The South Carolina Gamecocks are approaching the final five games of their up, but mostly down, basketball season as they prepare for Tennessee on Wednesday.
The South Carolina Gamecocks are all but eliminated from any postseason appearance and are in desperate need of a moral(and literal) victory in Knoxville.
There aren’t many reasons for optimism for Carolina fans going into this matchup, as the Gamecocks have dropped 3 straight and 4 of their last 5. Frank Martin’s club has also been abysmal on the road in their COVID-plagued season, going 1-4 away from the CLA.
COVID within the Vols program managed to push this game back a day. The only reason that could be positive, is as it pertains to the recent injury to both Sophomore Guard Jermaine Cousinard and Junior Forward Justin Minaya. Cousinard suffered a knee injury in the first half of the Gamecocks loss to Ole Miss on Saturday. Meanwhile, Minaya suffered a head injury in the closing minutes, and both players were announced out for the matchup. The extra day of preparation, however, gives Frank Martin a full day to contemplate how to attack the Vols without them in the rotation. The very obvious downside is that both players are regulars in the starting lineup, despite the fact that neither has really been the contributor fans have hoped this season. Minaya’s absence may hurt the most, as he is the team’s most reliable defender and leading rebounder on a team that leads the conference in offensive rebounds. The absence of both opens the door for increased minutes for the raw but hyper-athletic Forward Keyshawn Bryant and Guard Trae Hannibal. Hannibal and Bryant are all hustle, but some would argue, they perform best coming off the bench change of pace players, not full-time starters.
Tennessee is also coming off an unimpressive loss to LSU on Saturday that saw the Tigers shoot a gaudy 51% from the field in a game where the game wasn’t really as close as the double-digit loss would even indicate. Tennessee has relied on a fairly balanced attack on offense as they don’t have a single top 25 scorer in the SEC. However, Rick Barnes’ squad has played very efficient basketball this season, turning the ball over less than any other team in the conference and they have seven(yes seven) players averaging at or near double digits in scoring.
South Carolina’s offensive production, on the other hand, has essentially been a one-man show starring Junior Guard AJ Lawson. Lawson has been playing the best basketball of his young career thus far, averaging just under 18ppg. Unfortunately, Lawson’s hot hand alone hasn’t been enough to carry over to the win column as of late. Considering now that the team’s previously mentioned 3rd and 4th best scorers will be out, one can only imagine the Gamecocks will lean heavily on Lawson if they want to steal a W from the Vols.
If South Carolina wins
Quite frankly, someone other than AJ Lawson is going to need to step up offensively, and someone is going to have to compensate for the absence of Minaya on the glass. To win, it would seem the Gamecocks would also need to find a way to keep the score lower. In all 5 of Tennessee’s losses this season, they have scored 65 points or less, so 65 may be the magic number here for Carolina. The defense will also have to get UT to do something they don’t do, which is turning the ball over. It wouldn’t be a Carolina basketball game if we didn’t stress the inconsistent FT shooting.
The line is 10.5 and when you factor in the lack of depth it should be worse. Given all South Carolina has stacked against them in this one, I just can’t see a feasible scenario where all the chips fall Wednesday. Tennessee is 14-5 and a formidable tourney team, and a disciplined one at that. They don’t lose games like this. Maybe Lawson can shoot well enough to keep it close but it’s too tall an order for Frank Martin’s squad.
Tennessee 81 South Carolina 67