The struggling South Carolina Gamecocks are heading to Lexington to take on the Kentucky Wildcats. UK defeated Carolina by 9 in Columbia earlier in the season, and Carolina is facing an uphill battle against the 'Cats. That said, this Kentucky team is far from invulnerable, and stranger things have happened than an upset here. Let's take a closer look at what Carolina needs to do to win this one.
Implications: We'll talk next week about what Carolina's chances are for making the NIT (hint: they're looking slim), but it's safe to say that a win at UK would be a step in the right direction. As for Kentucky, the 'Cats have every reason to believe that this game will be a layup, which means that it's important mainly in the sense that a loss would be disastrous.
Players to Watch: I'm going to go with our perimeter defense. Kentucky's guards torched us last time around, beating us mainly in transition and off the dribble. The 'Cats are also capable of burning us from downtown, particularly with frosh star Brandon Knight. A good, aggressive defensive performance from our guards could go a long way in this one.
I also think it's very important that Carolina plays focused, strategically sound offensive basketball early in the game. Our bugaboo in several recent games has been a slow start. Our problem, I think, is that we've reverted to only being able to score off transitions and turnover opportunities, which are mainly becoming available later in games, after our press begins to cause problems for our opponents. It would be great for that to happen again against Kentucky, but it won't matter if we're already 20 down. We have to score early to prevent that from happening.
Why Carolina Could Win: I'll be honest: I don't like our chances tomorrow. We're 16.5-point underdogs and have been playing very poorly lately. That said, something tells me this team has a win or two left in it, despite the fact that none of our remaining games look like likely wins. If we come to play tomorrow and catch Kentucky napping, this could be a good opportunity to spring an upset and get the season back on track.
Why Kentucky Should Win: As most of you know, I'm a big fan of the Four Factors. They strongly favor Kentucky in this game, particularly in eFG% and FT Rate. Where Carolina has a chance to make some hay in off offensive rebounding and the press, which helped us get back in the Columbia game. Again, though, we can't hope for these things to make a huge difference if we can't score early on.
Prediction: 15-point UK victory.