April 17, 2024

Tennessee vs. South Carolina preview

Tennessee looks to salvage their NCAA Tournament hopes with what could be a season changing win over South Carolina on Saturday afternoon.

Photo by Brad Blackwelder

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee's men's basketball team exits the giant 'T' before the Vols' game against Missouri on Feb. 18, 2017, in Thompson-Boling Arena.

With their NCAA Tournament hopes on life support, Tennessee (15-13, 7-8 SEC) travels to South Carolina on Saturday afternoon to take on the Gamecocks. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

Tennessee enters Saturday’s contest losers of three of its previous five games. South Carolina (20-8, 10-5 SEC) enters losers in four of their previous six games. The Vols are trying to get back on track following a 67-56 loss to Vanderbilt on Wednesday night. South Carolina is also trying to get back on track following an 81-66 loss to No. 13 Florida.

Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes is prepared for a fight as he knows just how difficult it is to play Frank Martin’s Gamecocks.

“The one thing their constant and the reason they’re in every game is the fact they just defend very hard, and rebound,” Barnes said. “They’re gonna scrap and as the game goes on, they settle in and grind it out.”

Following the loss to Vanderbilt, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi moved the Vols to “the first four out” of his bracketology. If Tennessee wants to get back into the NCAA Tournament mix, beating the Gamecocks on Saturday is essential. While the pressure is on, the Vols are still taking things one game at a time.

Robert Hubbs enters Saturday’s contest as the Vols’ leading scorer at 14.3 points per game. On Wednesday night against Vanderbilt, Hubbs became the 48th Vol in program history to join the 1,000-point club. The senior finished with 16 points against the Commodores, but was held to just four points on 1-of-4 shooting in the first half. If Tennessee wants to have success against South Carolina’s tenacious defense, Hubbs needs to get going early.

SEC All-Freshman Team candidate Grant Williams looks to get the offense going against the Gamecocks after the Vols’ dreadful offensive outing against Vanderbilt. Williams was held scoreless on 0-of-3 shooting, but finished with a double-double.

Tennessee’s offensive efficiency is crucial to the Vols success. In wins this season, the Big Orange are scoring 84.1 (48 percent shooting) points per game compared to 66.8 (38 percent shooting) points per game in losses. The turnover margin is also a strong indication of the Vols’ success. In wins, they have a +3.3 turnover margin compared to -0.5 in losses.

Freshman guard Jordan Bowden is not expected to play on Saturday afternoon against the Gamecocks due to a small case of pneumonia. Bowden is averaging 8.1 points per game this season.

After dropping three consecutive games, South Carolina enters Saturday’s game looking to get on track as postseason play approaches. After winning nine games in a 10-game span, South Carolina enters losers in four of its last five games.

SEC Player of the Year candidate Sindarius Thornwell leads the way for the Gamecocks. Thornwell is averaging an SEC-best 21.2 points per game and has scored 20 or more points in five consecutive games.

Three other Gamecocks score double-digit points per game. Sophomore guard P.J. Dozier averages 13.6 points per game and leads the team in assists (2.9). Guard Duane Notice adds 10.4 points per game. Sophomore Chris Silva averages 10.1 points per game and hauls in 5.6 rebounds per game.

South Carolina’s dominating defense is the best in the SEC, only allowing 64.7 points per game this season. Opponents are shooting just 39.8 percent, a league best.

“They really play with high hands, big hands, they’re gonna deflect and they turn some of those deflections into baskets on the other end. So taking care of the basketball is a must,” Barnes said of South Carolina’s defense.

A win against South Carolina would be Tennessee’s 16th win, exceeding last season’s win total (15) and give the Vols five true road wins on the season. As what a win would do for the Vols’ tournament resume, it would give them their third top-50 RPI victory of the season (South Carolina is currently No. 29 in the RPI).

Tennessee leads the all-time series against South Carolina 42-26, but the Gamecocks hold a 15-14 advantage when the game is played in Columbia. In the last meeting between the two teams, South Carolina defeated Tennessee 70-60 in Knoxville on Jan. 11th. The Gamecocks have won two straight against the Volunteers.

After the contest with South Carolina, Tennessee will travel to LSU on Wednesday night. Tip-off in Baton Rouge is set for 7 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

Prediction:

South Carolina’s defense is the best in the SEC and one of the best in the entire country. In order for the Vols to win, they’ll have to come out of the gates with a sense of urgency. Against Vanderbilt, Tennessee came out lackadaisical and came back to bite them in the butt. It’s crucial that Robert Hubbs and Grant Williams have success against the Gamecocks’ defense. The Vols’ offense goes as Hubbs and Williams goes. On the defensive side, Tennessee will have to do a great job guarding Sindarius Thornwell. Shembarri Phillips and Admiral Schofield are guys that could potentially defend Thornwell and both guys will need to have strong outings in an effort to stop South Carolina’s star.

In the end, Tennessee is too inconsistent on offense and that’s not good news as they get ready to face a great defense. The Vols will keep it close, but ultimately fall to the Gamecocks 60-54.

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