It may have been an ugly game on Wednesday night, but the South Carolina Gamecocks beat Florida to set up a battle of the undefeated SEC teams in Rupp Arena on Saturday. Despite being picked in the bottom half of the SEC in the preseason, the Gamecocks are 15-3 and 5-0 in the SEC.
The Gamecocks are a lock for the NCAA Tournament, but a win over Kentucky would give them a huge boost and an air of credibility. Jerry Palm gives South Carolina an RPI of #23. The Gamecocks are 3-2 against teams in Palm's Top 50 with wins over #6 Florida, #42 Georgia, and #43 Ole Miss. The Gamecocks have lost to #35 Seton Hall and #38 Clemson.
Frank Martin has done a great job in assembling a team that can compete in the SEC, but he has not been very successful against John Calipari. Calipari has gone 6-1 against Marin and 9-2 overall, and both of those losses were on the road. The Gamecocks have plenty of reason for payback as Kentucky rolled over the Gamecocks 89-62 on their home floor.
Let's meet the Gamecocks.
#15 G - PJ DOZIER (SO, 6'6, 205) 14.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.9 APG
#10 G - DUANE NOTICE (SR 6'2, 225) 9.4 PPG, 2.3 APG, 2.2 RPG
#0 G - SINDARIUS THORNWELL (SR 6'5, 211) 18.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.3 APG
#30 F - CHRIS SILVA (SO 6'9, 223) 9.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 0.3 APG
#21 F - MAIK KOTSAR (FR 6'10, 245) 7.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 0.6 APG
PJ Dozier has really stepped up his game this year and is a solid floor leader. He is hitting 41.2% of his three-pointers but just 43.9% overall. Dozier is the type of player that can fill up the stat sheet as he had 24 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists against Georgia and he can take over a game. He is also a solid defender and averages 2.1 steals. Duane Notice is a streaky three-point shooter and hits 31.7%. When he is on, he can hurt you, but he went 0-10 from long-range in back to back games against Memphis and Georgia and has just four points total.
Sindarius Thornwell is a player that has a great motor and he fills up the stat sheet. He leads the team is scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. He is playing his basketball after coming back from a suspension and he is the heart and soul of this team. He willed the Gamecocks to the win over the Gators, scoring 20 of his team's 57 points. Thornwell is also a force defensively and averages 2.5 steals a game.
Chris Silva is a solid rebounder with a nice scoring touch. He hits 56.4% of his shots and averages 1.9 blocks a game. He does turn the ball over a good bit though and has a tendency to get into foul trouble. Maik Kotsar is another tough interior player that is a good rebounder and a decent scorer. He hits 52.2% of his shots and has really been a force on the boards lately with 23 boards in his last three games.
#4 G - RAKYM FELDER (FR 5'10, 210) 6.2 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 1.6 APG
#20 G - JUSTIN MCKIE (SR 6'4, 204) 4.9 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.4 APG
#2 G - HASSANI GRAVETT (SO 6'1, 183) 4.4 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.8 APG
#24 F - SEDEE KEITA (FR 6'9, 240) 1.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.2 APG
#12 F - KHADIM GUEYE (FR 7'1, 235) 0.6 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 0.1 APG
Freshman Rakym Felder is an exciting scorer off the bench but he has a unique stat line. He shoots far better from beyond the three-point line (47.7%) to his overall shooting (41.8%). When hot, he can make a big impact like when he had 19 points in just 16 minutes versus Texas A&M. Justin McKie brings some senior leadership and is a good passer but he has never been a good shooter or consistent scorer.
The rest of the bench is pretty thin. Hassani Gravett is hit or miss when he is in. he did not play against Florida and in his previous four games, he scored 0, 12, 0, and 6 points. The two forwards on the bench, Keita and Gueye, are freshmen that are still projects. Keita shoots just 25.8% and has scored just 1 point in his last five games. Total. Likewise, Gueye hits just 30% and has not scored in his last four games. They should see minimal minutes against UK.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN
South Carolina lacks the star power of a team like Kentucky, but they have the tools to give the Wildcats fits. They are one of the better defensive teams the Wildcats will face as they allow a stingy 59.4 points a game and opposing teams to shoot just 36.3% from the field and 26.3% on their three-pointers. They absolutely smothered Florida and the Gators went 0-17 from beyond the three-point line and snapped their long streak.
On the other hand, the Gamecocks are not a great shooting team either. They hit 42.3% of their shots and 35.6% of their three-pointers. In the grind of SEC games, those figures dip to 38.1% and 34.1%. Expect to see their intense defense as the Gamecocks force 17.1 turnovers and 8.3 steals a game.
On the plus side, this is not a very deep team, especially in the front court. Bam Adebayo should have a big game and the recent play of Derek Willis, and Wenyen Gabriel encourages me here. If Kentucky can get Silva or Kotsar in foul trouble, the arrow swings to UK in a big way.
The Gamecock guards will present a challenge for the Wildcats, especially Thornwell, who has been playing out of his mind lately. I still give Kentucky the advantage here, but it will be a good test for the Wildcat guards.
The one thing I have noticed with this Wildcat team is that they are playing with the swagger that was missing last year. I fully expected the game at Mississippi State to be a battle and while it got close, Kentucky was in control the whole way. While this team resembles an AAU team at times, the bounce back and they take it as a personal challenge when another team makes a run at them.
The other thing that I like is that Kentucky has proven that they can win the ugly grind it out games that the SEC officiating has thrown at them lately. They appear to be unflappable and are able to handle whatever is thrown at them and that includes a pretty good South Carolina team on their home court.
Look for the Kentucky Wildcats’ overall talent to allow the Cats to gradually pull away in this game, and let's call it 75-64.