Scouting the Opposition: Ole Miss Men’s Basketball Travels to Columbia to Face the Gamecocks
The Ole Miss Rebels (18-4, 5-4 SEC) travel to Columbia, South Carolina tonight to take on the No. 15-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks (19-3, 7-2). This will be the first of two meetings between the Rebels and the Gamecocks this season, and we’ve got you covered for all the information you may need to understand who the South Carolina Gamecocks are.
Chris Beard’s Rebels come into this game fresh off their first home loss of the season Saturday night against the Auburn Tigers. Ole Miss came up just short in the second half and lost 91-77. The Rebels played extremely well in the first half, and actually led the Tigers by 9; however, Auburn’s depth really showed in the second half when they outscored Ole Miss, 56-33.
Despite the loss, the Rebels are still receiving votes in this week’s AP Poll where they earned 10 votes after a 1-1 week. Ole Miss is now facing a two-game road trip against two Q1 teams, so the Rebels have a great opportunity to pick up a few wins against some teams at the top of the SEC standings.
South Carolina enters tonight’s contest riding high as the SEC’s hottest team. The Gamecocks are in the midst of a five-game win streak which includes victories over then No.6-ranked Kentucky in Columbia and the No. 5-ranked Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville. Over the weekend, the Gamecocks won another road game, this one coming against the Georgia Bulldogs, 72-62. After that win, media has finally started to take notice of the Gamecocks. Currently, South Carolina is ranked 15th in this week’s AP Poll after not being ranked all season.
Coach Beard’s squad looks to get back on track tonight as they take on a surging Gamecock team. With that said, I want to welcome you to another edition of “Scouting the Opposition,” the South Carolina edition.
Who are the South Carolina Gamecocks?
South Carolina is led by seocond-year head coach Lamont Paris. In his first season at the helm in Columbia, he led the Cocks to a 11-21 record. Because of their disappointing season last year, the media selected the Gamecocks to finish dead last in the SEC. However, this Gamecock team is massively outperforming its preseason expectations. The Gamecocks are currently second in the SEC as we enter February, and Paris is most likely the front-runner for SEC Coach of the Year.
Paris’ squad got here not from their non-conference schedule – which they dominated; rather, it is from their ability to win games in the SEC. South Carolina played a very easy non-conference schedule this season. They went 1-1 in Q1 opportunities with a win over Grand Canyon and a loss to their rival Clemson on the road. They also earned victories over other Power 6 programs like Virginia Tech and Notre Dame. They finished the non-conference rather unscathed with the only loss being to Clemson.
When the Gamecocks entered SEC play, they started 2-2 with a bad loss to Alabama and their only home defeat of the season to Georgia, a Q3 loss. The media then started to discount South Carolina as they thought the team was a little bit overrated because of their poor non-conference strength of schedule. Coach Paris’ squad was quick to prove the media wrong, however. The Cocks are currently ranked 15th in the country and have wins over Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi St. Below is a full breakdown of their quad wins/losses:
According to Joe Lundardi of ESPN.com, the Gamecocks are currently projected to be a 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This is quite the improvement for Paris’ squad, who has already surpassed its entire win total from last season. A win against a much-improved South Carolina squad for Ole Miss would be another great resume booster for the Rebs as they are looking to improve their odds of getting into the dance. Ole Miss is currently listed as an 8 seed, and the Rebels would love to be one of the 9 SEC teams projected to be in the NCAA Tournament.
Scouting the Gamecocks
Lamont Paris’ team is not like most SEC teams Ole Miss has faced this year. Many of the teams the Rebels have matched up against — such as Auburn, LSU, and Florida — have had very dynamic offenses that will try and run whenever possible. This will not be the case for the Gamecocks. Coach Paris built this team on fundamentals. The Gamecocks are excellent at playing defense, assisting, limiting turnovers, and rebounding the basketball. South Carolina will definitely not be the flashiest team Ole Miss has faced; rather, the Gamecocks will be fundamentally sound and will force teams to play their brand of basketball.
