South Carolina has spent the first five games of the SEC season going 1-3 in close games and getting inexplicably blown out by Ole Miss. A 2-3 or 3-2 record would be a much fairer reflection of the level of basketball they've played, but poor shooting and bad luck have left Carolina in desperate need of saving their once bright NCAA hopes.
So, trying to build off a home loss to a rather mediocre (despite their 4-1 SEC record) Tennessee squad, the Gamecocks at least have a home game to try to build on before they hit the road again. Who's the opponent the Gamecocks face to try to get right against?
There's not a lot to say about the Wildcats you don't already know - they're excellent basically from the first guy to the last, and they'll give the Gamecocks an incredible array of problems on both ends of the court.
Let's start where USC has struggled most this season - when the Gamecocks have the ball. The Wildcats only allow teams to make 34.7% of their two-point attempts against them, in large part because they block over 21% of those shots. Apparently, having two guys that are over 7'0" on the floor is helpful when defending two-point field goal attempts.
That leaves the Gamecocks reliant on something that hasn't worked for them all season - three-point attempts. South Carolina is hitting just 30.1% of their efforts from beyond the arc (295th in the NCAA) this year, and doesn't even attempt a lot of field goals from out there, averaging just 28.9% of their field goals from that range. But twos aren't the way you beat Kentucky. South Carolina's weaknesses play right into Kentucky's strengths, and the last thing you want in a game where you're out-talented is to have bad match-ups to boot.
The other problem with the Wildcats is that they play great defense otherwise - they force turnovers on nearly one-quarter of their opponents' possessions and rarely allow teams to ring up easy points from the foul line. If the Gamecocks can control the ball well enough to get shots off, they should at least have some opportunities for second-chance points, as the Gamecocks are strong offensive rebounders, and defensive rebounding is one of Kentucky's few weaknesses.
On the other end of the floor, the Wildcats are similarly strong. They actually don't shoot as well as you'd think, but they are strong all across the board, and they're amazing at offensive rebounding - the best in the nation - grabbing over 44% of their misses. Again, when you have Dakari Johnson (7'0"), Willie Cauley-Stein (7'0"), and Karl-Anthony Towns (6'11"), you're going to win the post match-up basically every time out.
Fortunately for South Carolina, they have at times this season been a strong defensive team, despite a less than strong start to SEC play. They're main issue this season has been the problem that has plagued Frank Martin-coached teams since he's arrived in Columbia - fouling. While the Wildcats aren't lights out from the line (68.8%), Carolina can't afford to give up easy points all night if they want to walk out winners.
So it's simple - stop one of the best offenses in the nation while finding ways to score against the best defense in the nation. That said, things didn't look great in 2010 (when Carolina beat the Wildcats) and certainly not last year, when the Gamecocks upset Kentucky in Columbia. If they can re-kindle that kind of magic once again, there's a chance they can get the season back on track in a major way with a historic victory on Saturday afternoon.
Time: 12pm ET