It’s the worst in terms eFG% of any Tourney team at no. 315. Not of any at large team, of all 68 teams in the field. And it’s not even close. The next worst team is Kent St. at no. 272. The next closest at large team was Minnesota at no. 250.
They. Can’t. Shoot.
Need more proof? Try this. SC shot 33.5% on unguarded spot up jumpers this season, a full 10% worse than Marquette shot in similar situations, with a 16.2% difference in eFG.
Still not convinced? The Gamecocks were the worst team in all of Division I when taking jumpers off the dribble, scoring only .529 PPP on 24% shooting. In comparison, Marquette scored .939 PPP on 36.6% shooting in 101 more possessions.
One more time for those in the back row. They. Can’t. Shoot.
However, basketball is about scoring points, not simply shooting, and the Gamecocks make a living at the line. Three players on South Carolina took over 110 free throws this season. Only one player on Marquette topped the century mark, Haanif Cheatham with 103.
Sindarius Thornwell alone has taken 214 freebies, drawing 7.4 fouls per 40 minutes and hitting 83.2% from the stripe. MU Wire did a great job breaking down his ability to draw contact and is well worth a read. Big man Chris Silva doesn’t play as many minutes, but still draws 6.7 fouls per 40, a top 40 mark in the country. PJ Dozier has taken 113 free throws himself, but is the worst of the main 3 at both drawing and making free throws, hitting only 60.2%.
That matters both in terms of putting points on the board, but also in putting Marquette’s foul-prone bigs on the bench with foul trouble. There are few things that are certain in life, but having Fischer and Heldt both foul out on Friday night is a pretty safe one. The Gamecocks’ shooting difficulties aren’t some well hidden secret. Even they know they can’t shoot. So they make up for it by aggressively driving into the paint. Marquette’s bigs are fouls waiting to happening. Add those two together, and the only question will be how long will the duo be able to last?
Before you think I’m exaggerating let me break down some more numbers to prove it. On the season, South Carolina has a Free Throw Rate (FTR) of 39.9. That means that for every 100 FG attempts they put up, they take about 40 free throws. That’s a pretty good number on its own, as the DI average is 35.4. For comparison, Marquette, a team reliant on long balls and jumpers, has a pretty low FTR of 31.1. But that still is too high level for an analysis, the further we dig the more we learn.
In SEC play, South Carolina’s FTR has jumped up to a whopping 44.1, which would be the 10th best mark for an entire season. But that still isn’t it. If you break down their FTR by wins and losses in conference play, the difference is eye popping. In SEC wins, SC averages a FTR of 47.5. In SEC losses SC averages a FTR of 39.8.
The FTR doesn’t tell us much about the number of points scored off of free throws, but in general, taking more free throws is a good thing. Taking more free throws when you are one of the worst shooting teams in the country then becomes a life raft. So even though SC only shoots 69.1% as a team from the charity stripe, it still becomes the most efficient way for them to score.
One more time, for the cheap seats. South Carolina is only scoring .859 points per possession this season and that drops to .809 PPP in half court sets. Because of that, getting to the line for two shots then is their best form of offense. Even if they split the two shots, they would be getting more PPP than in an average offensive set. If they hit at their average 69.1%, each pair of freebies yields 1.38 PPP, a 58% increase over their average offensive set.
To recap, South Carolina gets to the line a lot. They do this not simply because they have players who draw lots of fouls, though they do, but because it is their best form of offense and has been all season. Of late, however, their defense (and shooting) has taken yet another dip, meaning that getting to the line close to every other shot attempt (47.5 FTR) is one of the only ways they will score enough to get the victory.
In terms of hard numbers, and not just rates, the trend follows the script. For the season, 22.4% of SC’s points have come from the free throw line. In SEC play, that has been bumped up to 25.3% of their points. In the last 9 games, 26.7% of their points have come from the charity stripe. While I don’t have a national comparison for that, Marquette only gets 17.4% of their points from the foul line this year. That number went down in Big East play to 16.9%.
One final stat to drill this point home. South Carolina is 7-1 this season when it has a FTR of over 50.0 and 10-3 when its FTR is over 40.0. Marquette has to play disciplined not drawing cheap fouls on either end of the court and make the Gamecocks beat them with their shot.
That would call for a zone, then, right? Not necessarily. South Carolina is actually a much better offense facing a zone, .98 PPP in 454 possession, a mark that ranks as “Very Good” on Synergy. Their catch and shoot numbers skyrocket against a zone, scoring 1.19 PPP, on the back of improved 3-point shooting. SC shoots 40.4% from long distance against a zone compared to 29.1% against man to man.
Moral of the story: don’t foul, don’t zone, and make them shoot off the dribble. If Marquette can force South Carolina into an average shooting day, it will have a great chance to win.