South Carolina Offense
The Gamecocks are led by senior guard Ta’lon Cooper. Cooper is averaging 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. He is a transfer from Minnesota, and is one of the best ball handlers in the SEC. The entire Gamecock offense runs through Cooper, and he is excellent in the pick n’ roll scenarios with center, BJ Mack.
Cooper is currently 2nd in the entire SEC in generating assists. Cooper leads one of the slowest-paced offenses in the entire country. They currently rank 345th in the country in pace of play as they love to slow to game and find the right shot. Because of their snail-like offense, South Carolina ranks last in the SEC in fast break points and percentage of points coming from the fast break. They average only 5.7 points in transition this season.
In addition to having the slowest paced offense in the SEC, the Gamecocks also rank dead last in field goal attempts. The Cocks are not one of the premier shooting teams in the conference; rather, they rank on the lower end in every major statistical shooting category. They are currently 11th in the SEC in FG Shooting percentage with an average of 44%. They also rank 2nd to last in 2 point field goals attempted as well as free throws attempted.
The Gamecocks are not a team that takes many shots. But despite their lack of shot attempts, they do shoot very efficiently from behind the 3-point arc. Since the beginning of their 5-game win streak, South Carolina has shot 41% from behind the line on 23 shots per game. These efficient numbers mainly come from Ta’Lon Cooper, who is currently averaging 48% from three, good for the 97th percentile among all players in the NCAA, bench forward Myles Stute, who is shooting 40% from deep, and star SG Meechie Johnson, who ranks in the top 10 in the SEC for 3-pointers made.
Meechie Johnson is Carolina’s best all-around scorer. He is currently averaging 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. He is an excellent three point shooter; however, he has been in a shooting slump in his last five games. Johnson currently ranks in the 87th percentile among scorers across the country, and he is a big help on the defensive boards as he also ranks in the 87th percentile in that category.
Another player to watch is Myles Stute on Carolina’s bench unit. He averages 10 points and 4 rebounds, and he heads the 6th-best bench in the SEC. The 6-foot-7 lanky forward is also a force on defense as he can guard anyone on the court. He’s quick enough to guard most guards in the conference and also tall/lanky enough to take on some of the bigger front court players in the conference as well.
The fourth player to watch out for is senior forward BJ Mack. Mack, who averages 14 points and 5 rebounds per game, is a transfer from Wofford. Mack, who is one of the more interesting players in the SEC, plays very similarly to NC State center DJ Burns who Ole Miss has previously faced.
Mack is your prototypical big-bodied center who loves to play inside and out. He has an ability to score down low, and he has the ability to stretch the floor. Mack does only shoot 48% from two-point range which is only good for being in the 26th percentile. However, he is much more efficient from behind the arc, shooting 31% and in the 50th percentile.
Mack loves to play out of the pick n’ roll and requires a touch on most possessions. He has the highest usage rate, 31%, on the team. When Mack does play in the low block, teams typically collapse their defense on him which leaves an open shooter that Mack normally hits because he is a skilled passer.
Mack really is such a versatile player because he can score off the block or make the extra pass when he needs to. Just like DJ Burns of NC State, Ole Miss does have the size to match-up well with BJ Mack. Ole Miss will not have to collapse its defense when Mack touches the ball on the low block; rather, Brakefield or Cisse have the quickness and length to guard Mack in this area of the court.
Because Mack shoots so well from behind the 3-point line, the Gamecocks do not have a presence on the offensive glass. In the last 5 games, the Cocks rank dead last in the SEC in offensive rebounds per game. Because of their poor offensive rebounding ability, the Cocks also rank dead last in second-chance points per game with 7 total, as well as percentage of second-chance points scored in their last five games.
Another microcosm of Mack’s ability to play outside, the Gamecocks do not score many points in the paint. They rank 13th in the SEC at buckets scored in the paint, good for 29 per game. Paris’ squad also does not get to the free throw line either, as they average only 18 foul shots per game.
