The madness of March is finally here for these South Carolina Gamecocks. After receiving a bye in the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2009, USC is set to take on Georgia in their opening game of the 2016 SEC Tournament.
The Bulldogs earned a 10-point win over Mississippi State Thursday night, earning themselves the right to play South Carolina Friday night in Nashville. It will be the third meeting between UGA and USC this season, with Georgia taking both contests, including the Gamecocks' Senior Night in Columbia.
Senior Night was the home finale for a historic season of South Carolina basketball. Their last game, a road win over Arkansas, set the school record for regular season wins in a season. 24 wins are the most in a season since 1997 for this program. Their 11 SEC wins are the most since 1998 and match the second-most ever in school history. It is just the fourth time that the Gamecocks have had double-digit SEC wins in their 25 years in the league.
With a win over Georgia Friday night, South Carolina will match the school record for wins in a season (25).
The Gamecocks pulled both victories out over UGA last season but fell to the higher seeded Bulldogs when the two teams met in the SEC Tournament. Could we be headed for a role reversal in 2016?
Georgia enters the game as the conference's sixth seed and on a four-game winning streak after Thursday's triumph over Mississippi State. J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten are again the players to watch for the Bulldogs, combining for 32 points per game and are the foundation of UGA's inside-out attack. Senior guards Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann are certainly capable of making an impact on the game as they both average double-figure scoring.
But the Bulldogs earn their wins on the defensive side of the floor, entering Friday's match-up with the best field goal percent defense in the SEC, recently taking the top spot from Kentucky. They also rank third in 3-point field goal percent defense (32.4 percent) and third in blocked shots (5.3 per game). Georgia will also give South Carolina all they can handle on the boards.
This will be UGA's first neutral site game of the season and we all know USC fared very well during their neutral stops during nonconference play.
South Carolina's best player, senior forward Michael Carrera, set out the Gamecocks' season finale with a hip injury. As of Friday morning, it is still up in the air on whether or not USC's emotional leader will be on the floor Friday night.
Frank Martin's team has been a tough out the last couple of years in the SEC Tournament, but now they'll have to approach that resilience as the higher seed - something they've never been before.