Home sweet home: USC returns to host Arkansas

The Gamecocks return home Saturday night following a two game road trip. Carolina (18-6, 7-4 SEC) will get to enjoy some home cooking as it hosts struggling but dangerous Arkansas (13-11, 1-10 SEC) and looks to regroup from the disappointing loss at Mississippi State. The game caps off a day-night, multi-sport double-header with the baseball team, which hosts Duquesne in the afternoon.


The Gamecocks are part of a four-way tie for first place in the SEC East with Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee. South Carolina lost a chance to take sole possession of first place with that 75-70 loss in Starkville, but losing on the road is nothing new in the SEC this year. Home teams are 43-23 in conference play, and Carolina, Florida, and LSU are all a perfect 5-0 at home. That is a .652 winning percentage, in line with .666 for home teams last season. However, if you exclude Arkansas and Georgia, both 1-10 in the league and the only teams without a winning home record, then home teams are even more dominant, going 41-13 for a winning percentage of .759. Darrin Horn has preached all season about how tough it is to win on the road, but even he is at a loss to explain those figures.

"I really don't [know]," he said. "Some of that is because teams like us are winning at home, which obviously affects the numbers, but I really don't know."

The home dominance, while good for each team, plays a part in the SEC's low profile this season. There is a perception that good teams win on the road, and voters tend to place more emphasis on road wins when they rank the teams. With road teams having so little success, those statement wins are hard to come by. The other way of looking at it, of course, is that teams are doing a better job of protecting the home court. Either way, the Gamecocks are glad to be home.

"We're pretty happy," said Dominique Archie. "We had a little road skid there. We're just happy to get back home and try to win a game."

In a bizarre way, the Razorbacks also play a part in the weak perception of the SEC. In a one week span immediately before entering conference play, Arkansas upset #4 Oklahoma and #7 Texas. For a conference that had few marquee non-conference wins, that week got the SEC some much needed attention. Those wins gave Arkansas a gaudy 12-1 record and set the Razorbacks up as a contender in the SEC West. Arkansas, however, proceeded to go on a four game losing streak followed by a six (and counting) game losing streak, and one of the few SEC teams on the national radar dropped off the map.

"I can't get over the fact that they have a lot of talent and at some point they beat Texas and Oklahoma, so we know they're capable of really good things," said Horn. "It's a situation for us, especially coming off a loss, where we've got to get refocused on doing the little things against a team that's very capable and will come in here loose with little to lose."

For the second straight game, Carolina will be going up against a team led by a bruising forward and a talented freshman point guard. Junior forward Michael Washington was a preseason All-SEC selection, and leads the SEC in rebounding (9.6 per game) and is ninth in scoring (16.2 points). Courtney Fortson was suspended for Arkansas' game against Kentucky last Saturday due to a coaching decision, but he is back on the floor for the Razorbacks, and capable of filling up the stat sheet. Only 5'11" and 180 pounds, Fortson is second on the team in scoring (14.7 points) and rebounding (5.3 boards), and second in the SEC in assists (6.3 per game). Fortson has a pair of double-doubles in the Hogs' wins over Oklahoma (12 points 10 assists) and Texas (13 points and 10 rebounds), and notched the second triple-double in school history against North Carolina Central (20 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists).


Notes:

- Guard Branden Conrad continues to progress in his rehab of a broken foot. He has not yet participated in any live action, and there is still no timetable for his return.

- Devan Downey is 33 points shy of scoring 1,500 for his career.

- Arkansas leads the all time series between the two schools 12-8, but the Gamecocks won in Fayetteville last season and have won three straight in Columbia.

- Tipoff is a 7:00 PM. The game will not be televised.

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