When South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler assessed his team before the season, he surmised that defense would determine the extent of the Gamecocks' success.
The eighth-year coach welcomed back several capable scorers, so he figured shooting wouldn't be the problem it has become. In their first 11 games, the Gamecocks have shot themselves in the foot while trying to shoot the ball into the basket.
"We just haven't shot the ball well," said Fogler, whose team begins its SEC schedule today when No. 5 Florida visits Carolina Coliseum (4 p.m.). "If we had shot the ball and made open shots, we probably would be 10-1 right now."
Instead, the Gamecocks are 8-3 and searching for an offensive identity. Fogler has gotten solid production in the post from Tony Kitchings, Calvin Clemmons and Marius Petravicius, but the team has struggled mightily from the perimeter.
South Carolina is last in the SEC in field goal percentage (41.5 percent) and is 11th in the conference in scoring offense (72.9 ppg).
Those numbers might be surprising given that the Gamecocks returned several players from a team that shot well down the stretch last season.
The biggest disappointments? Junior guard Jamel Bradley and sophomore swingman Chuck Eidson.
The team's most reliable 3-point marksman in 1999-2000, Bradley has yet to find his stroke. The off-guard has played the fourth-most minutes in the Gamecocks' 10-man rotation but is the least efficient; Bradley is 26-of-87 (29.9 percent) from 3-point range and 35-of-102 (34.3 percent) from the field.
Eidson is shooting a miserable 18.9 percent on 3-pointers and is 38-for-110 from the field.
The backcourt's most pronounced meltdown came in its last outing, a 60-55 loss at Providence a week ago, when Bradley, Eidson and point guard Aaron Lucas combined for 6-of-27 shooting from the field and were 2-for-13 from 3-point range.
Fogler has difficulty explaining the inconsistency; many of the outside shots have been uncontested, and the Gamecocks often shoot well in practice.
"We're a better shooting team than we've indicated," Fogler said. "Outside of that, we've played reasonably well."
Simply playing well might not be reasonable against the Gators (10-1), who come in averaging more than 93 points per game and could make it a rout if the Gamecocks go cold.
Florida coach Billy Donovan has seen South Carolina's struggles on film this week, but he's convinced the Gamecocks have too much talent in the backcourt for the dry spell to continue much longer.
"They've got outstanding guard play," said Donovan, who will start two of the conference's best guards in point man Brett Nelson and shooting guard Teddy Dupay. "Wen you talk about Bradley, Eidson and Lucas, their three are as good as any three guards in our league."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or email@example.com.