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Ole Miss vs. South Carolina basketball: Gamecocks on the road couldn’t come at a worse time

After a dud against Georgia at home, the Rebels travel to Columbia without their leading scorer.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t too long ago that we were singing praises about getting past the worst of the SEC slate, but Ole Miss faces the conference’s best defensive team on Saturday under less than ideal circumstances. With leading scorer Deandre Burnett sidelined with a day-to-day ankle injury, the Rebels will have to look to other places to replace his production in the backcourt.

Ole Miss is coming off a historically bad offensive performance against Georgia — their 66.2 points per 100 possessions was the team’s worst mark since there’s even been data on this stuff. The offense wasn’t exactly phenomenal with Burnett, but without him, it could become clear pretty quickly just how devoid of shooting options the Rebels are.

As part of boasting the nation’s second best adjusted defensive rating, South Carolina’s offense has gotten away with less than stellar outings, but they’re still capable of putting up points. It will take something transformative to occur for the Rebels to come out with a win.

To no one’s surprise, scoring won’t be easy.

As inefficient as he may have been at times, there was value in having a guy who could handle the shooting volume that Burnett was tasked with. He had been shooting poorly from the field, but factoring in his ability to get to the foul line gives him the third highest true shooting percentage on the team.

It’s hard to credit the Cocks’ defensive excellence solely to one player, as five different players have a defensive box plus-minus of 5.6 or more (the Rebels have none). Chris Silva makes up 41 percent of the team’s blocks, and the duo of Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier are atop the SEC in the steals category. The team is second only to UCF in opponent eFG. Here’s how teams have managed to shoot against them from different parts of the floor, per hoop-math.com.

Shot Type Field Goal % Points per shot National Rank
Shot Type Field Goal % Points per shot National Rank
At rim 46% 0.92 2nd
2-pt jumpers 36% 0.72 204th
3 pointers 28% 0.83 2nd

When your relative weakness is allowing a mediocre conversion rate from mid-range, you’re doing just fine. Aside from suffocating teams into shooting poorly, they’ve been great at minimizing quality looks in transition with a 5th best eFG of 43.4 percent in these situations.

It’s difficult to imagine Ole Miss shooting lights out from the field on Saturday, so the points will have to come from other places. In South Carolina’s one defensive slip-up against Memphis (106.1 points per 100 possessions), 41 percent of the Tigers’ points came from free throws. Getting to the line, as well as generating fast break chances, may be the most realistic path for the Rebels to put up the points they need. Given that he’s the most consistent guard near the rim, a heavy dose of Terence Davis will be needed.

Any hope of a win starts with the Cocks underperforming on offense.

USC’s three losses so far had much more to do with offensive shortcomings, as they managed to score less than 85 points per 100 possessions over those games (season average is 106). They’ve put up an eFG of more than 50 percent just five times this year (all in non-conference play), but the defense has been more than able to make up for it on most occasions.

The offense has mostly been known for being consistent enough to not erase all the dominance taking place on the other end of the floor, but the Gamecocks’ trio of guards should pose a threat to the Rebels’ shaky perimeter D. Despite a slow start in SEC play, senior guard Sindarius Thornwell has been brilliant overall, averaging nearly 19 points per game, shooting 43 percent from three, and leading the team with 3.7 assists per game. He’s complemented by Dozier and Duane Notice, both capable of going off from deep on any given night. Just because their top scorers are guards doesn’t mean they’re heavily dependent on outside shooting, as the team has shot a healthy 62 percent near the rim.

The more one scans over South Carolina’s strengths juxtaposed with the Rebels’ multifaceted struggles, the more difficult it becomes to project a happy ending here. Either way, another game brings us closer to knowing whether this group simply needs more time to mesh, or if the recent shortcomings are simply indicative of where this team is headed.