Tomorrow evening, the South Carolina Gamecocks will welcome the Tennessee Volunteers to Columbia for the second-to-last game of the season. The game will be nationally televised. The game provides an opportunity for the struggling Gamecocks to retain some semblance of dignity for a largely lost season. As you might be know, Carolina has not had much success against the Vols in recent years. In fact, Carolina has not beaten Tennessee since 2006-2007, when Tre Kelley, who scored 25 in the game, was running the show for Dave Odom's 'Cocks. It would calm some nerves around our basketball program to break that streak, not to mention give us a slight chance to make the postseason. Let's take a closer look at what we'll need to do to get there.
A win in this game is essential for Carolina's NIT chances. Carolina is currently sitting at 124th in the RPI and needs some wins over quality teams to help its cause, not to mention to finish with a +.500 record. Luckily, with an RPI of 53, Tennessee qualifies; a win in this game should benefit our RPI. For the Vols, this game is also important. After its loss to Mississippi St. over the weekend, Tennessee is squarely on the bubble and needs to avoid the dreaded "bad loss" as it heads towards Selection Sunday.
What to Watch For
Although it's taken him some time to warm up to the idea, Darrin Horn has slowly started to give Eric Smith more and more minutes while reducing Bruce Ellington's minutes. Will Horn finally give Smith a start and see what he can contribute with more responsibility on his shoulders? I'd love to see it. We should also be ready to give Lakeem Jackson more minutes, which should help our defense. Jackson returned from injury last weekend against UGA, but his minutes were limited. Jackson should benefit not only our defense, but our offense, as well. As we know, he can't shoot the ball very well, but his distribution skills are valuable to a team with few players who seem to have little sense of what to do with the ball outside of shooting it. I'd like to see Smith and Jackson play a bigger role in this game than they have lately.
Continue reading after the jump.
Why Tennessee Could Win
The Four Factors favor Tennessee, as seen below. This reflects the fact that the Vols are generally a more talented team than Carolina.
Why Carolina Could Win
Carolina played Tennessee until the very end in Knoxville. Should make for another good game in Columbia, right? It's hard to know. Tennessee is the league's highest variance team, a team that did the nearly impossible last week by beating Vanderbilt on the road and followed that up by an ugly home loss to Mississippi St. If the good Tennessee shows up, we're probably in trouble. However, I like our chances to beat the bad Tennessee. Bad Tennessee tends to force plays and struggle to protect the ball. We're good against such teams. If we can force nearly 20 turnovers like we did in Knoxville, I like our chances to take a win here, because one would assume we'll also shoot the ball better at home.
I'm feeling lucky tonight and think Bad Tennessee may make an appearance, and I think we're going to perform in this back-to-the-wall situation. I'm calling a close Carolina victory.
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