No. 25 South Carolina (10-0) vs. St. John's (7-5)
WATCH: 9:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
What a wonderful present. South Carolina basketball players, coaches and fans received the program's first top 25 ranking since March of 2004 just a few days before Christmas.
In this week's Associated Press poll, the Gamecocks emerged as the No. 25 team in the country, according to voters. They hold this spot just days after holding on to a road win over in-state rival Clemson last weekend. The victory made USC 10-0 first the first time in over 80 years.
The Gamecocks will take the floor for the first time as a ranked team in over a decade on Tuesday night against St. John's. This nonconference meeting is part of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Shootout at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. It will mark the fifth all-time meeting between the Gamecocks and Red Storm, and first since the 2012-13 season.
St. John's is led by former Red Storm star Chris Mullin in his first year of ever being a head coach at any level. Mullin has had a bumpy start to year one, playing with just nine scholarship players. They've upset Syracuse, but they've also been blown out by Incarnate Word and lost to New Jersey Institute of Technology recently.
The Red Storm are led by a senior-freshman backcourt duo in Durand Johnson and Federico Mussini. Mussini, the freshman half, is the team's leading scorer at 14.2 points per game. Like Clemson, St. John's is terrific at protecting the rim. They average 6.3 blocks per game, which ranks fifth nationally. Freshman center Yankuba Sima ranks third nationally with 3.6 blocks per game. Clemson made their run last Friday after switching to a zone defense that enabled them to cement their shot blockers in the paint. I expect St. John's to do something similar on Tuesday.
The Gamecock offensive carried itself to a 20-point lead against the Tigers last week but rebounding kept them from blowing the lead in the game's final moments. South Carolina continues to have one of the better rebounding margins in the country, despite Frank Martin's assertion that it's a major weakness.
USC remains the only unbeaten in the SEC after earning their 10th win to start the season. Just as impressive, the Gamecocks have led every game at halftime and by an average of 10.5 points. While the offense has been a revelation, Martin's patented defense has forced teams into their usual mistakes against South Carolina and they've taken advantage. Carolina is averaging 10.3 more points off turnovers per game than their opponents so far this year.
It will be quite the sight to see this program take the floor as a ranked team. It's taken a long time to get here - and many hope to make it a regular thing.