South Carolina Basketball: Gamecock weekly review

South Carolina basketball will rely on Chloe Kitts, Bree Hall, and others to improve the team's outside shooting this season. Mandatory Credit: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina basketball will rely on Chloe Kitts, Bree Hall, and others to improve the team's outside shooting this season. Mandatory Credit: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports /

Both South Carolina basketball teans had two games scheduled this week, and, just like last week, they both went undefeated and extended their combined record to 9-0 on the year.

The South Carolina basketball men flew to Glendale, Arizona, to participate in the Arizona Tip-Off, where they defeated DePaul 73-68 and Grand Canyon 75-68 over the weekend, while the Gamecock women stayed home and beat rival Clemson by a margin of 109-40 on Thursday at Colonial Life Arena and defeated South Dakota State 78-38 on Monday.

Lamont Paris’s group won their games by a combined margin of less than 10 points, but they managed to get the job done when needed. Dawn Staley’s South Carolina basketball team won by an average of 93.5-39 and continue to dominate any competition they face.

Thanksgiving week, the women’s team has just one game, a Friday game against Mississippi Valley State. The Devilettes have already lost to UL-Monroe and Milwaukee, and the Gamecocks really shouldn’t have any issue pulling away early. It’s a tune-up (not to suggest that they need any tuning) before a road matchup against UNC the week after.

The men are getting some much-needed rest before playing at home next Tuesday against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are ranked below both DePaul and Grand Canyon, the Gamecocks’ last two opponents, in the latest KenPom ratings, and South Carolina basketball will likely be favored by 7-8 points in their ACC/SEC challenge game. Notre Dame has already lost to Western Carolina and Auburn this year.

South Carolina Basketball Weekly Review:
Stathead Section

Ta’Lon Cooper currently leads the SEC in assists per game with 5.4 per game. Cooper and Florida guard Walter Clayton Jr. are the only players in the conference averaging 5.0 or more assists per game.

Cooper also leads the Gamecocks in MPG, with 30.8, tied for 7th in the SEC with Missouri guard Sean East II. Last year, 3 Gamecocks averaged 30.8 or more MPG, with 4 averaging more than 30.0 MPG. This speaks to the depth of this year’s squad more than anything, with capable players such as Jacobi Wright, Zachary Davis, and Josh Gray coming off the bench.

The Gamecock women, through four games, are 1st nationally out of 361 teams in FG made with 41.0 per game. That’s partially due to making shots (1 of just 20 teams making over half of their shots) and partially due to the fact that the Gamecocks have dominated on the glass. South Carolina is 2nd nationally in RPG with 56.3 per game, while ranking 6th in offensive rebounding (20.3 per game) and 4th in defensive rebounding (36.0 per game).

The men are 2nd in the SEC currently in 3PT%, and 4th in 3PM per game, despite attempting threes at the 3rd-lowest rate in the conference. The current clip of 43.9% is more than a 27% increase compared to last year’s season average of 32.3% from deep, placing the Gamecocks amongst the most improved teams in the SEC in that aspect.

Raven Johnson’s assist rate of 39.7% ranks 2nd in the SEC, behind only Mama Dembele of Missouri. Her 17 assists against Clemson almost set a school individual record for one game, and she leads the team with 9.5 APG, almost double the next highest average on the team.

The men rank 3rd in the SEC with 19.0 fouls per game, an 18.8% increase on last year’s average of 16.0 per game, a mark that was 3rd-lowest in the conference. This is one of very few stat categories where the Gamecocks have not improved over the offseason. In both games in the Arizona Tip-Off, the Gamecocks committed 24 fouls, a mark that would place dead last in the entirety of D-1 if extrapolated over the course of the entire season.

Dawn Staley’s group ranks 3rd in the country in turnover rate, (3rd-lowest, which is good) with a 10.9% rate. The team is also elite defending the interior. The Gamecocks’ block rate is 23.7%, which, if continued over the course of the season, would be the highest block rate in women’s basketball since the stat was first recorded in 2002. This level of interior defense that the Gamecocks are performing is at a level not yet seen in modern women’s college basketball.

In a small sample size, (8.75 MPG over 4 games) Josh Gray has a defensive rebounding percentage of 44.8%, In almost half of the team’s defensive possessions resulting in a missed shot, Gray has recorded a rebound. That rate, (if sustained, which is nearly impossible) would rank over 15.0 percentage points over the highest eligible player in the SEC.