In addition to their paint and offensive rebound woes, the Gamecocks also rank last in the SEC in steal percentage and block percentage at 7.6% and 8.2% respectively. This South Carolina squad is not a tall team as their tallest player is backup center Josh Gray who is 6-foot-11. Gray only manages 8 minutes per game; however, he did play a career high in minutes last game against Georgia with 18.
This Gamecock offense is not very effective as the stats show. They rank 13th in the SEC in scoring with 73 PPG, only ahead of Vanderbilt. So the question is, how is this team winning games?
South Carolina defense
South Carolina is led by its defense. Now, this is not the flashiest style of play; however, it does translate to wins. The Gamecocks’ defense ranks top 3 in every major statistical defensive category over the course of its win streak.
- 1st in 0pponent points per game
- 1st in opponent assist generated
- 1st in opponent rebounding
- 2nd in causing Steals
- 1st in opponent pace generated
- 3rd in limiting second-chance points
- 3rd in opponent field goal attempts
These are just some of the categories South Carolina excels in defensively. The best way to describe the Carolina defense is Anaconda-Like. They will suffocate the offensive team by playing great on-ball defense and limiting the opponents number of shots. They force teams to play their style of ball, no matter how quick the other team plays.
Because they slow the pace down with opposing teams, they also limit the number of shots the opposing team takes. Even the highest-performing offenses in the SEC, like Tennessee and Kentucky, struggled shooting the ball against the Gamecocks as they averaged 61 points. South Carolina doesn’t let the opponent score from three, as they rank 3rd in limiting opponent 3-point attempts, and they defend at an extremely high level inside the paint. South Carolina is especially good at defending PNR scenarios as they don’t typically switch defenders a lot because their squad is full of fantastic on-ball defenders.
There are not many weaknesses the Rebels can exploit with the suffocating South Carolina D; however, there are a few weak spots. South Carolina does have an issue with getting into foul trouble. They also do not force a lot of turnovers. These are definitely two areas where the Rebels need to exploit the Gamecocks. In Carolina’s only home loss of the season, coming against Georgia, Carolina committed 24 personal fouls. They also lost the rebounding battle and did not have their typical number of assists.
What to Watch For:
Despite Carolina’s fantastic defense, I think the Rebels really match up well against the Gamecocks. Ole Miss has everything it needs to create an upset in Columbia. Some key things to look out for as the Rebels try and upset the Cocks are:
- Take BJ Mack Out of the Game – Mack requires a touch on every South Carolina possession. He is a crucial part of their offensive scheme every time they go down the court. Most teams try and double team him; however, Brakefield or Sharp have the length and athleticism to single cover Mack and take his presence out of the game,
- Drive, Drive, Drive – Ole Miss has really struggled with scoring on the road in the SEC. It is difficult to go into another team’s building and shoot well. Ole Miss needs to drive to the basket and try to get points in the paint. The Rebs will get easier shots inside because the Gamecocks are not a tall team, and Ole Miss will get the Carolina players into foul trouble. This was a key factor in Georgia defeating SC earlier in the season,
- Play Your Game – Carolina will force Ole Miss to play very slow on the offensive end. Do not give into their defensive pressure. Ole Miss is great at pushing the tempo and running on offense. Try and stay true to that tonight.
Make sure to catch the Ole Miss Rebels taking on the South Carolina Gamecocks tonight at 5:30 CST. The game will air on the SEC Network.
Coleman Young is a 2021 graduate of Ole Miss. Born and raised in Baltimore, Coleman has always been an avid basketball fan, growing up watching the Maryland Terrapins. His love for college hoops grew even more when he attended Ole Miss in 2017. Coleman is a huge fan of all Ole Miss sports as well as the Baltimore Ravens and Orioles. He was previously an Ole Miss College Hoops contributor at OleHottyToddy.com.