Implications: When the season began, I said that this team's goal should be a return to the NIT. A loss in this game wouldn't cost us a shot at that possibility. However, after the successes of the past few weeks, this team all of the sudden appears capable of making a push for the NCAA tournament. A win over Kentucky would be key for making that happen. In a weak SEC, Carolina won't get very many more chances to beat highly regarded teams and notch "resume wins." This home game against Kentucky is likely our best chance to earn such a win, so it's very important for us if we're indeed to make the Big Dance.
Key Matchup: Carolina defending Terrence Jones. I'm not really sure how Horn plans to stop Kentucky's star forward. What makes Jones such a nightmare is his versatility, which forces teams to devote multiple defenders to him. He can stroke it, he can drive the ball, and he can post you up. His weakness is that he could be more active passing the ball, especially considering that he often draws the attention of more than one defender, leaving other players open. I would think we'll see Malik Cooke defending Jones on the perimeter, but we'll have to be careful to provide good backside help, as Jones has a couple of inches on Cooke and could dominate him in the paint.
Why USC Could Win: The game is in Columbia, and Kentucky may be frazzled. Coming off a tough loss to Alabama, the 'Cats' season is on the brink, so they'll be feeling a lot of pressure not to lose this game. In a hostile arena, that's a tough spot to be in.
Why USC Could Lose: Talent gap. Like us, Kentucky is young, but unlike us, their roster is filled to the brim with elite talent. If the 'Cats play to their potential, they'll be tough for us--or anyone outside of a few of the national elite--to beat.
Prediction: I'd love to call a victory here, but, although it put the pressure on the 'Cats, I think Kentucky losing to Alabama was probably the worst thing for us. Both teams will come out fired up and play well, but the Wildcats will be focused, and their edge in talent should make the difference. I think they'll steadily build a lead and pull away late in the game.
Chat about it in the open thread.