The South Carolina Gamecocks come into this game with an overall record of 14-11, and 6-8 in conference play. Their best win was a 73-61 victory over Kentucky on February 15, in a home game. They defeated Vanderbilt 68-63 in Columbia, and also won there over Georgia (74-54), Tennessee (66-53), and Arkansas (64-52). On the road they defeated Georgia (60-53), but lost to Kentucky (79-75), LSU (79-64), Mississippi State (73-65), Florida (80-72), Alabama (87-68), and Tennessee (80-72). They have two home losses, to Auburn (74-71) and Florida (66-65). It would take victories in their last two conference games and at least two wins in the conference tournament to give them any sort of chance to go to the big dance.
6-7 senior Carlos Powell continues to lead South Carolina in scoring (15.3 ppg) and rebounding (6.6 per game). He is a hard-working 220-pounder who has been scoring around his average in the last several games. Earlier, against Vanderbilt, he was held to just nine points, but grabbed eleven rebounds. Powell is likely to make the second or third all-conference team.
Point guard Tre Kelley, a 6-0 sophomore, is second in scoring (9.4 ppg) and leads in assists, but his assist to turnover ratio is only fair (3.4/2.6). He had a 17-point game Saturday against Florida and can be a threat from the outside, although making only 30.8% of his threes.
After those two, the South Carolina starting lineup has been subject to rather frequent change. Six players see 17 to 26 minutes of action per game. 6-6 junior wing forward Tarence Kinsey scored 15 points against Vanderbilt earlier and drives to the basket well, in addition to hitting 38.4% of his threes. 6-2 senior Josh Gonner was in Coach Dave Odom's doghouse earlier, and lost his starting job; he is scoring 9.1 ppg and continues to be an outside threat (39.6% three-point shooting).
The player who has been coming on strongest for the Gamecocks is 6-8 junior Antoine Tisby. He was set down earlier in the season for not attending classes, but has come back lately, and is averaging 5.8 ppg and 4.2 rebounds. He hardly played in the earlier Vanderbilt game, but recently scored 18 points against Tennessee and 13 against Kentucky.
6-4 junior Rocky Trice scores 5.7 ppg and can shoot from the outside (36.4% success on threes). Very thin 6-9 sophomore Brandon Wallace (5.6 ppg) is the best shotblocker. Thin 6-7 sophomore Renaldo Balkman does a great job of rebounding (4.9 per game) and scores 5.8 ppg. It was Balkman who got in a fight with Corey Smith last year when South Carolina played Vanderbilt in Nashville.
Three other South Carolina players see significant action. 6-10 senior John Chappell (1.5 ppg) is a useful reserve under the basket. 6-6 freshman Dwayne Day (3.2 ppg) has had a couple of outstanding games. 5-11 freshman Stephen McDowell (2.2 ppg) is a backup point guard.
Looking at the team statistics, the greatest strengths of the Gamecocks are turnover margin, field goal shooting percentage, field goal defense, and three-point defense, in all of which they rank fourth among SEC teams. In points allowed per game and blocked shots, they are fifth. But they are only eleventh in free throw and three-point shooting percentages, eighth in rebounding margin, ninth in assists per game, tenth in points scored per game, and dead last in three-pointers made per game. On the whole, they are a better defensive team than on the offense.
South Carolina has been a very troublesome team for Vanderbilt to play for the past several years. Coach Kevin Stallings of Vanderbilt has said that the Commodores have more trouble matching up against the Gamecocks than any other SEC team because all of South Carolina's players are quick and play tough defense.
South Carolina has good depth, fair size, and about as much experience as Vanderbilt. The Gamecocks have had trouble winning on the road, but they have played very close games against three highly-ranked opponents on the road (Kentucky, Pittsburgh, and Kansas). They pose a very serious threat to the Commodores, but Vanderbilt is selected here to win by four to eight points after a tough battle. A loss in this game is likely to mean a losing conference record for the Dores because their last start is against LSU on the road.