How and what to watch as Game­cocks face tall task

The State - - Sports - BY AN­DREW RAMSPACHER [email protected]­tate.com

GAME INFO

Who: South Carolina (4-4) at No. 5 Michi­gan (9-0) When: Noon Satur­day Where: Crisler Cen­ter in Ann Ar­bor, Michi­gan KenPom pre­dic­tion:

Michi­gan 76, South Carolina 59

TV: Fox Sports 1 Ra­dio: 107.5 The Game in Columbia area Se­ries: South Carolina leads, 3-2 Last meet­ing: Nov. 23, 2016 — South Carolina won 61-46 in Columbia

STO­RY­LINES

1. Wrong op­po­nent at the wrong time

South Carolina is off to its worst start since Frank Martin’s sec­ond sea­son as USC coach. Its loss to pre­vi­ously 2-6 Wyoming on Wed­nes­day fea­tured 17 missed 3-point­ers, 16 turnovers and a blown half­time lead.

And now comes a le­git­i­mate Fi­nal Four con­tender.

The back end of a home-and-home se­ries comes at con­trast­ing times for th­ese pro­grams. Michi­gan al­ready has wins over Vil­lanova (by 27 points), Providence (by 19), North Carolina (by 17) and Pur­due (by 19). Na­tional run­ners-up last March, the Wolver­ines ap­pear ready for an­other deep post­sea­son run. The Game­cocks, who also have No. 4 Vir­ginia and Clem­son left on the non­con­fer­ence sched­ule, are look­ing at a be­low .500 record en­ter­ing SEC play. 2. Shoot­ing strug­gles vs. stout de­fense

The Game­cocks have shot be­low 30 per­cent from 3 in four games this sea­son, in­clud­ing the cold dis­play against Wyoming’s 2-3 zone. They’re next-to­last in the SEC in over­all field goal per­cent­age.

“Couldn’t make layups, couldn’t make 3s,” Martin said Wed­nes­day af­ter the Game­cocks went 22 of 66 from the floor. “Can’t go on the road and win if you can’t make layups. And you got to make some 3s.”

Michi­gan en­ters Satur­day as the No. 1 de­fense in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to Ken Pomeroy’s ef­fi­ciency rank­ings.

How can USC cre­ate easy of­fense? Per­haps by es­tab­lish­ing pace. The Game­cocks, ac­cord­ing to KenPom, play at the na­tion’s 26th-quick­est tempo. Michi­gan is No. 334 in KenPom’s tempo rat­ings. Get­ting tran­si­tion looks will be key for USC. 3. Canada con­nec­tion

On the Satur­day slate, there’s few col­lege bas­ket­ball games fea­tur­ing bet­ter fresh­men fac­ing one an­other.

USC’s A.J. Law­son (49) and Michi­gan’s Ig­nas Brazdeikis (50) are not only among The Ath­letic’s top 50 prospects for the 2019 NBA Draft, they’re both from On­tario.

Law­son ranked as Canada’s fifth-best prospect in the 2018 class and Brazdeikis ranked sixth, ac­cord­ing to NorthPoleHoops.com.

MICHI­GAN

Coach: John Beilein (808-461 in 41 sea­sons over­all; 12th sea­son at Michi­gan — 257-143) Pro­jected starters: G Jor­dan Poole (11.9 points per game), G Charles Matthews (13.3), G Zavier Simp­son (6.8), F Ig­nas Brazdeikis (17.0), C Jon Teske (8.1) Last game: Beat North­west­ern 62-60 on Tues­day in Evanston, Illi­nois

KenPom rank­ing: 4 (No. 19 in of­fen­sive ef­fi­ciency, No. 1 in de­fen­sive ef­fi­ciency)

Notes: The Wolver­ines went 1-1 against the SEC last sea­son, in­clud­ing a 99-72 win over Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tour­na­ment. ... Michi­gan is No. 1 in the Big Ten in scor­ing de­fense (52.7 points per game), field goal per­cent­age de­fense (35.3) and as­sist to turnover ra­tio (1.6). It’s sec­ond in the league in scor­ing mar­gin ( plus-19.2). ... The Wolver­ines have won 23 of their past 24 games, with the only loss com­ing to Vil­lanova in the 2018 na­tional cham­pi­onship.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Coach: Frank Martin (234-148 in 12 sea­sons over­all; sev­enth sea­son at USC — 117-94) Pro­jected starters: G

T.J. Moss ( 7.0), G A.J. Law­son (14.9), F Keyshawn Bryant (8.0), F Chris Silva (10.3), F Maik Kot­sar ( 7.9) Last game: Fell to Wyoming 73-64 on Wed­nes­day in Laramie, Wyoming

KenPom rank­ing: 104 (No. 173 in of­fense ef­fi­ciency, No. 45 in de­fense ef­fi­ciency)

Notes: In the first 10 min­utes of the sec­ond half, the Game­cocks have been outscored by 21 points this sea­son. They’re plus-52 in the other 30 min­utes. ... Silva set a sea­son-high for shot at­tempts (14), but a near sea­son-low for field goal per­cent­age (21.4) at Wyoming. ... Af­ter log­ging a com­bined 73 min­utes against Wof­ford and Coastal Carolina, Has­sani Gravett played a sea­son­low 18 min­utes in the Wyoming loss. He scored two points.

JEFF BLAKE [email protected]­fBlakePhoto.com

South Carolina Game­cocks head coach Frank Martin dis­putes a call against the Coastal Carolina Chan­ti­cleers dur­ing the sec­ond half at Colo­nial Life Arena.

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