South Carolina is a football school. There’s no denying that. But this year, the Gamecocks basketball team looks like a legitimate tournament contender; a group that can hang with almost anybody in the country, and put a scare into the cream of the college hoops crop.
USC is 5-0, coming off an impressive 61-46 win over No. 25 Michigan, and looks to stay perfect Saturday against Syracuse in Brooklyn. It represents the Orange’s first real test of the season, not only because Frank Martin’s team is pretty good, but because it’s a potentially unfavorable matchup for SU.
(Side note: is this technically the “finale” or “championship” of the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational — great name, by the way — even though it’s been on the schedule since April? Is this thing even a tournament? Also, why did the Orange host 75 percent of its games in the “Brooklyn” Hoops Holiday Invitational at the Carrier Dome, which is in Syracuse, which is very obviously not Brooklyn? Hopefully, the Maui Invitational doesn’t institute this policy, because the Fizz needs a staff-wide vacation next year.)
South Carolina cleans the offensive glass as well as almost any team in the country. The Gamecocks collect 40.1 percent of their missed shots, the ninth-best offensive rebounding rate in the nation.
Any opponent that rebounds well on the offensive end represents an issue for Syracuse, because the 2-3 zone inherently puts SU at a disadvantage when the ball clangs off the rim. When playing zone, as opposed to man-to-man, it’s much more difficult to find an opponent to box out (since you’re not guarding one specific player). A split-second is all it takes for a zone team to lose track of an offensive player when a shot goes up.
SU is perennially a below-average defensive rebounding team, and this year is no exception. The Orange is grabbing just over 70 percent of potential defensive rebounds — 227th in the nation — and that’s against four teams that were completely overmatched. Last season, Syracuse rebounded less than 67 percent of opponent misses, the NCAA’s 336th-best (or, more fittingly, the NCAA’s 15th-worst) defensive rebounding rate.
In a 2012 YouTube video posted by South Carolina’s official account, associate head coach Brad Underwood (now the head honcho at Oklahoma State) called offensive rebounding “one of the lost arts of the game,” and “something that we have been really good at in our tenure with Frank Martin.”
Watch for this during the game: when the Gamecocks shoot the ball, all three of its frontcourt players flood to the opposite side of the rim, because — according to Underwood — 75 percent of missed shots fall to the floor on the side away from the shooter. This practice forces the defense to account for three players in one area at the same time.
Sometimes, SU struggles to account for just one player in a given spot, so the Orange could run into some issues in Barclays Center. Saturday’s matchup may be decided during the time when South Carolina’s shots are in the air.