MBB: Five Things to Watch - Arkansas
South Carolina hosts #12 Arkansas Tuesday night in the home finale.
1. Feeling Fine
Winning cures everything, the saying goes. It’s not true, but it’s close. After blowout out Georgia (again), South Carolina is feeling good.
“Winning is not the cure to all evil, but it definitely picks everyone’s spirits up,” Frank Martin said.
Of course, South Carolina has been here before. It easily beat Georgia earlier this season, and lost the next game to previously winless-in-the-SEC Vanderbilit. It upset then-#22 Florida, and then no-showed in the next game against Mississippi State.
“Every time we start doing something well, we take a gut punch this year,” Martin said. “Whether it was early in the year with the shutdown, and then losing one of our guys for the year. We beat Florida and then we come home and we have a couple hard games and then Jermaine Couisnard goes down for two weeks with an injury.”
It would be quintessential South Carolina to upset #12 Arkansas. Or lose by 30.
2. Point guards
It was both encouraging and discouraging. Encouraging because Jermaine Couisnard and Trae Hannibal combined for 38 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists, and eight steals. They were aggressive on both ends of the court, efficient, and playing team basketball. Discouraging because, where has it been all season?
Couisnard was mired in a terrible shooting slump. He played through it for a while, but the rest of his game was starting to show the effects when he rolled an ankle and missed almost two weeks. As a freshman, Hannibal could be the explosive bench player who provided a spark and made plays for both teams. It took him a couple of months to make the next step, but over the past few weeks the growth was apparent. He was still aggressive, but now he was efficient. He was also making shots from three - Hannibal was 2-13 as a freshman, and 7-13 this season, having made his last three attempts, he’s not a gunner, but defenses have to respect him.
They were the backcourt of Gamecock fans’ dreams.
Where had they been all season? Couisnard had family issues that were a distraction, followed by the injury. Throughout the shooting slump, Martin maintained that Couisnard was still his extension on the court. While Couisnard was injured, Keyshawn Bryant stepped into that roll, and Martin thought that allowed Cousinard to break out of his slump.
“We all need a pick-me-up,” Martin said. “That’s the beautiful thing about team sports. Sometimes you don’t play well and you are in your feelings, and that one teammate kind of grabs you, puts his arm around you and says, ‘Take a deep breath, I got you today.’”
Meanwhile, Hannibal was growing into his new responsibilities. Over the last five games, Hannibal is averaging 11.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists, but it also includes a DNP-CD when he was left at home for the trip to Mississippi State to “take a deep breath.” The result was the best all-around game of Hannibal’s career, and a backcourt duo that could have taken on anybody.
“It started with the fact that Trae Hannibal made his first three, and Jermaine made his first three, and then Jermaine kept making threes,” Martin said. “They both played in our structure. They both played with a sense of discipline. They did good things. Defensively we weren't going for steals and gambling and handled ball screens the right way, so it allowed us to keep them out of the paint.”
It will be interesting to see how minutes are spread out Tuesday. Seventh Woods, who had started 13 straight games at point guard, sat out the last two with a head injury. He could have played against Georgia, but Martin “erred on the side of caution” and held him out. TJ Moss started in place of Woods, but it still opened the door for more playing time for Hannibal.
3. The Man in the Middle, from Canada: Tre-Vaughn Minott
In the basketball history of first career starts, never has six points and three rebounds seemed like such a revelation. But that was Tre-Vaughn Minott’s first start. The numbers may have been modest, but the play wasn’t. Minotts made three baskets, a layup and two powerful dunks (at 280 pounds, everything he does is powerful). He grabbed three rebounds. He DEFENDED THE RIM. Honestly, when he stepped in front of a driving Bulldog to stop a layup, it might have been the first time all season a Gamecock center protected the rim.
There are plenty of reasons to pump the breaks. It was, after all, only six points and three rebounds, and Minott is about as close to game shape as I am. But there are plenty of reasons to be excited: He hadn’t played basketball in almost a year when he arrived in Columbia in January. Due to shutdowns, he’s barely had a month worth of practice since arriving, and
“It was obvious from day one there’s a comfort level for him playing with his back to the basket, and we needed that,” Martin said. “It wasn’t just about catching the ball in the low post. He grabbed three defensive rebounds early in the game to create a presence on the glass. One time he kind of got beat and he recovered and blocked the shot, which is something we’ve been lacking, that rim protection. He did those things. His challenge is to continue to get in shape so he can sustain effort.”
4. The other
One thing about covering Frank Martin is that you never know when he is going to go off on a tangent (okay, that’s often), or say something truly profound. It happened Monday. He was trying to argue that this season hasn’t been disappointing (I think it has, but we are getting into semantics about what is “disappointing”). He said that given everything the team has been through, you can’t say it’s disappointing. He talked about losing Alanzo Frink for the season due to medical issues. Frink’s condition has not been officially released due to privacy laws, but it is obvious that it is COVID-related. I’m just going to share what Martin said, because it made me think.
“We’ve had guys in the locker room lose dear people in their lives over the last ten years, including me. I’m 54 years old. I’m better prepared to absorb ugly than 20-year-olds are. Absorbing ugly is really complicated for any of us that have lost somebody. At 18, 19, 20, they don’t handle it as well. Then when one of your teammates is told that he’s not playing anymore, it hurts you man. From the outside that seems like no big deal. When you’re one of the ones that’s getting tested to see if you can play, and you know one of your guys is not playing anymore, it makes you think, why am I doing this? It’s a complicated thing. I’m real proud of the guys. I really am.”
5. Scouting the Razorbacks
Arkansas comes in hotter than anyone in the SEC, having won nine straight conference games. The Razorbacks score and defend: they average 82.4 points per game, 12th in the nation, while holding opponents to a respectable 70.2 points. They also shoot the third-most threes in the SEC (making the fourth-most).
Coach Eric Musselman has done this despite losing the bulk of last season’s team.
“They’re really good,” Martin said. “He’s got good players and he’s done a great job. That stability, the fact that they have not been disrupted, has allowed them to become that.”
Freshman guard Moses Moody has made up for the losses, averaging a team-high 16.6 points per game, shooting 37% from three. He is also tough inside. Moody is Arkansas’ second-leading rebounder at 5.7, and is second in the SEC in free throw attempts, averaging 5.9 per game and hitting 82%.
Who: South Carolina (6-12, 4-10) vs #12 Arkansas (19-5, 11-4)
When: Tuesday, March 2, 6:30 pm
Where: Colonial Life Arena
Watch: SEC Network