Earlier this season, the South Carolina Men's basketball team made a large statement when they took down then-undefeated Oklahoma State in Colonial Life Arena. Now, the Gamecocks hit the road, not for a hostile environment but for the incredible Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, where a neutral-site contest awaits versus another Big-12 team.
Fred Hoiberg's Iowa State team will stand across the floor on Saturday night. The game will feature impressive and successful contrasting styles with the Cyclones boasting one of the nation's best offenses and the Gamecocks possessing a nationally relevant defense that's equal parts aggressive and suffocating.
Iowa State (10-1) entered this season after advancing to the Sweet Sixteen, where they lost to eventual NCAA champion Connecticut. From that team, they returned 2013-14 All-Big 12 player Georges Niang. The junior forward has had a solid, all-around season posting averages of 16.1 points per game, 5.4 rebounds per game, and 3.9 assists per game. He is one several players that leads a Cyclone offense that is first nationally in assists per game, ninth in field goal percentage, and tenth in points per game. Sophomore guard Monte Morris is the catalyst, leading the nation with a 6.1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. His backcourt mate Naz Long provides spacing by stretching the floor with his 44.4 percent 3-point shooting this season. Long has hit 17-of-30 from behind the arc in Iowa State's last four games, including a 7-of-10 deep range performance Wednesday night vs. Mississippi Valley State. Each Iowa State starter is scoring in double figures and making at least half of their shots so far this year. The Cyclones have scored at least 80 points in nine of its 11 games this season, a very impressive feat considering the lack of scoring in college basketball today.
The Gamecocks hang their hat on the other end of the floor. The Gamecocks have played wonderful defense all season but its defense is becoming borderline toxic for opponents as of late. South Carolina has held five consecutive opponents under 60 points and in the month of December, they held opponents to 51.8 points per game on 29.2 percent shooting. For the season, the Gamecocks are allowing opponents to shoot just 33.7 percent from the field, a mark that ranks fifth nationally in field goal percentage defense. Frank Martin's team has won six in a row, and each has been by double figures, a feat that hasn't been reached by a South Carolina basketball team since the 1944-45 season. The winning streak is the longest during Martin's time in Columbia and has the potential to be the longest in over a decade if they can get past Iowa State. The Gamecocks haven't won seven in a row since 2003-04 when they opened the season with eight consecutive wins. South Carolina's latest game was a 91-54 home victory over North Carolina A&T that featured each starter scoring in double figures, led by Mindaugas Kacinas with a season-high 16 points. During the Gamecocks' win streak, Duane Notice has been the main source of offense for a team that has had six different players lead the team in scoring. Notice is averaging 17.4 points while shooting 53.2 percent from the field during South Carolina's last seven games.
Like the Gamecocks, the Cyclones had an impressive December after a disappointing November defeat. Iowa State lost to No.12 Maryland in Kansas City on November 25 but since then they have defeated then-No. 18 Arkansas and in-state rival Iowa by a combined 33 points, posting 95 and 90 points respectively in those games. For college basketball fanatics, the contrasting styles makes this neutral site, nonconference affair a must-watch but in the face of the NFL Playoffs, this game will likely go down as an under-the-radar game that will likely be brought up in conversation come March.
Saturday night's game is the first meeting between the two programs but Frank Martin faced Iowa State 10 times during his time at Kansas State, coming away with a 7-3 record versus the Cyclones. Four of those meetings involved Martin-Hoiberg duels with each coach coming away with two victories. The game tips-off at 6pm ET and will be broadcasted on CBS Sports Network.