Tennessee (12-5, 3-3 SEC) will travel from one Columbia to another for its second straight road game this week with an opportunity to get back above .500 in conference play. The Vols came up short against former head coach Cuonzo Martin’s Missouri Tigers, losing 59-55 despite not allowing a field goal in the last six minutes of the game.
South Carolina (12-6, 3-3 SEC) is coming off back-to-back SEC wins, including a 76-68 win at home over No. 18 Kentucky on Tuesday. While Frank Martin’s team will likely be on the NCAA tournament bubble down the stretch, this is not the same South Carolina team that made that Final Four run last season. Only two players from that roster returned — however, one leads the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounds. That man, Chris Silva, averages 14.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game this season, putting up 27 points in the win over Kentucky.
South Carolina plays a physical style of basketball that ranks in the top 40 in the country for scoring defense, as the Gamecocks allow 65.3 points per game. While the Vols’ scoring averages 79 points per game in conference, they were only able to put up 55 against Missouri, who shut down Tennessee’s backcourt Wednesday night.
Guards Jordan Bone, Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner went a combined 2 for 19 from the field, and the Vols shot 38 percent as a team. A repeat of that performance from the Tennessee backcourt would certainly result in another loss on Saturday. Consistent guard play seems to be this team’s Achilles heel, especially late in tight games. The Vols will have to limit turnovers and make some shots from the outside to win on Saturday.
A loss tonight would not be the end of the world for Tennessee, especially with winnable games against Vanderbilt, Iowa State and LSU upcoming. But, South Carolina has won three straight over Tennessee, with the Vols’ last win coming in 2016.
Despite Tennessee’s advantage down low with Grant Williams and Kyle Alexander, I believe the Gamecocks will extend that streak to four, and the trio of Bone, Bowden and Turner have another bad night shooting the ball. If you hated every second of the Missouri game, look away, because this one might bring back memories of Wednesday night.
South Carolina 66, Tennessee 62