Kentucky Wildcats (12-3) at South Carolina Gamecocks (8-7)
Game Time: 6:30 pm EST on Wednesday, January 15th
Location: Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, SC
TV Channel: Tonight’s game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
Announcers: Mike Morgan and Jon Sundvold will call the action.
Radio: Tom Leach and Mike Pratt will have the UK radio network call on 630 AM, 98.1 FM in Lexington, and on the UK Sports Network.
Online Stream: WatchESPN.
Replay: WatchESPN and the SEC Network (check local listings).
Odds: Kentucky is a 5.5-point favorite, and both teams are 7-8-0 against the spread. ESPN BPI gives Kentucky a 70.5% chance of victory. KenPom gives them a 72% chance of victory.
Predictions: KenPom projects an 72-66 win for the Wildcats. numberFire thinks Kentucky wins 69-64, while TeamRankings went with a 71-66 victory for the road team.
The Kentucky Wildcats are about to embark on a very challenging stretch that will really show just how far this team has come. It starts Wednesday vs. the South Carolina Gamecocks, the first of six road games in Kentucky’s next nine contests.
The Wildcats are riding a four-game winning streak following their two-game skid in Vegas. A big reason for Kentucky’s improved play has been the emergence of SEC Player of the Week Immanuel Quickley. The sophomore guard has averaged 18.8 points over his last four games while hitting eight of his last nine three-balls.
Speaking of threes, Kentucky has been the SEC’s best team from deep through three league games, a far cry from when Kentucky was ranked in the 300s in three-point percentage and attempts per game for much of non-conference play.
It's only three games, but Kentucky currently leads the SEC in three-point shooting.— Adam Luckett (@AdamLuckettKSR) January 12, 2020
1.) UK: 44.2%
2.) Mizzou: 43.5%
3.) Florida: 38.7%
4.) Tennessee: 37%
5.) Arkansas: 35.1%
Kentucky enters the game tied with Auburn and LSU for first place in the SEC at 3-0, while the Gamecocks are tied for the worst mark at 0-2. This hasn’t been one of Frank Martin’s signature SC teams by any means, but they do have some solid wins on the resume, including wins at Virginia and at Clemson.
However, the Gamecocks also have some terrible non-conference losses, including home defeats at the hands of Stetson and Boston University. They’re also coming off a gut-wrenching one-point loss at Tennessee, a game they led 39-31 in the second half before falling 56-55.
Sophomore guard AJ Lawson has been the star of the Gamecocks, averaging 14.5 points, 2.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He’s scored 20+ points five times, including a 28-point outburst vs. Cleveland.
However, Lawson is shooting just 40.4% from the field, mostly because he attempts 5.2 threes per game and hits 33.3% of them. He’s also in a major slump recently, going 3/22 from the field over his last two games following an 0/7 outing vs. the Vols.
In last season’s lone matchup with Kentucky, Lawson finished with 12 points on 6/14 shooting and one assist, as the Wildcats came away with a 76-48 victory in Rupp Arena. He’s more than capable of filling up the box score if Kentucky’s backcourt doesn’t come ready to play, but they’ve been sout against nearly every guard they’ve faced this season. Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey and Immanuel Quickley are more than capable of containing Lawson and holding the Gamecocks to another poor offensive outing, as they’ve not scored more than 70 points in six-straight games.
Senior big man Maik Kotsar is averaging 10.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. Kentucky fans may remember him as one of the biggest reasons why the Gamecocks pulled off a huge upset over the Wildcats in Columbia during the 2017-18 season. He finished the game with 12 points, six boards and three steals while also hitting several clutch free throws to secure the 76-68 win.
Kotsar is coming off a 17-point, eight-board performance at Tennessee.
Junior guard Jair Bolden is the Gamecocks’ top three-point shooter at 37.3% while averaging 9.1 points per game. He scored 22 points on 8/13 shooting in the win at Virginia.
Freshman guard Jermaine Couisnard leads the Gamecocks in assists per game at 2.6 to go with nine points per contest. He was the Gamecocks’ second-leading score at Tennessee with 15 points on 6/17 shooting coming off the bench.
As bad as the Gamecocks have been offensively this season — ranking 284th in points per game — they do sport one of the SEC’s toughest defenses, currently ranking 30th nationally in effective field goal percentage and 26th in two-point percentage defense. Conversely, Kentucky ranks 25th in effective field goal percentage, so this has the makings of a defensive slugfest in Columbia.
Even with his worst teams, Frank Martin is usually good for a few big upsets each season, and he’s already done that once to Kentucky. But if nothing else, he’s a master muddying up games and turning them into low-scoring defensive affairs.
Kentucky should win in Columbia, but odds are it will be an ugly game that could come down to the final minutes.