result no assists for the USC and SEC star, who has the ball in his possession more than any other combination of guards on the team.  The team produced only 4 assists on the evening and is last in the league in team assists.

To show how evenly the game was played; shooting USC 21-55, UF 22-53; free throws USC 8-13, UF 10-13; rebounds USC 34, UF 36(offensive USC 11, UF 10); team fouls USC 15, UF 11; three point shooting USC 6-22, UF 4-15; steals; USC 6, UF 4; turnovers USC 7, UF 10.   Florida was able to win the assist battle outright 14-4 with Walker distributing 7 assists to add to his 13 points and 5 rebounds at 5'10", another finalist for the Bob Cousey Award.

USC (11-8, 2-3) will have to quickly regroup and find a way to get ready to play the No. 1 team in the country, Kentucky (19-0), led by the best freshman in college basketball, point guard John Wall, who like Downey can take over a game, but does not have to because he has five other very solid offensive teammates.  Wall can score 30 points while dishing out 8-10 assists, and he plays defense and rebounds as well.  Head Coach Darrin Horn will have 48 hours to get his team ready to score from other jersey numbers.  The good news is the first showing between the two squads is in South Carolina where Horn teams have been difficult to beat.

Key Game Notes:

Devan Downey has now scored more than 2000 points in his 4 year college career.

Points in the paint-SC 18,UF 30.

Fast break points-SC 0,UF 4.

Bench points-SC 9,UF 2.

2nd chance points-SC 10,UF 8.