Oregon transfer Te-Hina Paopao is leading the SEC in 3PT% with a 58.8% rate. Though it’s a small sample size, (10-17 on the season) South Carolina shot just 31.0% from deep last year, good for 173rd in the country. This year, the Gamecocks are shooting 34.6% from deep, not elite, but better than last year, and it’s a high enough level to win a championship with.

Despite a 3PT% of 39.4%, a rate that ranks 3rd in the SEC, the men’s basketball team ranks 12th in the conference with a 68.6 FT%. The difference of just 29.2 percentage points is the 3rd-lowest in the conference, normally suggesting either an impending leap in FT% or a dip in 3PT%. However, given the fact that Meechie Johnson, Myles Stute, and Ta’Lon Cooper (a few of the team’s best 3PT shooters) are all shooting between 64.3%-70.0% from the line and have a combined career 67.9 FT% between the trio, it’s highly possible that team could just be a mix of elite shooters from distance that can’t convert at the line.

South Carolina Basketball Weekly Review:
Boxscore Break

The story of the men’s game against DePaul was physicality and getting to the line. On a day where the team’s perimeter threats weren’t knocking down deep shots, (5-21 for a 23.8% from three) the Gamecocks drew 26 fouls and got 34 FTA for their efforts, a number higher than any other Gamecock game since before the COVID-19 pandemic. They weren’t especially efficient with their free throws, only making 20 for a 58.8 FT%, but those 20 points made the difference in a 5-point victory.

Meechie Johnson led the way in terms of scoring for the Gamecocks, putting up 24 points. The only other Gamecock in double-figures was Zachary Davis, who scored 10. Though he struggled from the line, Josh Gray made an impact, scoring 8 points and tallying 7 rebounds in just 16 minutes of action. Ta’Lon Cooper, despite his role as the team’s starting point guard, tied Gray for the team lead in rebounds for the game. The Gamecocks outrebounded the Blue Demons by a 38-29 margin.

Against Grand Canyon, the Gamecock offense was on point, shooting 54.0% from the field and 41.2% from deep. Neither mark was the highest of the season for South Carolina, which points to how well they’ve been playing so far this year. Just like against DePaul, one Gamecock in particular showed up and scored the 2nd-highest point total of his career.

This time, however, it was B.J. Mack. The big man scored 27 points while shooting 4-7 from deep and a perfect 9-9 from the line. Late in the game, he put his body on the line and drew multiple charges while just one foul away from fouling out.

Though the Gamecocks only recorded 23 rebounds, it didn’t end up making a huge impact on the game. The two teams combined for 45 fouls and 6 players ended up with 4+ fouls on the night. JaCobi Wright had another impressive offensive showing off the bench, scoring 10 points on 4-5 shooting and recording 3 assists.

In the women’s rivalry game against Clemson, South Carolina dominated in all aspects of the box score. On the glass, the Tigers simply couldn’t compete against the ‘Cocks. South Carolina grabbed 73 rebounds to the Tigers’ 27. The Gamecocks almost tallied more offensive rebounds (25) than the Tigers did total rebounds (27). South Carolina shared the ball on offense with 30 assists, while Raven Johnson (the aforementioned school record 17) had more than double the amount of assists of the entire Clemson roster (7).

While Clemson shot just 3-28 from deep, (10.7%) South Carolina made 10 threes in 26 attempts for a 38.5% clip. Kamilla Cardoso posted a 15-point, 13-rebound double-double, while Ashlyn Watkins recorded a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double. MiLaysia Fulwiley led the team with 18 points off the bench. Raven Johnson, in addition to her 17 assists, led the team with 5 steals. Ashlyn Watkins recorded 4 blocks to lead the team as well.

Against South Dakota State, Kamilla Cardoso was the South Carolina basketball MVP, posting her second double-double in as many games. She led the ‘Cocks with 23 points while collecting 10 rebounds and 6 blocks, her highest total as a Gamecock. Raven Johnson had another really efficient game, scoring 18 points and recording 6 assists and 5 steals. Johnson ranks 5th in the SEC with 3.0 SPG and 6th in the conference in offensive rating.

