The South Carolina Gamecocks come into this game with an overall record of 10-6, and 2-3 in conference play. Their best non-conference wins were at the expense of Temple (60-46) and South Florida (72-70), both in Columbia, but the best efforts were two road losses (Kansas 64-60 and Pittsburgh 72-68). Since SEC play got underway, the Gamecocks have beaten Georgia 74-54 and Tennessee 66-63 at home, and lost three road games: to Kentucky 79-75, LSU 79-64, and Mississippi State 73-65.
South Carolina Head Coach Dave Odom (right) is the most experienced coach in the SEC and is in his fourth season at the Gamecock helm, his record there being 67-48. In his first two years, South Carolina went 22-15 in 2001-02 (with a trip to the NIT) and 12-16 in 2002-03. Last season was his best, as he was named SEC Coach of the Year after the Gamecocks achieved a record of 23-11 and a trip to the NCAA tournament. Odom was head coach at Wake Forest from 1989-2001, where All-American Tim Duncan was one of his players, and was ACC Coach of the Year three times. He was also Head Coach at East Carolina (1979-82), and an assistant coach at Wake Forest (1976-79) and Virginia (1982-89).
South Carolina's star player is 6-7 senior Carlos Powell. He is a strong and active 220-pounder who leads the team in scoring (15.5 ppg) and rebounding (6.2 per game). He has been very consistent this season, almost always scoring in the 15-20 point range against major opposition. Last season Vanderbilt held him to eight and ten points, even though the Gamecocks won both games.
Point guard Tre Kelley, a 6-0 sophomore, is the only other player scoring in double digits (10.8 ppg). His assist/turnover ratio is fairly good (1.7/1.0), but his outside shooting has not been great (32.2% of threes made). Like almost all of the players on the team, he can drive to the basket, as he showed in his 22-point performance against Mississippi State. Before the season began, Odom said that Kelley was the key to the team's success, and he must continue to improve if South Carolina is to make the NCAA tournament.
Six other players see 16-27 minutes of action per game. Wiry 6-6 junior Tarence Kinsey starts, and is scoring 9.7 ppg. He has made 40.9% of his threes, but picks his spots, and puts up most of his shots from closer to the basket. 6-2 senior Josh Gonner (8.8 ppg) was a starter last year, but often comes off the bench this season because his point production and outside shooting has slumped (34.4% on three-pointers).
Thin 6-9 sophomore Brandon Wallace (6.3 ppg) usually starts and gets 4.5 rebounds per game. Renaldo Balkman (6.2 ppg), nicknamed "The Plastic Man," is a 6-7 sophomore who also doesn't have much muscle, but has a real aptitude for rebounding (a team-leading 4.6 per game). Balkman usually comes off the bench.
Two JUCO transfers, 6-4 Rocky Trice and 6-8 Antoine Tisby, are the other two players that see considerable action. Trice (4.8 ppg) might start in place of Gonner. Tisby (4.8 ppg and 4.2 rebounds) helps out underneath, where his 230 pounds give him some weight to throw around.
South Carolina can be counted on to play tough defense, especially at home, either in the half court or full court. They have a roster of quick, active players, but very little muscle. Their great need seems to be more consistent point production from Gonner, Trice, Wallace, and others, to help Powell and Kelley. Outside shooting has been inconsistent, but there are plenty of players who can get to the basket.
The Vanderbilt Commodores are unpredictable, but if they don't reverse their present slide quite soon it will be easier to predict their games because they will develop a losing mentality (as in 2002-03). Odom is bound to have noticed that pressure on the Vanderbilt three-point shooters is an effective defensive measure and he has the players who can apply that presssure. Also, he has had Vanderbilt's number, the Gamecocks winning the last five games between the two teams. This looks like a loss for Vanderbilt in the six to twelve point range, perhaps more.