South Carolina (11-19, 4-13) at Mississippi State(13-17, 3-14)
When: 4 p.m.
Where: Humphrey Coliseum (10,575)
Series: Mississippi State leads 18-9
Last meeting: MSU won 70-59 over USC on March 13, 2013.
This was not the coaching start Matt Figger envisioned, but thanks to an unlikely turn of events, it's the one he'll meet today at 4 p.m. as he takes temporary custody of Frank Martin's Gamecocks when South Carolina faces Mississippi State in the final game of the regular season for both teams.
Despite both teams being at the bottom of the SEC, there are stakes. The winner avoids finishing last in the league and playing in the late game in the opening round of the SEC Tournament Wednesday night. A win for South Carolina also would be the team's first conference road win - a not unwelcome goal for a team looking for positives - and be the Gamecocks' first win in Starkville since 2007.
Of course, it'll have to achieve those without Frank Martin as he serves his one-game suspension for "inappropriate verbal communication." As Martin's top assistant, the experience can only be beneficial. Martin's previous top man, Brad Underwood, left last year to take the head coaching position at Stephen F. Austin, and Figger has said that like most every assistant coach, he wants one day to be the head coach.
Just not this way.
Three keys to victory
KEEP CALM: Certainly, the events of the previous week have been a distraction, and how the young Gamecocks deal with it will be interesting to watch. Playing the worst team in the league should help, as there are opportunities for confidence-building, hitting the reset button and gaining some steam heading into next week's SEC Tournament.
FEED CHAT: Over the course of the past few weeks, one player who has contributed mightily but whose stats haven't popped off the page enough to merit much ink is Laimonas Chatkevicius. Last year, Martin said he couldn't play Chatkevicius because he simply wasn't in good enough shape to run up and down the court. Not, Chat is playing with confidence and a bit of an attitude, developing a great deal as a player this season and looking nothing like the timid 2013 version. His progress over the past month of the season has been very encouraging to watch.
FIGHT: One of the reasons Martin is so passionate is he wants his players to fight the way he would on the court and is disappointed when they don't. Against a Mississippi State team with problems enough of their own, taking a chip on their shoulder into a game and establishing a physical presence early could play in the Gamecocks favor.
Probable starting lineups:
G - #0 Sindarius Thornwell, 6-5, 206 Fr. (13.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
G - #1 Brent Williams, 5-11, 172 Sr. (14.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
F - #24 Michael Carrera, 6-5, 214 So. (6.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
F - #25 Midaugas Kacinas, 6-7, 210 So. (5.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
F - #21 Demetrius Henry, 6-9. 215 Fr. (4.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
G - #4 Traviante Bloodman, 6,0, 186 Jr. (6.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg)
G - #15 I.J. Ready, 5-11, 165 Fr. (5.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg)
G - #32 Craig Sword, 6-3, 193 So. (13.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
F - #20 Gavin Ware, 6-9, 262 So. (10.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg)
F - #25 Roquez Johnson, 6-7, 207 Jr. (9.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
Next game: South Carolina opens play in the SEC Tournament in Atlanta on Wednesday.