Editor's Note: Stanimal wrote this preview but is unable to post it. As such, all adulation should be directed towards him
The red hot Commodores, winners of seven in a row, come into Columbia for an important road match-up against the South Carolina Gamecocks. A win in this one would give the Dores a 3-0 SEC record, a 2-0 conference road record, and a huge boost heading into a brutal road schedule that includes Kentucky and Tennessee.
On paper, the match-up favors the Commodores. The Gamecocks have been hurt in the paint by the loss of starting forward Dominique Archie to a season-ending injury, and the dismissal of starting center Mike Holmes. Games, however, are not played on paper, and the Gamecocks still represent a dangerous opponent, especially on their own turf.
South Carolina (11-5, 2-0) is #74 in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, and as of Thursday was #68 in realtimerpi. The primary threat for the Gamecocks needs no introduction. They're biggest wins have come against a solid Richmond squad, a Western Kentucky team that beat the 'Dores in Nashville and SEC wins against LSU and Auburn. They're losses have been to Miami, Clemson, Wofford, Boston College and Baylor, none of whom are slouch teams.
The primary threat for the Gamecocks needs no introduction. Devan Downey is a versatile, do-it-all kind of player that can drive, shoot from downtown, and perhaps most importantly, force turnovers. Downey is averaging 20.1 ppg, and 3.06 steals a game, both tops in the SEC. Downey also averages 3.7 assists per game, though he will turn the ball over at 4.1 times per game. Still, Downey is capable of putting the team on his back when they need him, scoring 29 against LSU, 33 against Auburn, and 34 in a close win over Jacksonville. Downey is not the most efficient scorer however, as his field goal percentage is 41%. Downey is the consummate slashing guard that gives Vandy teams fits. While I expect Dolla Beal to guard Downey out of the gate, I would not be surprised if Jeffery Taylor switched on to him, similar to our strategy against Mikhail Torrance on Wednesday.
Beyond Downey, it gets a little tougher figuring out how his supporting cast shapes up because of Archie's injury and Holmes' dismissal. The numbers on these guys The Gamecocks still have 8 players who average double figures in minutes. Senior Brandis Raley-Ross is the only other player who average double figures in ppg at 10.8. He is a dangerous three-point shooter and is burying shots at .425 clip. Junior Sam Muldrow is averaging 9.4 ppg, to go with 5.4 rebounds per game and a staggering 3.4 blocks per game, good for 2nd in the SEC behind Jarvis Varnado of Mississippi State. Muldrow appears to be where the majority of the post-presence has shifted, and since the Gamecocks post-depletion his numbers have increased. This trio is likely to be of primary concern to the Commodores, but there remain solid role players in freshman forward Lakeem Jackson, and junior forward Austin Steed, and senior forward Evaldas Baniulis.
Given the lack of post depth, the Commodores should follow a similar game plan as the Florida and Alabama games. The Gamecocks don't have anyone over 6'9" or 215 pounds on their roster. In addition, Muldrow has a tendency to get into foul trouble, and attacking the basket could keep him off the floor and allow us to take control of the paint early. The Gamecocks love to force turnovers and rank second in the SEC in turnover margin. They also love to press, something for which Vanderbilt should be prepared after games against Missouri and Florida. Making smart decisions on the press break and utilizing Andre Walker's ability as a secondary ball-handler will be key. On offense, it will be important to slow the game down and really work the ball into the post, freeing up Jeff slashing to the hoop and making for open 3s from Beal, Tinsley and Jenkins.
Given the upcoming schedule, Vanderbilt needs to win where it can, and this is certainly a game that they can win. We cannot afford to get complacent against teams we can beat on the road given the brutality of our schedule after Auburn next week. Therefore, the 'Dores have to come to this game ready to play, and if we can pull out a win here and a win over Auburn next week at home, we'll be 4-0 in conference play heading into Rupp.