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Can Georgia Handle South Carolina’s Physicality and End the Skid?

Georgia has a new losing streak to stare at.  It has been 1,433 days since Georgia beat South Carolina.

Remember what you were doing on March 11, 2016?  What was life like way back then?  It seems eons ago, doesn’t it?  It might be a surprise to consider that Georgia has not defeated South Carolina since then or maybe not considering the directions the programs have went since that 65-64 win in the SEC Tournament.  Georgia experienced further toxicity, corruption, and enough failure to finally bring about a regime change.  South Carolina did not do much, they just went to the Final Four, not much of a big deal.  It is just a Final Four appearance that involved cutting down nets at Madison Square Garden.  South Carolina was a part of the confirmation that the Moneyball era of College Basketball was in full swing, but programs like Georgia and Alabama were still operating under the old “Jimmies and Joes” way of doing business with basketball in the major metropolitan areas of the Southeast, most notably – Atlanta.

Steve Spurrier, Dawn Staley, Ray Tanner, and Frank Martin graced the University of South Carolina during the 2010s bringing Football, Women’s Basketball, Baseball, and Men’s Basketball to heights previously unseen in University of South Carolina Athletics History.  It is not coincidence that this happened and this sort of success should continue in Columbia.  It is not necessarily about competence, it is about demographics, population increases, and economic activity.  Clemson’s success in Football is also not a surprise and their brief flirtation with success in Men’s Basketball is much like Georgia, but with better results.  South Carolina enjoys more competitiveness in multiple sports than Clemson, which closer emulates the Florida model of success.  It is only a recent phenomenon that UGA has started to emulate Florida’s model, but the success has not followed yet and this is something that takes a bit of time.

South Carolina is playing spoiler… again.

South Carolina has a penchant for underperforming in non-conference play and then playing well in conference action, which puts South Carolina in spoiler mode for an entire conference season.  South Carolina’s record will make them easy to overlook and then in February, they become an extremely dangerous team that has bought into Frank Martin’s system.

In 3 of the past 4 seasons, South Carolina has enjoyed a winning record in conference play.  However, in the last two seasons where they had a winning record in conference play, they came in stumbling out of the non-conference slate.  This season is more unclear than the previous seasons.  South Carolina is only 6-4 in the SEC, which is radically different from other seasons where they were off to a much more torrid start.

South Carolina’s success against SEC opponents certainly hurts the SEC in terms of the number of bids they can earn.  This is already a weaker conference as established by the struggles the conference had as a whole against non-conference competition.

South Carolina is a Dangerous Opponent

South Carolina’s physicality is unmatched by any opponent Georgia has faced.  Dayton, Michigan State, Florida, Auburn, Kentucky, Memphis, and Mississippi State do not play with the level of physicality and brutality that a South Carolina team plays with every game.  It is a war when Georgia faces South Carolina, it used to be this way during the mid-2010s.  South Carolina has a 1,433 day streak for a reason, they have controlled the physicality and were always the alpha team.

South Carolina’s defensive approach is intriguing because their man-to-man defense blends concepts and they do switch to an intriguing 2-3 Zone that also has a blended concept.

South Carolina’s man-to-man defense combines pressure man-to-man defense with some form of a press half the time and they put extreme ball pressure on the perimeter ball handlers.  Perimeter offensive players are denied along the arc and on the interior there is a bit of a sag, which is a borrowed concept from Pack Line Defenses.

The 2-3 Zone that South Carolina uses can be easily confused with a man-to-man, the only way to know if South Carolina is in a zone is to make them move.  This zone is a traditional zone defense, but it is designed to pack the lane and force opponents to shoot rather than force a turnover along the perimeter.  Anything getting into the teeth of the zone brings the packing element to keep everything out of the restricted arc and force a jump shot.

South Carolina’s Achilles Heel is offense.  The Spread Motion of South Carolina is not following the same line of success that Illinois is enjoying this season.  The offensive shot distribution is suboptimal and they are a terrible Free Throw Shooting team coming to a venue where Free Throw Shooters have struggled all season.

South Carolina has been hampered by the offensive issues and largely bailed out by the defense, but there is a bit of an exception. South Carolina allows opponents to get to the Free Throw Line a lot, they allow a 50% Free Throw rate, which is second worst in the nation.

Consider what South Carolina does well, they force turnovers and bad shots from longer distances.  They make opponents work for those shots.

Who to Watch for South Carolina

A.J. Lawson

Lawson is the team’s second best three point shooter.  One of the surprises this season was Jair Bolden rose up to be the team’s best three point shooter.  In the preseason, Trey Anderson was a dark horse possibility for this distinction, but he has not played much because he has not adjusted well enough defensively.  Lawson is a good three point shooter with the ability to do just about everything.  Lawson has seen his role shift from Point Guard to Shooting Guard with the rise of Jermaine Couisnard.

Lawson hit a midseason trough that was during the transition period and he is finding momentum in his last five games.

Jermaine Couisnard

Couisnard has found major momentum in conference action drawing fouls, attacking the rim, getting himself to the Free Throw Line, and creating a shooting rhythm through his aggression.  Couisnard is a good distributor and he has been even better since A.J. Lawson was shifted to off-guard.

Maik Kotsar

Kotsar is a tough player inside the perimeter.  He has a strong mid-range game accompanied by an ability to get to the rim and finish there.  He likes to take baseline mid-range shots and elbow jump shots.  Kotsar lacks speed, but he is challenging to defend and he is disruptive defensively.  He has very active hands.

What to Expect

There are a few things that go in South Carolina’s direction with this game:

  • Physicality against a much less physical opponent.
  • Forcing three point shot attempts against an opponent that takes far too many of them.
  • Ability to block shots against a Georgia team that gets a lot of shots blocked.
  • Ability to force turnovers against a Georgia team that can commit a lot of turnovers.

There are a few things that could go in Georgia’s direction:

  • South Carolina is extremely foul prone and Georgia can exploit this at Stegeman Coliseum.
  • Georgia likes a fast paced game that South Carolina wants to play.
  • South Carolina struggles to get shot attempts in the restricted arc and Georgia struggles with denying this area.
  • South Carolina takes a lot of mid-range shots, which helps Georgia’s rebounding efforts.
  • Opponents shoot 61.3% from the Free Throw Line at Stegeman Coliseum, South Carolina is a 63% Free Throw shooting team on the road.

Georgia’s inability to match South Carolina’s physicality combined with inconsistent defense will hand the victory to South Carolina.  Tom Crean needs to pass the torch and a loss to South Carolina may be what forces him to finally do it.  Jordan Harris, Tyree Crump, and Rayshaun Hammonds have not been the leaders and performers they were expected to be and this disappointing loss will set the staff into motion to make some changes.  Expect Georgia to take far too many three point shots and the Free Throws are held at a minimum as officials swallow their whistles as Georgia does not establish enough of a physical presence to garner respect.

It gets better, it does.  But star ratings and geography do not matter and the past five seasons have proven that the recruiting experts are just… wrong.  Just because the leadership were 4 star talents from the State of Georgia, it does not mean that they were delivering results.  The nucleus of freshmen from out-of-state have a lot in common with the Florida freshmen from the 2004-05 Florida Basketball Team.  They have also fallen under-the-radar much like the South Carolina players from 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Prediction:  South Carolina 71  Georgia 59

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