Friday, February 19, 2010

USC Returns To The Comforts of Home Against Tennessee

SEC Standings               South Carolina Stats                 Tennessee Stats         

After a tough two games on the road, the Gamecocks (14-11, 5-6) return home where opponents of the South Carolina Basketball Program find it hard to get a win.  The Tennessee Vols (19-6, 7-4) will come into the Colonial Life Arena, better known as "The House That Horn Rebuilt" on Saturday afternoon trying to keep their winning momentum alive.  After finding the road again tough with losses at Georgia and Arkansas, Darrin Horn and team are understandably excited about returning home to the arena that has allowed few to leave with a victory since Horn has arrived in Columbia.  Sporting a record of 11-2 at home this season, including a win over then #1 Kentucky and only 2 regular season losses at home last year, Horn's first season.

Tennessee is fresh off a 69-60 victory at home against Georgia, but Tennessee while posting a 13-1 record at home this season is only 3-4 away from Knoxville.  South Carolina plays extremely well in the Colonial Life Arena for a few obvious reasons, but it appears that the Horn developed and inspired Garnet Army has raised the level of home court advantage and the energy deployed on game day in Columbia.  Returning the fan attention to the student body, along with reaching out to the female fan base, has allow the hosting basketball team to create a very hostile venue to visit and a tough place for opponents to execute their offense.  The atmosphere seems to fuel defensive energy in the Gamecocks and the fans appear ready to fuel the team's adrenaline following every positive play and any noticed extra individual effort displayed by the USC players.

While the NCAA may be a long shot, if a possibility at all, the post season still offers the NIT, which could be a better location for a team being built into a program.  To get in even that post season event requires wins.  Chances are great that South Carolina would host a couple of NIT games before having go on the road if they can continue to taking care of business at home and steal a victory or two in the SEC tournament.  A lot will ride on the game Saturday afternoon for both squads, but USC and Coach Horn have the advantage of being able to protect their house with a sixth man that is ready to execute with energizing support for 40+ minutes.

While the road has been tough, the welcome that awaits the Cocks as they return home Saturday to take on the Vols, who gave the Gamecocks one of the two regular season home losses last season, and get back to their winning ways should be extremely comforting to the competitive young men who believe in and support one another, the characteristic of a real team.  Hopefully the fan base will allow them to restore some of their confidence and aggressiveness to compete as always in Columbia.

The keys to victory tomorrow; re-identify with intense defense, challenge shots in the post and gain the same scoring output as displayed on the road over the last week, but support it with more interior offensive play to get to the free throw line more and make the opposing defense cover the entire floor with all five players.  If they continue to protect the ball as a team, gain a better balance of shot selection from post to perimeter and close the gap between their opponents and them at the free throw line, Coach Horn will continue to appreciate the term..."Home Sweet Home". 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hogs Handle Cocks To Remain Atop The SEC West

Game Stats            Post Game/Highlight Access

On paper the teams appeared very similar, but on the floor in the Bud Walton Arena Arkansas (14-12, 7-4) was the clear dominant team winning 92-79 after leading by as much as 21 points in the second half.  The game was relatively close in the first half with each team trading buckets during various series, but just before the half Arkansas guard, Marcus Britt, stripped Devan Downey near half court, while Downey was attempting to gain instructions from South Carolina Head Coach, Darrin Horn.  Britt cruised in for the easy layup and extended the lead to 40-33 for the half.  Coach Horn accepted the blame for a play change at the last minute that briefly allowed Britt to slide in for the steal. 

With over 13,000 Razorbacks fans in attendance, the Hogs came out of the locker room and started a second half dunk-fest as aggressive defense and transition led to multiple dunks from run-outs, penetration & dishes and a few drop step.  The host team made an early second half 17-1 run that basically decided the fate of the Gamecocks at about the 14 minute mark.  The South Carolina (14-11, 5-6) second half defense was literally nonexistent as point guard Courtney Fortson, ran the transition game to near perfection, muscling his way to 19 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 steals.  His steals often led to powerful finishes by Freshman Forward Marshawn Powell, 26 points, 8 rebounds and Senior Center Mike Washington 8 points, who also went over the 1,000 point total for his college career.  The Razorbacks of late had been receiving balanced scoring and it continued with guards Rotnei Clark 13 points (3-7 3-point) and Britt 12 points to round out the starter scoring.  The Hogs' balanced offensive floor attack resulted in 30-55 shooting (54.5%) and attacking the paint led to 27-39 (75%) from the free throw line.  Powell stated during post game interviews that his offensive output was predicted by Fortson in the locker room prior to the game after reviewing and preparing for the match-ups.

