Wichita State (5-0) vs. South Carolina (4-1)
When: 5 p.m. CT on Tuesday
Where: Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, Cancun, Mexico
TV: CBS Sports Network (Brett Dolan and Pete Gillen
Radio: KEYN, 103.7 FM
Vegas line: WSU -2.5
WSU ranking: No. 58 (No. 109 on offense, No. 28 on defense)
USC ranking: No. 80 (No. 100 on offense, No. 65 on defense)
Score prediction: WSU 68, USC 66
WSU’s winning odds: 58 percent
Coach: Frank Martin, eighth season, 133-107
Coach: Gregg Marshall, 13th season, 313-113
The Four Factors
Five keys for Wichita State
1. Finish strong at the rim. Want to know how hard it is for teams to score at the rim against South Carolina? Here, watch this:
Opponents are shooting just 45% at the rim against USC, which is the 12th-best defense in the country. The Gamecocks are also blocking 22% of those attempts at the rim, which is the ninth-highest mark in the country. And it’s not just one shot-blocker on this team.
Freshman starter Wildens Leveque is 6-foot-11 and mobile and although he’s averaging just 11 minutes, he is averaging 5.5 blocks per 40 minutes. His frontcourt mate Maik Kotsar (6-11, 270) is an even bigger body who is an above-average rim protector. Throw in small forward Justin Minaya (a top-200 block rate) and bouncy 6-7 freshman Jalyn McCreary (4.0 blocks per 40 minutes) off the bench and South Carolina has four above-average rim protectors.
WSU hasn’t seen this level of athleticism and shot-blocking ability this season. Trey Wade (12.0 points) is WSU’s leading scorer, but he hasn’t been defended by a 6-11 post yet. How much will that size disadvantage affect his offense?
That kind of length and athleticism can erase a lot of defensive mistakes for South Carolina. That means WSU’s guards who drive the most — Erik Stevenson and Jamarius Burton — will have to be smart about when they attack because at any time there could be three shot-blockers looking to come over and swat the shot at the rim.
The good news is that WSU’s offense doesn’t generate a ton of attempts at the rim, so South Carolina’s biggest advantage might not affect the Shockers as much as it would other teams.
2. Don’t let A.J. Lawson live at the free throw line. Lawson wasn’t a blue-chip prospect coming to South Carolina, but the 6-foot-6, 178-pound guard has developed into an NBA prospect in just his second season in college. Lawson is ranked No. 22 on NBADraft.net’s 2020 Big Board and is off to a good start to his sophomore season, averaging 17.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.6 steals for the Gamecocks.
Lawson’s shooting numbers aren’t great so far this season (he has a 48 effective field goal percentage), but he is drawing almost seven foul calls per game and shooting 6.6 fouls shots per game at an 82% clip. As the numbers suggest, Lawson is tenacious when he drives to the rim and puts a ton of pressure on defenses not to foul by forcing the issue.
It will be an interesting game-within-the-game to see who WSU uses to defend Lawson. My guess is it will rotate several defenders on him with Dexter Dennis drawing the assignment to start. He has the length to match Lawson and is particularly good at contesting shots on drives without fouling.
But don’t think Dennis or any WSU defender can go under screens or not stay attached to Lawson on the perimeter. It’s true he’s not shooting great (30%), but he is jacking a ton of threes (six per game) and can be a streaky shooter. After all, he did make 35% of his threes last season, so letting him fire away from three-point land would be playing with fire.
Lawson has been very good in the pick and roll this season, but I think WSU’s hedging ball-screen defense will actually fare well against him. He’s never been effective passing out of the pick and roll, which is where WSU’s weakness lies and the Shockers have three good rim protectors to rotate in and out to challenge Lawson at the rim.
Limiting Lawson to five free throw attempts or fewer would be a win for the Shockers.
3. Know where the shooters are. The reason why Lawson hasn’t had much success passing out of the pick and roll is because South Carolina has almost no gravity on the floor. The five players who play at power forward and center for South Carolina are a combined 1 for 15 beyond the arc this season.
The Gamecocks lost their two snipers from last season and didn’t replace them. So far USC is shooting an abysmal 27.5% on threes this season, good for No. 302 in the country with a 3-point rate that ranks No. 296 in the country. That means USC is hardly taking threes and hardly making them.
That’s good news for a WSU defense that has specialized early this season in making life difficult for opponents inside the arc. Of course, the Shockers haven’t seen a team as tall or athletic as South Carolina yet. But WSU was very good at 2-point defense during its 14-4 run to end last season, so it’s safe to say that this season’s strong start (WSU ranks No. 17 in 2-point defense) is not a fluke. Having Jaime Echenique, WSU’s best rim protector, back for this game should only help.
That allows WSU to do what it does best: protect the paint. The trick appears to be to do so without fouling. South Carolina is sure to try to generate much of its offense near the rim, so it will be up to WSU’s bigs and on-ball defenders to not reach and get whistled for foul after foul. USC’s lack of perimeter shooting could also mean certain WSU defenders can sag off and the preferred driving lanes for USC or even double-team the post to force kick-outs to certain shooters because odds are they can’t make WSU pay.
