Vanderbilt's visit to Mississippi State on Wednesday was disappointing. The team failed to play with intensity and fell behind at half-time by 12 points. After that things only got worse, as the final score of 82-60 shows. Poor rebounding, ballhandling, and defense combined to make this game probably the Commodores's worst showing of the season to date. Matt Freije scored 21 points and Brian Thornton 13, but no one else contributed more then six.
The South Carolina Gamecocks come to Nashville with seven consecutive losses and an overall record of 7-11. Their only notable non-conference victory was a 66-47 win over Temple at home. They started conference play by beating Mississippi 55-49, but since then they have lost to Kentucky (twice), Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State, Tennessee, and LSU. Their conference games were all close until the last two, which produced an 87-69 defeat by Kentucky and a 71-59 loss to LSU, both on the road. Like Vanderbilt, South Carolina has not won a road game this year.
Coach Dave Odum has had to deal with a lot of injuries and illness. 6-10 senior center Marius Petravicius had his career ended by an ACL tear after playing just ten games. 6-10 senior center Tony Kitchings has been troubled by a foot injury and missed eight games, although he is expected to be available Saturday. 6-5 senior Chris Warren returned to action against LSU after missing five games because of a severe ankle sprain. 6-6 freshman Marcus Morrison has missed the last six games and there has been considerable illness recently among team members.
6-7 sophomore forward Carlos Powell is the team's leading scorer with 13.6 ppg. He and 6-8 junior transfer Kerbrell Brown (10.6 ppg) are the two best outside shooters, but both make only 30-33% of their attempts from beyond the three-point line.
6-7 senior Chuck Eidson is the best all-around player on the team. He scores 11.2 ppg, easily leads in assists (4.8 per game), and is the third best rebounder (5.2 per game). He makes 43% of his shots from the field, but never has been noted for his accuracy as an outside shooter. He is a good defender and heady player, and divides his time between point guard, shooting guard, and shooting forward.
6-9 junior Rolando Howell was considered a big catch when South Carolina recruited him, but has never quite lived up to expectations. He is the leading rebounder (6.4 per game), but scores only 9.9 ppg. One thing that hurts Howell is his poor free throw shooting (51.5%).
The role of fifth starter has shuttled between 6-2 junior Michael Boynton and 6-1 freshman Jarod Gerald. Boynton averages 3.3 ppg and Gerald can hardly be prevailed upon to launch a shot so his scoring average is minuscule.
Despite his foot injury, Kitchings comes off the bench when able and scores 8.6 ppg, while grabbling 5.4 rebounds. He was a highly regarded high school player, but weight problems, injuries, and inconsistent play have kept him from developing into a star.
The presence of Warren should help the Gamecocks solve their depth problem. He scores 5.9 ppg and is a fair shooter. 6-6 freshman Terance Kinsey (1.8 ppg) has been showing some promise, and 6-10 sophomore John Chappell has been seeing limited action recently. 6-7 junior Ivan Howell seems to be a permanent non-factor.
In most statistical categories, the Gamecocks are far down the list among Southeastern Conference teams. They are 12th in scoring, scoring margin, rebounding margin, field goal defense, and three point shooting (28.2%). They show up better in assist/turnover ratio (7th), and free-throw shooting (8th), and are second in steals. They play good man-to-man defense but, probably due to the injury problems, are only 9th in points allowed.
Coach Odum is a spirited leader who works hard to keep the team from getting down. If anything can be salvaged from the season, he will do it, as shown by the Gamecocks's excellent finish last year (his first at South Carolina), in which they came back from a 6-10 conference record to go all the way to the NIT finals and finish 22-15 overall.
Obviously this is a game that Vanderbilt should win. Indeed, a loss would be a disastrous turn of affairs. It is reasonable to expect the Commodores to come back from their weak showing against Mississippi State and win by eight to twelve points, and possibly more.