Gamecocks Hoops Weekly Forecast: 2/15-2/21

In his latest bracketology, Joe Lunardi still has us as a nine seed, this time taking on struggling Texas. In this bracket, we'd be playing Pitt if we managed to take down the Longhorns. Not much changed in the rankings. We picked up a here and there, but didn't really move any closer to breaking into the Top 25, as most of the teams above us stayed put. One team that didn't was Florida, who received no votes after being on the verge of breaking back into the Top 25 last week. Two straight losses--one to hapless UGA--will do that to you. LSU managed to break into the Top 25 for the first time this year, ending the SEC's two-week drought. We're the second-highest vote-getter in the SEC, although we're still a ways out and probably wouldn't get in even with two wins this week. However, I agree with Seth Emerson when he says that our chances for making it to the NCAAs are now pretty solid. If we can manage to either (1) win four out of our last six and finish with 11 conference wins or (2) get 10 conference wins and win a game in the SEC tourney, I think we're probably OK. A lot depends on how other teams do, but right now the bubble looks soft.

This week we travel to Starkville midweek and host Arkansas over the weekend. The game against State will be tough, perhaps our toughest remaining. In that sense, a loss wouldn't kill us, but a win would be something to write home about, as it would leave us with an easy path to success. Arkansas shouldn't be too much trouble, especially if Courtney Fortson is still out and we fill up the CLA.

Mississippi State

You probably know about the Bulldogs' talented center, Jarvis Varnado. Varnado is one of the nation's best shotblockers and a general defensive force. He's also improved his offensive game this season. Look for him to limit our ability to score in the paint and to have little trouble scoring on Mike Holmes and Sam Muldrow, especially if we have trouble getting him off the offensive boards. The Western Dawgs also sport a number of good shooters, particularly swingman Ravern Johnson, who is shooting 45% (!) from beyond the arc. Look for the MSU shooters to get lots of looks if we have to focus lots of attention on Varnado on the block.

Offensively, we should be able to get some good looks for the outside and Devan Downey should be able to drive on State's guards. Of course, Varnado will be there in the middle to stuff his shot, so Downey will have to be creative once he gets the ball close to the hoop. Hopefully, we'll be able to heat up from the outside and won't have to deal with Varnado too much. If we can do that, we can hang with MSU. If we can't, we could be in for a long day.

Arkansas

The memories of Arkansas's victories over Texas and Oklahoma (the Sooners' only loss of the season, in fact) are far away now. Since then, Arkansas has won only one SEC game. After UGA's victory over Florida, in fact, the Hogs are now tied with UGA for the dubious distinction of being the conference's worst team.

What does this mean for us? In short, we will be heavily favored against the Hogs, especially if they remain without Fortson. We'll have to contain center Michael Washington, who currently leads Arkansas in scoring. We'll also have to limit our turnovers and keep the Hogs off the boards. However, Arkansas lacks elite scoring ability, so, unless they look like a different team, we should be able to outscore them.

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