Despite South Carolina's basketball mediocrity over the last decade, the position they find themselves in tonight is a familiar one.
The Gamecocks earned an extra night in Nashville in the 2015 SEC Tournament after last night's 65-54 win over Missouri in the tourney's opening round. As a reward, USC gets to take on sixth-seeded Ole Miss tonight in Bridgestone Arena.
To get here, the Gamecocks overcame a soft Tiger push and were led by Sindarius Thornwell and his 18 points. The sophomore wing hit four treys in the ball game, marking a season high and matching a career high. South Carolina held Missouri to one field goal in the final eight minutes of the second half and blitzed them all game on the defensive end, resulting in a 36 percent shooting night for the Tigers.
USC, winners of three of their last four, were in this moment last year. After an opening round win over Auburn, the Gamecocks faced off with Arkansas, upsetting the Razorbacks and advancing to the SEC Tournament's quarterfinals.
To get to that platform for the second consecutive year, the Gamecocks will have to gain some revenge on an earlier loss. Their opponent, the Ole Miss Rebels, beat South Carolina in Oxford on January 10, 65-49. USC shot just 36.7 percent from the field and the Rebels held an advantage in points off turnovers and second-chance points. The Gamecocks bested the Rebels in points in the paint two months ago but couldn't capitalize on any other weaknesses Ole Miss is stricken with.
Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy, a close friend of Frank Martin, is in his ninth season at the helm in Oxford. His teams have won the four of the last five meetings between the two schools, including three straight. The Rebels and Gamecocks last met in the SEC Tournament in 2011, a 66-55 Ole Miss win.
Entering tournament play, Ole Miss lost three of their last four games, including an 86-77 home loss to Vanderbilt to close the season. Junior guard Stefan Moody is what makes the Rebels go. A member of the 2015 All-SEC First Team, Moody's 18.6 points per SEC game is tied for the highest mark in the league. Senior guard Jarvis Summers is his best running mate, averaging 12.3 points per game to go along with 4.7 assists per game, a high mark in the league. Like South Carolina, Ole Miss is very good from the free throw line with Moody shooting an insane 91 percent from the line.
There's no doubt the Gamecocks can run with the Rebels. The two teams met during the first weekend of SEC play. South Carolina has become a much better team since then. While USC has been through a lot since, Frank Martin seems convinced his team is in the best place mentally they have been all season. Mind games have been the team's biggest weakness if you believe Martin's theory. A mindset of aggression will be needed to beat Ole Miss. Laimonas Chatkevicius tallied one rebound last night. That cannot happen if South Carolina wants to win this game. Martin said it himself after the win last night. His center didn't help and he needs to help. It's no coincidence that South Carolina's wins last season in this very tournament coincided with solid stat lines from Chatkevicius.
Tonight's winner will take on the third-seeded Georgia Bulldogs, a team USC swept this season, in the next round tomorrow night. South Carolina and Ole Miss will tip-off shortly after the conclusion of Vanderbilt-Tennessee at approximately 9:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network. Dave Neal and former USC head coach Darrin Horn will have the call.