January 10, 2012

Previewing Vanderbilt at South Carolina

Vanderbilt Commodores (11-4, 1-0 SEC) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (8-7, 0-1)

Where: Colonial Life Arena (18,000), Columbia, S.C.

When: Tuesday, 8 p.m. Central

TV: ESPNU, with Dari Nowkhah doing play-by-play and Dino Gaudio serving as analyst

Radio: Nashville: 97.1 FM

Rankings: Neither team is ranked, though VU is receiving votes in both polls

Warren Nolan RPI: VU 37, SC 183

The line: VU by 4

Sagarin prediction: VU by 3

Pomeroy prediction: Vanderbilt 66, South Carolina 63 (VU with a 62 percent chance to win)

Series record: Each team has won 24 games. The teams split last season, with each team winning on its home floor. VU has won four of the last six in Columbia.

PlayerHt.Wt.Cl.PPGRPG Pos.PlayerHt.Wt.Cl.PPGRPG
Brad Tinsley6-3210Sr.10.43.0 PG Eric Smith5-11210So.6.51.3
John Jenkins6-4215Jr.20.32.7 SG Lakeem Jackson6-5238Jr.5.1 3.6
Jeffery Taylor6-7225Sr.17.45.5 SF Malik Cooke6-6215Sr.12.94.2
Lance Goulbourne6-8225Sr.10.07.5 PF Anthony Gill6-8235Fr.8.55.2
Festus Ezeli6-11255Sr.6.66.4 C Damonte Harris6-9226So.6.04/9

About South Carolina

South Carolina's NCAA Tournament drought is at seven seasons, and with the young Gamecocks standing 8-7 so far, eight seems inevitable. Coach Darrin Horn has been responsible for three of those years; the Horn era started well three years ago when the Gamecocks went 10-6 in the Southeastern Conference and played in the NIT, but six- and five-win conference campaigns since seem to have warmed Horn's seat.

Things got worse for Horn before the season even started this year when sophomore point guard Bruce Ellington decided to play football in addition to hoops. Consequently, Ellington missed five of the Gamecocks' first six games, three of which USC lost. Two of those losses were to Tennessee State and Elon, and another came to 5-12 Southern Cal.

Vanderbilt fans remember Ellington all-too-well from last season; the 5-foot-9 guard seemed to single-handedly take over the game in last year's 83-75 Gamecock upset in Columbia. Ellington fired in 22 points that day, and wound up averaging 12.8 for the year, though he shot just 33 percent.

In USC's Southeastern Conference-opening loss at Kentucky on Saturday, Ellington's box score indicated a player still shaking off the rust: he played 29 minutes, but was only 3-of-13 from the field. Even when he's not shooting well, the cat-quick Ellington can cause problems on both ends.

Eric Smith, also a sophomore, has manned the point in Ellington's absence. He defends well, but parts of his offense need work: 28 turnovers to 26 assists, and strangely, a 3-point percentage (45) higher than what he shoots from the foul line (42).

Smith is the only guard in a four-forward starting lineup that includes Lakeem Jackson, Anthony Gill, Malik Cooke and Damontre Harris.

Cooke is a fifth-year senior who transferred from Nevada. He's a gritty player who can do a little bit of everything, leading Carolina in scoring (12.9), steals (29), assists (31), free throw percentage (79) and minutes (464), and can also shoot the 3 (32 percent) as well.

Jackson's junior season has been a disappointment, at least offensively. The high-flying athlete had a big 15-point game in Carolina's upset last year, but has seen his scoring average dip by over 2 points, and has scored more than six points just twice all year.

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