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South Carolina Gamecocks v. Florida Gators Basketball Preview

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Two teams that have had very surprising seasons - for very different reasons - open conference play against one another on Wednesday night.

Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

This season hasn't gone the way they expected.  For either team.

South Carolina and Florida tip off SEC play on Wednesday night with two teams that are playing similar basketball.  But aside from that, the teams have very different feelings about how their seasons have gone, both when compared to pre-season expectations, as well as when they look at their own records.

South Carolina has gone 2-1 against top 50 competition (the Big XII trio of Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State), dropped two other games, and otherwise blitzed through their schedule.  Florida challenged itself in the non-conference schedule, and paid the price for it when they weren't able to put their full roster on the court, suffering close losses to five very good opponents (Miami, Georgetown, North Carolina, Kansas, and UConn), along with a disappointing loss to rival Florida State.

That leaves us with two things to take away from the fact that South Carolina's favored by 1.5 points tonight.  First, the Gamecocks have played some really great basketball this season in order to find themselves favored against the Florida Gators tonight.  But also, despite carrying six losses, this is still a very good and very dangerous Florida squad.

The Four Factors (Pomeroy Rankings)
When USC has the ball (KP Rk.) When Fla has the ball (KP Rk.)
USC Off. Fla Def. Edge Fla Off. USC Def. Edge
123 42 Fla eFG% 95 6 USC Big
221 18 Fla Big TO% 181 50 USC Big
35 103 USC OReb% 67 61 Push
127 140 Push FTR 321 210 USC
Shooting (percentages)
When USC has the ball When Fla has the ball
USC Off. Fla Def. Fla Off. USC Def. NCAA Avg.
72.5% - FT% 64.3% - 68.6%
51.3% 42.5% 2P% 50.8% 38.5% 47.6%
30.5% - 3P% 33.8% - 33.7%
28.1% 33.1% 3PA% 38.1% 40.1% 34.1%

This game looks likely to take on a defensive bent, as each team looks likely to outplay their opponents when they don't have the ball.  The Gamecocks continued to play impressive defense on Saturday against Iowa State, holding the Cyclones to just 60 points in 73 possessions, although that relied in part on Iowa State missing threes and free throws, something that Carolina can't guarantee the Gators will do as well.

On the other side of the ball, the Gamecocks continue to struggle to enforce their will on offense, and Florida will not make things easy for them on that side of the court.  The Gators have significant height and length around the court, and they love to force turnovers.  If South Carolina hands the ball away as frequently as they did against ISU - 20 turnovers on the night - then they're going to need Florida to go cold from the field to have a chance to win.

The Gamecocks continue to utilize their depth, rolling out a 10-deep rotation thanks to the recent addition of Shamiek Sheppard to the fold.  He's played sparingly so far, but he was active on the defensive end against the Cyclones, ringing up a block and a steal in just 11 minutes of action, to go along with a nice slam dunk.  Of course, Carolina primarily relies on the combination of Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice to lead them.

Despite some frustration from some about Thornwell's play this year, he's basically the same guy he was last year, with more help around him, but with one exception - he's missed a lot of threes, shooting just 10-46 (22%) so far.  He hit 37% of his threes last season, so it's reasonable to expect that number to tick up as the season goes along.  He's also made up for it in part by vastly improving his two-point shooting, which has risen from 39% to 48% so far this season.

Florida has struggled mightily with injuries this season, with Dorian Finney-Smith and Eli Carter going down for stretches, and also have been dealing with the season-long suspension of Chris Walker as well as assimilating Alex Murphy, a transfer who just became eligible after first semester exams ended.

The Gators have their full compliment of players at the moment, although they still haven't been able to put it all together.  That said, it's a testament to the talent on this team that even though they haven't been able to put things together this season, they're still a considerable threat for second place in the SEC and the NCAA Tournament, not to mention to beat the Gamecocks this evening.

The Gators rely primarily on Finney-Smith and Michael Frazier, who you may remember from ruining the Gamecocks in the final home game of last season.  They've also received major contributions from Michigan transfer Jon Horford in the post.  Those three players are in the top 15 players in the SEC this year.  No one aside from Kentucky has that kind of frontline talent on the floor.

So how are teams beating the Gators?  Primarily, by being very good teams themselves - go check the list of teams they've lost to along the way, and you'll only see very good, talented basketball squads.  Fortunately for South Carolina, they're also one of those.

Time: 7pm ET

Location: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia SC

TV: SEC Network

Odds: Gamecocks by 1.5

Over/Under: 141