The Gamecocks on the other hand were 31-69 (44.9%) and 6-12 (50%) from the line.  Sam Muldrow had a career high 23 points, on 9-13 shooting, to go along with 8 rebounds.  However, the team's power forward was 4-6 from long range and his perimeter approach resulted in only one trip to the free throw line (1-2).  The SEC leading scorer, Downey (28 points) was 11-28 from the field, 2-7 from long range with 7 assists and 4 steals.  The only other significant scorer for the visitors was Brandis Raley-Ross with 16 points on 6-12 shooting (3-7 3-point).  All three scored the majority of their points in the second half after the insurmountable lead was established by Arkansas.

The lack of defensive pressure and disruption to the Razorback guards, along with no answer for their penetration and power finishes led to the lopsided second half and disappointing loss for the Gamecocks.  Arkansas' Fortson was not totally sharp in the half court and on transition early as some sloppy play recorded 8 turnovers for the Razorback point guard, but USC countered that total with Downey's highest turnover total for the season with 8 mistakes on the night for the Cocks.  Both teams had spots of sloppy play with a total of 38 turnovers, 20 belonging to Arkansas.  For the second game in a row, the Gamecocks continued approach to perimeter scoring versus an opponent willing to play inside/out resulted in 30 fouls committed for the Cocks against only 16 for their opponents.  Head Coach John Pelphrey's team shot 36 free throws connecting on 27, while the 6-12 Gamecock total was a scoring difference of 21 points just at the free throw line.  The win gives Arkansas a complete game led over Mississippi State (18-8, 6-5) in the West.

Next up for the Gamecocks, Tennessee (19-6, 7-4) in Columbia, SC Saturday before traveling to Lexington, Ky to take on the Kentucky (25-1, 10-1).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

USC and Arkansas Look To Rebound

Coach Horn Pre-Game

South Carolina (14-10, 5-5) travels to Fayetteville to meet the Arkansas Razorbacks (13-12, 6-4) with both teams coming off close losses on Saturday.  The Gamecocks lost to Georgia in Athens 66-61 and the Razorbacks lost in Tuscaloosa 73-68.  The teams are very familiar in size and playing style.  The Razorbacks after a slow start find themselves atop the SEC West following a recent 5 game winning streak that ended with the loss to Alabama this past weekend.  Arkansas is not as protective of its home arena as South Carolina carrying a 11-7 home record, but they are 4-1 at home since entering conference play.

Both squads, coached by young coaches, Darrin Horn for South Carolina and John Pelphrey at Arkansas, rely on scoring from their sub six-foot point guards, both teams like to run and turn up the tempo with defensive pressure.  Both teams receive very little scoring from their reserves and will go 9 players deep in rotation.  But that may be where the comparisons stop, Arkansas has been able to get balanced double digit scoring from four members of the starting line up, 5'11" Courtney Fortson averages 19.7 ppg, 6'0" Rotnei Clarke 16.1 ppg, 6'7" Marshawn Powell 14.8 ppg and 6'9" Mike Washington 12.7 ppg.  With South Carolina getting the bulk of its scoring from 5'9" Devan Downey at 22.8 ppg  and 6'2" Brandis Raley-Ross 11.0.  Arkansas has been able to reel off 5 straight SEC victories this season, South Carolina only been able to post back to back victory in the conference this season.

