After this season's non-conference slate, many in Gamecock land likely expected to be where their opponent Tuesday night currently stands.
Before the season the Tennessee Volunteers (11-5, 3-1) were picked by the media to finish towards the very bottom of an improved but lacking Southeastern Conference.
So far, they haven't bowed down to those expectations. The Vols are the surprise team so far in the SEC and one of many in college basketball.
After two wins vs. RPI Top 35 teams in non-conference play, a attention-grabbing 3-1 start in conference play was supposed to come along with South Carolina's season.
That fantasy for many Gamecock fans didn't happen. Instead, Frank Martin's team is off to a 1-3 start that includes two painful weekend road losses and a tough home loss in their SEC opener. South Carolina has now lost three of four after a seven-game win streak.
The latest disappointment was Saturday's 71-68 loss at Auburn. Despite the result, there were positives for the Garent & Black. Junior forward Laimonas Chatkevicius posted 15 points and 11 rebounds, his first double-double in an SEC game and his second overall. The Three Musketeers (Duane Notice, Tyrone Johnson, Sindarius Thornwell) combined for 42 points. The performance marked the first league game in which the trio each scored in double figures. It also marked the sixth time this season that Notice scored 15 or more points.
The Gamecocks shot 50% from the field and still lost. With this defense, that should never happen. South Carolina held Auburn to just 36.5% shooting from the field. The Tigers became the 10th opponent this season that the home team has held under 40% from the field. It was the first game all season in which South Carolina held its opponent under 40% shooting and lost. It also marked the first time all season in which a team finished a game with more fast break points than the Gamecocks.
With the loss, South Carolina dropped to an RPI of 108 despite three wins vs. RPI Top 50 teams (Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Alabama).
Most, including myself, are still skeptical of this Tennessee team but that doesn't mean an opportunity isn't still there for the taking.
The Vols have won 14-straight meetings against the Gamecocks, including the two duels last season, a 72-53 win in Knoxville and a 59-44 win in the SEC Tournament. The last time South Carolina beat Tennessee in basketball was February 17, 2007, an 81-64 win in Columbia.
On sheer history this should be a game South Carolina has marked down as a must-win. Throw in the disappointing 1-3 conference start and this becomes a crucial moment for this team.
Senior guards Tyrone Johnson of South Carolina and Josh Richardson of Tennessee will be players to watch. Johnson has scored in double-figures in all four SEC games, leading the Gamecocks with 14.8 points per game on 47.5% shooting in league play. Richardson leads the Vols in scoring and assists at 15.9 points and 3.5 assists per game. He had 20 points in Tennessee's upset win last week over No. 19 Arkansas and was named the SEC Player of the Week during a period last month.
The Gamecocks will also need to rely on Duane Notice and Sindarius Thornwell. The two along with Johnson gave us a promising performance on the Plains and that needs to happen again if South Carolina hopes to pry a win from Donnie Tyndall's stingy defense. The first-year head coach has built his team on defense, knowing they'll thrive on the ugly games.
A scouting report on Tennessee cannot end without a mention of Armani Moore and the week he just had. Moore, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, was instrumental in his team's wins over No. 19 Arkansas and Missouri this past week. Against the Razorbacks, Moore tallied 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, eight rebounds, four steals, two assists, and a block. On Saturday vs. the Tigers, Moore again filled up the stat sheet. The junior wing finished with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, 11 rebounds, two steals, two assists, and a block. Moore is the team's leading rebounder and is third in scoring, second in assists, and second in steals.
Tennessee and Kentucky are the only two SEC teams to start off conference play 2-0 on the road. In fact, Tennessee's only road loss this season was a month ago at NC State, a team likely headed to the Big Dance.
Tennessee's first visit to Columbia since 2013 will mark the beginning of a two-game conference homestand for the Gamecocks. USC is 7-2 at home this season and as of right now they rank fourth in average home attendance in the SEC.
Monday marked the start of the Coaches vs. Cancer Awareness Week. In line with the nationwide event that helps raise awareness about the fight against cancer as well as promote the American Cancer Society, Frank Martin and his staff will wear sneakers on the sideline this week.
Rich Hollenber and Dino Gaudio have the call at 9pm ET on ESPNU.