No. 22 South Carolina (14-0) vs. Vanderbilt (8-6)
WATCH: 3:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU
No. 22 South Carolina won their first SEC opener since 2011 by defeating the Auburn Tigers, 81-69, on the road Tuesday night. Junior wing Sindarius Thornwell scored a season-high 22 points to lead the Gamecocks as they earned their first conference win on their first attempt.
Now it's time to defend their home floor. USC will welcome Vanderbilt to Colonial Life Arena on Saturday afternoon as part of their 2016 SEC home opener. The Commodores enter Columbia with a disappointing 8-6 record on the season. Kevin Stallings, in his 17th season leading Vandy, was supposed to have, by most predictors, the second best team in the Southeastern Conference this season.
There is no shame in losing to the teams Vanderbilt lost to in the nonconference - Kansas, Baylor, Dayton and Purdue. All of these teams are likely to make the NCAA Tournament this season. Conference play represents their discouraging acts. Vandy lost to a surging LSU team at home in their opener, a loss that actually may not seem all that bad a month from now. Stallings' bunch followed it though with a loss at Arkansas.
Vanderbilt still has the talent and time to meet their expectations, they're just in a hole at the moment after starting 0-2 in the SEC. Sophomore guard Wade Baldwin and junior center Damian Jones are projected first round picks in this summer's NBA Draft. Baldwin leads the team in scoring with 14.7 points per game while Jones is the team's rebounding leader with 6.9 rebounds per game. The Commodores are a solid offensive team as the second best shooting team in the conference with a 47.6 field goal percentage. That includes 41.1 percent shooting from three-point range.
South Carolina remains the 22nd team in the Associated Press poll, the program's highest ranking since 1998. With Tuesday's win, they improved to 14-0, remaining one of just two unbeaten teams in the country.
The Gamecocks have hit the seventh most free throws and attempted the eighth most free throws in the country. Their trips to the line weren't there on the Plains earlier this week, instead hitting a season-high nine three-pointers in their place. Thornwell connected on a career-high five treys in the game.
After scoring 22 points against Auburn, Thornwell needs just nine points to reach 1,000 points for his career. He'd be the 42nd player in USC history to score 1,000 and the first since Dominique Archie in 2009-10.
The series between the two programs is close to even with a 29-25 edge going to the Commodores. They gained that advantage in the last decade, earning seven wins in the last 10 meetings.
While the Gamecocks are ranked and boast an undefeated record, Vanderbilt is just as talented, if not more so than USC. Quality wins in SEC play are so difficult to earn because there are usually so few opportunities to obtain them. With a lackluster nonconference schedule, South Carolina needs to emerge victorious in almost every opportunity they receive. And one of those opportunities is Saturday.