The South Carolina Men’s basketball team takes on the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday at Noon EST.
A matchup that was circled by Gamecock fans going into this season as one with postseason implications, couldn’t be farther from it for both squads.
If there was a more disappointing team than South Carolina this season, it’s John Calipari’s squad.
Kentucky is in unfamiliar territory, on the outside looking in approaching the NCAA tournament for only the second time since 2009. The SEC blue blood not only needs to win Saturday, but then they need to run the table in Nashville, likely without a bye at all.
After three consecutive conference wins, it seemed the Cats were finally righting the ship, but losses to Florida and Ole Miss back to back have all but demolished any hope of getting to the dance.
The Wildcats are no stranger to reloading as Calipari has made his living off of selling recruits on the one and done model, but this year is different. While the defense and rebounding has been as solid as usual, to say Kentucky has lacked star power is an understatement.
The Wildcats rank 11th in the conference in scoring, and 13th in FG %. Here’s a look at where Kentucky has ranked in both categories since 2010.
Conference ranks in ppg/fg%
The Wildcats have also been historically sloppy with the basketball. Kentucky turns the ball over 13.5 times/game, good for 3rd worst in the SEC and also the worst since Calipari’s first year in Kentucky in 2010.
The Cats do have reason for optimism, however. Despite historically poor shooting, Kentucky is the best shot blocking team in the entire country.
The Wildcats block a ridiculous 6.1 shots/game. Freshman Forward Isaiah Jackson is largely the reason, averaging 2.7 blocks/game by himself. Kentucky hasn’t had a player block shots like Jackson since Willy Caulie-Stein in 2013 (2.9). In a matchup where both teams shoot poorly, Jackson will be key for Kentucky in the paint.
How long ago does last seasons matchup feel now? You know, where All-Freshman Jermaine Cousinard hits a miraculous three at the buzzer to give the Gamecocks a thrilling 81-78 marquee victory over a then ranked Kentucky squad in Columbia.
Frank Martin’s squad known for defense and unselfish scoring has given up over 90 points five, yes, FIVE times this season and Junior Guard AJ Lawson is 2nd in the league in scoring followed not closely by everyone else.
The defense isn’t just bad either, it’s record setting bad. A Gamecock basketball team hasn’t allowed over 78 ppg in a season since the ‘92-‘93 season, their second year in the SEC. That’s good for 325th in the nation if anyone is curious.
Frank Martin defenses are also historically predicated on forcing teams into tough shots, specifically from three. This years squad has conference foes shooting 37% from three, second-worst in the league and the worst of Martin’s coaching career. Carolina had been #1 each of the last 2 seasons.
Fun fact: That means opposing teams shoot better from three against the Gamecocks than Devin Booker and JJ Redick. and just a hair worse than Damian Lillard.
To make matters worse, you can basically pick names out of a hat to pick the starting five that takes the court for Carolina. Whether injury or poor play, the Gamecocks have not been able to establish any production from anyone besides Lawson and turns out it’s hard to win games that way.
I don’t think I need to list any more reasons as to why this game will not go well, but just in case, Kentucky is also the best free throw shooting team in the conference.
This has all the ingredients for a Gamecocks upset, only because there are no reasons to think they should actually win.
That being said, when you can’t score, you don’t make free throws, and your opponents all shoot 3’s like JJ Redick against you, it can’t go well.
Kentucky is bad by their standard, but this Gamecock team is actually bad.