The team didn’t make a single three, the first time that’s happened to the Gamecocks since prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. That didn’t impact the game’s result, as the Gamecocks shot better than 50% from inside the arc and forced 21 Jackrabbit turnovers.

South Carolina Basketball Weekly Review:
Player Profile

On the women’s side, Kamilla Cardoso has been filling in the void that Aliyah Boston left in the frontcourt the best one could have hoped for. Cardoso, in her 3rd season with the Gamecocks, has blossomed into the best player on the best team in the country. The 6’7 center is 3rd in the SEC in RPG, 2nd in the conference in BPG, (only behind teammate Ashlyn Watkins) and leads the conference in offensive rating.

While Aliyah Boston was one of the best players in South Carolina basketball history, the dropoff between last year’s production in the frontcourt and this year’s production in the frontcourt has been minimal so far, and that’s thanks to Cardoso. Through 4 games, the Gamecocks look better than ever, even with the departures in the offseason. Cardoso is averaging 17.5 PPG and 11.3 RPG, while Boston averaged 13.0 PPG and 9.8 RPG last year. Of course, there’s the matter of small sample size, but the early returns are extremely positive.

Not only is Cardoso dominant inside on offense and defense, but she’s good in other non-typical center stat categories as well. She ranks 6th in the SEC in turnover percentage at just 8.8% and 8th in points produced per game.

B.J. Mack has been, often at times, the best player on the court for the Gamecocks. The Wofford transfer has seamlessly transitioned to playing for a Power 6 program, and currently leads the team in points, rebounds, and FT%, despite recording just the 5th-most MPG so far through 5 games. He’s proven to be able to score at all levels, either in the paint, from midrange, or from deep. That’s provided the ability to space the floor for the Gamecocks, forcing opponents to cover Mack on the perimeter if he has an open look. This, in turn, leads to more open looks for Mack’s teammates, improving the offense as a whole.

Mack wasn’t particularly effective against DePaul, recording just 4 points while committing 4 turnovers and 4 fouls in 16 minutes, but he’s averaging 19.0 PPG and 6.3 RPG in his other 4 games with the Gamecocks so far. Excluding the matchup with the Blue Demons, Mack has been performing at an all-SEC level. That’s one of the reasons the Gamecocks are undefeated right now.

South Carolina Basketball Weekly Review:
Lineup Lookback

Through 5 games, the men’s starting lineup has remained the same. Ta’Lon Cooper has started at point guard, followed by Meechie Johnson at shooting guard, Myles Stute at small forward, and B.J. Mack and Stephen Clark down low for the South Carolina basketball team.

Cooper, Stute, and Johnson are first, second, and third on the team in MPG, respectively, while junior guard JaCobi Wright is 4th on the team in MPG, averaging 23.8 per game off the bench, where he’s carved out a nice role averaging 9.2 PPG on a 57.1% clip from the perimeter. B.J. Mack is 5th on the team in minutes, right behind Wright, but would likely have a larger share of minutes had it not been for spells of foul trouble for the Wofford transfer.

Collin Muray-Boyles is still inactive with mono, and will be integral to South Carolina basketball’s conference schedule this year. Besides Mack, no other true forward or center is averaging more than 14 MPG. Stephen Clark, Josh Gray, and Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk are all averaging between 8-14 MPG, though Gray could see increased minutes if he stays out of foul trouble.

Zachary Davis and Morris Ugusuk, two underclassmen guards, have been contributing as well, both seeing between 16-17 MPG.

On the women’s side, however, the starting five experienced a bit of a shakeup against South Dakota State. Freshman MiLaysia Fulwiley made her first start of her career with the absence of Te-Hina Paopao, but struggled, relative to her previous 3 games off the bench. Paopao is dealing with an ankle injury, and while the Gamecocks looked fine in her absence, she is integral to the team’s championship hopes. South Carolina basketball their previous 3 opponents, all Power 6 teams, by an average margin of 107.7-62.3, but “only” beat South Dakota State 78-38. Paopao’s absence left a notable void in the team’s backcourt.

Going forward, until Paopao is healthy, her spot in the lineup will likely continue to be filled by the freshman Fulwiley, who will, despite her very fast start, continue to adjust and learn the college game.

light. Related Story. South Carolina Basketball is undefeated, approaching top-25 ranking