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The Big Preview: Virginia vs. South Carolina

South Carolina doesn’t really scare anybody, but stranger things have happened.

NCAA Basketball: Stony Brook at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Is it possible that the Hoos just aren’t a good three-point shooting team this year?

The Virginia Cavaliers sit at 345th in the nation in three point shooting and are just 164th in offensive efficiency. Somehow they have a 9-1 record and are ranked ninth in the country (12th by KenPom), but is this sustainable? Already, Virginia struggled against KenPom 86th-ranked Vermont and 83rd ranked Arizona State, with a hefty loss to 9th-ranked Purdue. Along with UNC, those are the best defenses Virginia has played, all happy to get into a defensive slugfest with Virginia.

The South Carolina Gamecocks’ defense may not be that good—80th defensively, and 103rd overall. Their best win is over Clemson, but they lost to Boston University and have been blown out by 35th-ranked Wichita State and 37th-ranked Houston.

In other words, they probably shouldn’t be a tough matchup for the Hoos, but they probably will be.

Much like Virginia, South Carolina had to replace a fair amount from last year, losing two of their top three scorers, including leading rebounder and starting PG Tre Campbell. But they do retain talent in the wings, led by sophomore A.J. Lawson.

As a freshman, Lawson led the team in assists and was second in scoring. This year, he’s scoring over 16 points per game and still leads the team in assists. He’s upped his usage rate and shot rate by a large amount. He shoots a lot of threes, making about 35%, and finds his way to the line a lot, often during transition.

Under head coach Frank Martin, the Gamecocks play fast. They want to get out and run and target easy buckets, and Lawson in particular is very dangerous in transition. Here, nobody on Clemson really picks him up so he goes right down the lane for a dunk. Hope he doesn’t expect that against Virginia.

Lawson is the main playmaker, but freshman Jermaine Couisnard has taken over a lot of the PG minutes. He can shoot it a little, can create and is just beating Lawson in both usage rate and shot percentage. He’s also 6’4” 211, meaning it could be a matchup problem for Kihei Clark.

There isn’t much size on the Gamecocks, though the perimeter players are all bigger wings. The only two real “bigs” on the team are both actually very big: senior Maik Kotsar is 6’10” 270 and sophomore Alanzo Frink is 6’7” 260. That’s a lot of bulk. Kotsar is second on the team in scoring and leads in rebounds. Frink on the other hand might be better, but he can’t seem to stay on the floor without getting into foul trouble (although has been better at that of late).

Against Virginia’s bigger lineups with both Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff (or Francisco Caffaro) inside, figure on seeing both Kotsar and Frink in the game together. They did that against Clemson and dominated the Tigers, outrebounding them 41-32 and winning the points in the paint 24-10.

Other than Lawson, only two other rotation guys are three point shooters. Jair Bolden is the top shooter, by percentage (39%) and is third on the team in scoring.

As a team, the Gamecocks don’t shoot the ball well. Or often. They’re 321st in percentage of shots taken from downtown. Defensively, the Hoos are 349th in opponent’s most three pointers attempted. Something is going to have to give. Most likely, Virginia’s defense will win out, as the Gamecocks offense really doesn’t scare anybody.