Busting Brackets

Three Takeaways from Vanderbilt Commodores at South Carolina Gamecocks

South Carolina coach Frank Martin says Confederate flag should not fly at Capitol. Nicole Auerbach, USA TODAY .
South Carolina coach Frank Martin says Confederate flag should not fly at Capitol. Nicole Auerbach, USA TODAY . /

South Carolina continued their heralded start Saturday afternoon with a 69-65 home victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores. From a KenPom (#27) and Sagarin (#27) point of view, this was the toughest test for the Gamecocks this season.

What was found out was that Frank Martin’s squad continued to use the formula of defense, rebounding, toughness and timely baskets to earn another victory. The 15-0 mark for the Gamecocks is the second-best start in school history (1934 Gamecocks started 17-0) and should be considered a legitimate contender in the SEC.

For Vanderbilt, the slide continues. The Commodores were expected to be one of the top challengers to Kentucky in the conference this season, but now find themselves at 0-3 in the SEC in a nightmare of injuries, poor shooting and foul trouble.

Forget a conference championship, the Commodores are battling for their NCAA Tournament lives in a conference that might not provide many resume-worthy opportunities. Here’s a breakdown of key actions from today’s game.

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1. South Carolina’s defense stifled Vanderbilt in the Second Half

A key aspect to any good Frank Martin team is its defense. Martin’s South Carolina Gamecocks possessed a top 30 KenPom defense last season, but have improved to be in the top 15 this season.

After a relatively poor first half on defense, the Gamecocks put the clamps down in the second half. Overall the Commodores were held to 32% from the field, 20% from three, and two second half points from Vanderbilt sharp shooter Riley LaChance (13 in the first half).

Vanderbilt was 2-14 from the field in the final 9:35 of the game. South Carolina will be in every game this season because their defense is so smothering. It was a main factor in the victory this afternoon.

2. Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones again found Foul Trouble

The talented 7-footer and arguably Vanderbilt’s best player was again plagued by foul trouble. It was the sixth time this season that Jones has either fouled out or been charged with four personal fouls.

Vanderbilt is not nearly the team without him on the floor, but this was their road traveled this afternoon after Jones (controversially) picked up his fifth foul with 6:35 remaining.

Furthermore, Jones is Vandy’s best rebounder and his foul trouble contributed to the Gamecocks having the rebound edge 44-36.

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Overall, in only 16 minutes, Jones accumulated 12 points and six rebounds. This game could have been very different if he played his standard 26 minutes a game.

3. South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell is as tough as they come

The 6’5″ senior guard is the prototypical Frank Martin player. He’s big, physical, defensive and can use his presence to slash to the basket.

Thornwell is clearly the Gamecocks’ team leader and might be the biggest reason this team is 15-0. He was excellent again on Saturday with 19 points and eight rebounds, including two key jump shots down the stretch.

Over the last three games, he has averaged nearly 20 a game along with over five rebounds. Outside of Ben Simmons, you’ll be hard pressed to find another SEC basketball player on a higher level right now.

Looking ahead… The South Carolina Gamecocks pick up conference play on Wednesday at Alabama. Three of their next four are on the road, but South Carolina won’t get a shot at a ranked opponent until a road game against Texas A&M on February 6th.

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For Vanderbilt, they will look to rebound with home games against Alabama and Auburn this week. While the Commodores will continue to work three-point specialist Luke Kornet back into the fold (missed three games earlier this season with a knee injury), talented sophomore guard Matthew Fisher-Davis (9.4 ppg) didn’t play the second half of today’s game. That situation will need to be monitored.