Outside of Lawson, USC’s only other 3-point threats would be freshman Jermaine Couisnard (8 for 19, 42%) off the bench and starting guard Jair Bolden (7 for 18, 39%). Whichever guard who isn’t defending Lawson (likely Erik Stevenson, Tyson Etienne or Noah Fernandes) has to stay attached on the perimeter to Couisnard and Bolden, who both excel in relocating on the perimeter for catch-and-shoot attempts.
4. Shoot at least 20 free throws. If there is one criticism of WSU’s offense through five games, it’s that the Shockers have not been aggressive enough driving to the basket and instead have been settling for jumpers. That’s led to a below-average free throw rate and that’s even factoring in the 42 free throw attempts against Texas Southern. Take that game out and WSU would rank near last in the country in generating foul shots.
That has to change against South Carolina, a team that is committing nearly 20 fouls per game and sending opponents to the foul line an average of 24.4 times per game, which ranks No. 312 in the country. USC’s opponent foul rate of 45.4% ranks No. 324 in the country.
That’s just the cost of doing business for Frank Martin, who has produced top-40 KenPom defenses in four of the last five seasons with USC finishing in the bottom-50 of the country in foul rate in four of those five seasons.
The first challenge for WSU is to handle USC’s pressure and limit turnovers. The next challenge would be capitalizing on USC’s biggest defensive flaw: fouling. That means the guards can’t settle for long jump shots. Grant Sherfield, Jamarius Burton, Erik Stevenson and Dexter Dennis all need to look to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim. Putting pressure on South Carolina’s defense is a ready-made formula for shooting free throws.
Remember how devastating South Carolina’s defense can be with its shot-blocking ability? Well, it comes at a price.
All five of USC’s big men have high foul rates, in part because they all chase blocks. It’s an area where guards like Sherfield and Burton, who have excelled driving in and finishing on floaters, could potentially rack up the fouls on USC.
Finishing on South Carolina around the rim could be a problem, so drawing fouls and generating free points at the foul line will be critical. WSU averages 18.2 free throws per game. If that number reaches at least 20 on Tuesday, the Shockers should be in business for a good offensive outing.
5. Limit South Carolina’s second chances. We’ve already discussed how USC isn’t a great shooting team. But the Gamecocks get by with a slightly above-average offense almost solely because of its ability to generate second and third chances.
South Carolina ranks eighth in the country in offensive rebounds per game (13.0) and offensive rebounding rate, as it is rebounding nearly 39% of its own misses. USC’s pair of starting 6-11 giants, Maik Kotsar and Wildens Leveque, are both problems on the offensive glass, as is high-energy freshman Jalyn McCreary off the bench.
But the real problem for opponents has been Alanzo Frink, a 6-7, 260-pound bull USC plays off the bench. He’s averaging a team-high 3.0 offensive rebounds per game in less than 19 minutes, which translates to a 16.7 rebounding rate that ranks him 22nd in the nation.
Not only will WSU’s rotation at center be challenged to keep USC off the offensive glass, but this might be the most important game of Trey Wade’s brief career at WSU. At 6-6, he’s been able to get by so far this season on his high basketball intelligence and correct positioning. But against South Carolina, he’s going to be going up against much bigger bodies. How well he can defend and box out could go a long way in determing WSU’s success.
Marshall has been using Dexter Dennis as the back-up four early in the season, but I suspect we will Marshall will debut WSU’s two-center lineup in this game. If up for the challenge, we could see a lot of Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler at the power forward spot alongside Jaime Echenique, Asbjorn Midtgaard or Morris Udeze.
WSU showed some bad tendencies in its last time out against Oral Roberts, allowing the Golden Eagles to grab 30% of their own misses. On paper, this is where South Carolina can hurt the Shockers the most. But if WSU can hold USC to rebounding 25% or fewer of its misses, then the Shockers can chalk that up as a win.
It’s not breaking news that South Carolina is the best, biggest and most athletic team WSU will have faced so far this season. But the Gamecocks are basically as young as WSU with eight of 10 rotation players either freshmen or sophomores. USC is far from perfect, but it gets after it on the defensive end and is hard to keep off the offensive glass. That’s a dangerous mixture, especially for a WSU team that hasn’t seen anything close to that type of defensive pressure yet. How well WSU handles that pressure will go a long way in determining the outcome of the game. I think the Shockers do match up very well against South Carolina. They are a good rebound team and are sound defensively, especially inside the arc. They’ve shown a weakness at times for giving up threes, but USC isn’t a team that has shown the ability to exploit that. WSU has the size to match up well with USC and better depth to rotate them in and out of the game, especially if Trey Wade can hold his own down in the post. I think we could see Grant Sherfield bounce back and have a similar game to his Texas Southern performance when he shot 14 free throws. This game should also present an opportunity for Dexter Dennis to snap out of his offensive funk, get to the foul line and score double-digits for the first time since the Texas Southern game. If WSU can cash in on USC’s fouling tendencies, then the Shockers should be able to win this game and play for a tournament title. Wichita State 74, South Carolina 66