South Carolina is 7-4, with losses to BU, Wichita State, UNI, and Houston. They’re coming off a 67-54 win over Clemson. South Carolina has been really inconsistent so far this season: they were picked 10th in the preseason SEC rankings, but they’ve had moments when they look like a Tournament team. And moments when they look like a middle school squad.
Player to Watch: Canadian AJ Lawson. Lawson is a 6’7” combo guard who flirted with the NBA last summer. He will have the ball in his hands on every possession. He’s a stat-sheet-stuffer who thrives in the open floor; Virginia needs to slow him down and make him play in the half court. But even then, he’s effortlessly quick (if that makes sense).
Lawson also plays great individual defense. Whoever Lawson is guarding won’t be scoring much, not that Virginia has a problem with that because no one is scoring much.
And Kihei needs to watch those lazy passes – Lawson will jump the passing lane and take it back in a hurry.
Deep Ball: Virginia’s Achilles Heel is someone getting hot from three point range (of course, that’s probably every team’s Achilles Heel). About 30% of South Carolina’s shots are three pointers, and they make about 29% of them, making five per game. They have five guys who attempt three pointers, and two guys who can make them: the aforementioned AJ Lawson (36% from deep) and Jair Bolden (39%).
Strengths : South Carolina is a solid defensive squad, allowing opponents a meager 37.9% field goal percentage, good enough for 28th in the nation (Virginia is, of course, first). They generate over seven steals per game, and score on the break. They want to play fast.
Weaknesses : They’re not very good playing halfcourt basketball, which is exactly what Virginia will force them to do. South Carolina plays smallish, with only Maik Kotsar, an Estonian senior big man, with any mass up front, so Virginia’s size should give them trouble. They’re also crap from the free throw line; Lawson’s their best and he’s only 80%.
Matchup to Watch: Lawson is the primary ballhandler, but he towers over Kihei and he’s also their primary scorer. With no real backup, Kihei can’t foul, and Lawson is a threat to score from anywhere. So Lawson will attack the basket and dare Kihei to risk fouling him. So far this season, Kihei has guarded the opposing point guard, but Lawson, while the primary ballhandler, isn’t a great matchup for Kihei.
I’d like to see Kihei defending Jair Bolden, their best three point shooter. Bolden’s favorite shot is the uncontested three pointer at the top of the key with his feet set. Kihei would make him uncomfortable. But that would give Morsell his greatest challenge of the young season: defending AJ Lawson. Lawson is long (6’7”) but skinny; he won’t bully Morsell.
But Kihei has defied expectations since he arrived; maybe he shuts Lawson down too.