Vols due to win a tight game

Odds are, tonight's basketball game between Tennessee (9-6 overall, 2-3 SEC) and South Carolina (9-6, 1-4) will be a close one. Six of Tennessee's last seven games have been decided by seven points or less -- the exception being a 77-64 loss at Florida.

Of the six close games, the Vols won three -- beating New Mexico 71-64, Ole Miss 66-64 and Vanderbilt 71-66 -- and dropped three -- losing to Kentucky 71-74, to Georgia 81-76 and to Louisville 72-69.

Earlier in the season, Tennessee edged Gardner-Webb 71-69 and Georgia Tech 70-69 but was nipped by West Virginia 62-65. All told, the Vols are 5-4 in games decided by seven points or less.

Assuming tonight's game (7:30 tipoff at Thompson-Boling Arena) also goes down to the wire, you have to like UT's chances. The Vols have lost twice at home this year, but the setbacks were administered by No. 7 Kentucky and No. 8 Louisville. The Gamecocks are well below the UK/Louisville level. In fact, they're struggling mightily just to get the ball in the basket. They've scored 60 points or less in four of their five SEC games to date.

Another thing that weighs in UT's favor tonight is the fact Carolina will be without center Marius Petravicius, who tore an ACL and is out for the season.

Even without Petravicius, the Gamecocks will have a decided height advantage against the Vols. Head coach Dave Odom is expected to go with a frontline of 6-10 Tony Kitchings (9.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg), 6-9 Rolando Howell (10.2, 6.9) and 6-7 Carlos Powell (14.3, 4.9). UT will counter with a three-guard lineup whose frontline will be 6-10 Brandon Crump, 6-8 Ron Slay and 6-3 Jon Higgins.

Carolina also will have a decided height advantage at guard, where 6-7 Chuck Eidson and 6-2 Michael Boynton will have the edge over 6-2 Watson and 6-0 Thaydeus Holden.

Still, you have to like UT's chances. The Vols should be motivated to avenge a 94-60 humiliation Carolina administered last year at Thompson-Boling Arena. In addition, they need to win their remaining home games in order to secure a bid to the NIT.

That said, I'm picking the Big Orange by a 65-58 score.

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