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Florida, Kentucky await South Carolina men’s basketball; can the Gamecocks make a statement?

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Welcome to The Bounceback, a weekly feature focused on South Carolina basketball. We’ll dig into the storylines from the past few games and preview the week ahead.

Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational - Syracuse v South Carolina Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The old saying goes that “to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best”. If the Gamecocks are to be taken seriously as a contender in the SEC in 2017, they’ll need to take care of the top teams in the league. They’ll have that opportunity on Wednesday night against Florida and on Saturday evening at Kentucky in Lexington.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It looks like Mike White has the Gators trending in the right direction in year two. After a 21-15 season last year that saw them advance to the NIT quarterfinals, Florida is 14-3 and 5-0 in the SEC. They battled several top teams close, losing to Gonzaga and Florida State by five and Duke by 10. The pressure was always going to be on White, who was a rising star at La. Tech, to keep the program on the same path it was under Billy Donovan. It’s safe to say that the 39-year-old has held his own thus far.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Vanderbilt Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Frank Martin and Sindarius Thornwell that the atmosphere at Colonial Life Arena will be at fever pitch on Wednesday evening, understanding that a strong turnout could help turn the game in the Gamecocks’ favor.

Meanwhile, there are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and Kentucky being good at basketball. The Wildcats are sitting at #5 in the latest AP poll and have been powered by a freshman that you may have heard of by the name of Malik Monk (21.8 ppg). And you may need to catch him while you can, because he’ll be one of the many John Calipari disciples to go one-and-done.

This is probably one of the more critical two-game stretches in recent history for the Gamecocks when it comes to what all is on the line. Both of these teams (certainly Kentucky) should be in the NCAA Tournament barring a dramatic collapse. And if the Gamecocks are to be there as well, they’ll need to have complete performances on both nights. The game against Ole Miss didn’t convince me that they have the firepower needed to do just that, but with the defense playing the way it is, we’ll see what happens.

Women’s basketball 2-0 without A’ja, thanks to Cuevas-Moore

NCAA Womens Basketball: Texas A&M at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The women’s basketball team has held it together without A’ja Wilson in the lineup, winning a squeaker against Georgia on Thursday before a blowout victory in Baton Rouge against LSU. A big part of their success has been due in part to Bianca Cuevas-Moore. The junior scored a career-high 25 against the Lady Dawgs (on 10-17 shooting) before a 17-point outing against the Lady Tigers (on 6-11 shooting). While it was great to see Allisha Gray shake off a tough night on the floor against Georgia and bounce back with a nearly perfect night at LSU, and with Alaina Coates’ rebounding prowess in the mix, seeing Cuevas-Moore assert herself and take a large role over these past couple of games has been a welcome sight.

Rankings and stats

The Gamecock women still sit at #5 in this week’s AP poll, setting up what could be a #4/#5 faceoff when Mississippi State enters the CLA next Monday. The men have moved back into the top 25, sitting at #24.

In the stat department on the men’s side, Sindarius Thornwell is fourth in the SEC in scoring (18.0) and leads in steals per game (2.5), with P.J. Dozier sitting in third with 2.1. The team is eighth in scoring defense (59.8 points allowed) and third in field goal percentage defense (36.4%).

The women continue to sit near the top of the country in margin of victory (25.6, sixth) and field goal percentage defense (33.9%, eighth). A’ja Wilson’s 16.9 points per game put her in a three-way tie for third in the conference, while Alaina Coates is first in the SEC and third nationally in field goal percentage (69%). Her eleven double-doubles is tops in the league and sixth in the country.

This Week

vs. #19 Florida (14-3, 5-0 SEC) Wednesday (6:30pm, SEC Network)
at #5 Kentucky (15-2, 5-0 SEC) Saturday (6pm, ESPN)

vs. Ole Miss (13-4, 2-2 SEC) Thursday (7pm, SEC Network)
vs. #4 Mississippi State (18-0, 5-0 SEC) Monday (7pm, ESPN2)