The Tigers, who hold a 15-9 series lead over South Carolina, including a 5-3 mark in Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum, will look to move their record to 11-3 overall and 2-1 in SEC play.
The Gamecocks, who were picked to finish last in the SEC, have used a quick, athletic, pressing defense to pile up an impressive 14-2 record. That record is South Carolina's best start in 34 years and the third best in school history.
Auburn's Lewis Monroe will try to handle a tough South Carolina defense Wednesday night.
However, Coach Cliff Ellis says that South Carolina's coach and his close friend Dave Odom is not surprised by his team's strong start. "He said this and I will quote him--he was picked at the bottom and he said, 'We ain't gonna finish at the bottom, I can tell you that,' that is the one exact quote."
The tenacity the Gamecocks display on defense has them leading the SEC in five statistical categories. The gamecocks are tops in the league in scoring defense allowing only 56.1 points per game, their opponents are also only shooting 35.6 percent from the floor and 24.1 percent from three-point range. They also lead in turnover margin at +5.9 and blocked shots with 6.1 per game.
"Without question we have got a very difficult task at hand, and their defense is what gets it done for them a lot, and they show a lot of looks and do a lot of things," says Auburn's Cliff Ellis, who is 9-2 versus South Carolina while at Auburn.
Offensively the gamecocks are playing solidly as well. They are averaging 72.4 points per game on 42.4 percent shooting, along with 31.7 percent shooting from behind the arc.
Another force for South Carolina is 6-2 senior Mike Boynton. The Gamecocks' point guard is averaging 10.2 points per game and four assists, which is fourth best in the SEC. Boynton is also second in the league in three-point shooting at 42.4 percent.
The Gamecocks' only newcomer in the starting lineup is junior guard Josh Gonner. The six-foot-two transfer from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas is averaging 9.9 points and 2.6 assists per game and shoots 31.8 percent from three-point land.
South Carolina's likely sixth man will be junior forward Carlos Powell who is leading the team in scoring and rebounding with 14 points and 7.1 boards per game. His move to the bench is due to the return of senior Rolando Howell.
The six-foot-nine forward, who is averaging 5.5 points and 3.8 rebounds, was suspended for the first 12 games of the season and suffered a broken bone in his foot on November 23. Howell has only one start since his return but is likely to get the call against the strong inside presence of the Tigers.
Ellis says that the return of Howell makes South Carolina a much more dangerous team. "The thing that Dave has as a luxury that he hasn't had is he's versatile," Ellis notes. "He can put Howell in there and he can play power basketball. He can put a lineup in there that is going to press you when you get off the bus. He just has a lot of flexibility. Without Howell he was playing up and down almost exclusively, with Howell he can play some power basketball."
One things is for sure, Wednesday night's game will be the true definition of a players game. With two coaches that know as much about each other as Ellis and Odom, there will be no secrets or surprises from either side. Auburn's chances at winning will depend on how well the backcourt handles the pressure defense from South Carolina. If Lewis Monroe can continue his improvement and run the team like he did against Ole Miss then the Tigers should be in good shape.
"You know Dave has got a good team. We have been competing against each other for a long time--there won't be any surprises. The players are just going to have to go out and get it done--he knows me and I know him--the players just need to take the gameplans and focus in on it."