Downey's ability to create problems for any team is well documented, but his recent 18-60 (26.7%) shooting would be considered a concern by most, but Coach Horn does not appear to be concerned over the percentages, just the effort and game ending results.  Horn will be satisfied to challenge the home court advantage by Pelphrey's team by staying close and having a chance to take control late and win.  Pelphrey on the other hand will try to keep Downey out of the paint, challenge the post players and make South Carolina win or die by the long ball.  With Downey, expect Pelphrey to use the same philosophy of recent coaches, to make Downey work to get near the basket and force him well off the arc to score from beyond the imaginary NBA 3-point line.

Likewise, recent trends have watched South Carolina opponents' turnovers come way down, allowing less transition buckets and limiting extra possessions, which generally lead to more shots, something the Gamecocks will need if they are going to rely on the normal scoring trend to win in Arkansas.  Sam Muldrow will need to get into the half court offense in this game to increase the Gamecock chances of winning, unless Lakeem Jackson can generate substantial offense in transition. If the Razorbacks get hot from the outside with its' three guard offense, this could be a long night for the Gamecocks, because the Arkansas post is an adequate transition and rebounding group that can score in the post in isolation.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cold Shooting Finally Fails The Cocks In Athens

Game Stats   Game Highlights

South Carolina (14-10, 5-5) could not score in the final minutes of the game in Athens to lose a much needed game 66-61 after leading Georgia (11-12, 3-7) by 10, 52-42, with a little over 9 minutes remaining in the contest.  With a late winter storm leaving snow and ice all over the midlands of South Carolina, the Gamecocks traveled to Athens hoping for a win and another step toward the NCAA post season festival.

The Cocks shot themselves out of the game and possibly out of the NCAA dance, by avoiding the post in half court offenses and settling for the tough 3-point score rather than forcing the Dawgs to play defense in the paint.  Georgia only committed 7 fouls with only Ricky McPhee recording 2 fouls for the game.  Devan Downey (6-22) and Brandis Raley Ross (7-18) were 13-40 of the 65 shots taken for the game by the Gamecocks.  26 of the shots by the starting back court were from long distance, connecting on only 7.  With 2 3's in a row by Downey finishing the first half for South Carolina to leave the game at a tie, 31-31, the visitors entered the second half with a less than urgent character as the perimeter shooting and some cold Bulldogs shooting in the first 10 minutes of the second half allowed USC to sneak to a lead that placed urgency to Head Coach Mark Fox's Bulldogs.  By placing the offense in an inside-out rhythm, the Dawgs chipped away at the USC lead from the paint, the free throw line and long range to outscore the Cocks 24-9 to finish the game. At one period Georgia went 13-0 in the overall run.  The 36 points, 18 each by Ross and Downey was little less than impressive the post un-attacked and Georgia left to relax in the post.  Georgia played all five starters in 33 minutes or more and was able to get balanced shot selection and scoring from post to perimeter with Trey Thompkins scoring 21, Jeremy Price 16 and Travis Leslie 15.  Thompkins added 10 rebounds for his 6th double-double of the season.

Sam Muldrow played 27 minutes shooting 8 shots making only 2, and no trips to the free throw line.  Georgia was 20-23 from the charity stripe versus USC 4-6.  The lack of fouls committed with the ball staying on the USC perimeter allowed the Bulldogs to keep the Gamecocks off the line.  Georgia only took 49 official shots from the field for the game, 16 less than South Carolina.  16 is the exact number of 3-point shots taken by Fox's home team, which is 16 less than the 32 taken by the visiting team.  Coach Horn will have to find a better blend of shots, ball movement and post use in the offense to be successful for the remainder of the season.  All teams will be able to defend and create difficult shots for a perimeter oriented squad with its leading scorer the 5'9" point guard and all other scoring threats a mystery.  In the current trend, USC will have to rely on spectacular perimeter scoring or tremendous offensive rebounding to win a significant number of the remaining games.

Next up Arkansas in Fayetteville, Wednesday for the true "do or die" game for NCAA post season invitation to the dance.  Without this win, the Cocks will be forced to make the finals of the SEC, and without at least a 9-7 conference record, the trip to the big dance will require a tournament championship.  Horn's a fighter, will his team adopt his tenacity?         Click Here To View NCAA Selection Process....Mock Selection