Gamecocks Hoops Weekly Forecast: 2/8-2/14

South Carolina enters this week at 17-5 and 6-3 in conference. We're alone in second place in the Eastern Division, with Florida at number one at 6-2 and Kentucky and Tennessee right behind us at 5-3. This week we don't have a midweek game and take on Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. We're ranked 35th in the AP Poll and 34th in the ESPN/USA Today's Coaches Poll. I was a little surprised that we dropped so much in the AP, but such is life. If we beat Bama this weekend, we'll likely be knocking on the door next week. Lunardi moved us up this week, now having us as a 10 seed taking on Tubby Smith's Minnesota Golden Gophers. That's a game I think we'd have a shot at winning.

One thing to keep an eye on this week is the Florida-Kentucky tilt Tuesday in Lexington. This game looms large in the conference standings. Who should a Gamecock pull for here? It's hard to say. A Cats win would create a three-way tie for first between us, UK, and UF, and I think we'd be ahead by a tiebreaker over UK. It would also possibly facilitate a path for us to finish first, as we still have another game against the Cats but don't play the Gators again. If we could sweep the Cats (and beat UT), that would have us sitting pretty for the Eastern Division crown. A Gators win would help Florida solidify their hold on first and push Kentucky further down the standings. We'd be further behind Florida but would have a more solid hold on second place. Since a second place finish in the division would net us a first-round bye in the SEC tourney and possibly facilitate a deep run for the tourney championship, I'm going to cheer for Florida in this one, as much as I hate to do that.

Alabama

Bama will come into this game at 13-10 and 3-6 in conference. Their last game was a loss at LSU. The Tide are led by Coach Philip Pearson, who took over a couple of weeks back after embattled coach Mark Gottfried resigned. Senior shooting guard Alonzo Gee leads the Tide in scoring. Surprisingly enough, Gee also leads the Tide in rebounding, a rarity for a guard.

Alabama is not a very good team this year, as demonstrated by the fact that they're being run by an interim coach. However, there's talent in Tuscaloosa and the game is in the Coleman Colliseum, so the potential for the upset is there. The keys for us will be to shut down Gee and power forward JaMychal Green. The shifty, sharp-shooting, and, for his position, big Gee is a matchup problem for most teams, while Green could cause problems for us in the post. However, aside from guard Senario Hillman, the Tide don't have many scoring threats, so if we can shut down at least one of these players, they might not have many other options.

Offensively, I would like to see us get the ball inside more in this game. Bama plays a lot of smaller lineups, and while we lack a true, skyscraper center, we do play a larger lineup than Bama when we have Dominique Archie, Mike Holmes, and Sam Muldrow in the game. Our offensive strategy has typically been to create long range shots with dribble penetration and to have Holmes and Muldrow jockey for offensive board position, but, this time, I think we should actually try to let them post up a little. That is, unless Zam Fredrick or Devan Downey heat up, at which point I say you just give them the ball. It's also worth noting that our emphasis on offensive rebounding has paid off in a number of games, so perhaps we should just keep doing what we've been doing. I just like our bigs in this game and I fear that we won't shoot as well in a road atmosphere, even if excitement for Bama hoops is probably at an all-time low right now.

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