MBB: Five Things to Watch - Tennessee
South Carolina will try to keep its late season surge intact with a home game against Tennessee.
1. Since last time
A lot has changed since these two last met on January 11. Tennessee won that game 56-55 when South Carolina proved incapable of making layups or free throws. The game moved Tennessee to 2-1 in the SEC and dropped South Carolina to 0-2. But since then South Carolina has won seven of nine games while Tennessee is just 4-5 with a non-conference loss to Kansas.
Jermaine Couisnard had 15 points off the bench in that game, and he has started every game since. But South Carolina has also lost Justin Minaya, who had 10 rebounds in that game. Jordan Bowden, Tennessee's leading scorer, struggled in that game, going 1-17 from the floor. Unfortunately for Bowden, that has been more or less par for the course since then. He is shooting just 35 percent overall and 16 percent from three in SEC games.
I’m stealing this nugget from the game notes: South Carolina is 13-3 this season when it scores 70 or more points (and 2-6 when scoring less). That number might be the key figure in this game. The bad news is that Tennessee is only allowing 62.1 points per game. The silver lining is that goes up to 65.5 in conference games. In all six of their wins, the Volunteers held their opponents under 70 points. However, in the five losses, the Volunteers have allowed 70 or more points four times, and they are 0-6 this season when allowing 70 or more points.
So if South Carolina can hit 70, it bodes well for the Gamecocks.
Also stolen from the notes, and it doesn’t have anything in particular to do with this game, but is amazing nonetheless: Maik Kotsar is 74 points away from 1,000 for his career. With at least eight games left, and Kotsar averaging 10.3 points per game, he should reach that milestone. We can argue the importance of the 1,000-point milestone, but it’s still an accomplishment. Who would have guessed before the season that Kotsar would be in this position? Maybe Frank Martin, although he might have been hoping more than expecting.
During his Monday press conference, Martin also made his case for Kotsar as the SEC’s defensive player of the year. It might be a tough sell (the award is often unpredictable because defensive stats are so often misleading), but Kotsar is 11th in rebounding (6.4), fifth in steals (1.6), and tenth in blocks (1.1).
“Everyone has stepped up, everyone’s playing team defense,” Kotsar said. “Even if someone gets beat, and that happens during the game, someone gets beat, the next person’s got to step up.”
4. Block Cancer
We are used to seeing pink around this time of the season for breast cancer awareness, but Saturday night will feature a lot of blue. South Carolina has designated it their “Block Cancer” event, and blue is the color representing prostate cancer awareness. Players will wear blue Block Cancer warmup shirts, and the coaches will wear blue ties. The event is in partnership with the Mike Slive Foundation, an organization founded to assist in the fight to eradicate prostate cancer through public awareness and research funding. The foundation is named for former SEC commissioner Mike Slive.
5. Scouting the Volunteers
Tennessee has struggled with consistency in conference play, but the Volunteers are still dangerous. Losing point guard Lamonte Turner to a season-ending injury has a lot to do with that. He was leading the SEC in assists when he went down, and despite only playing 11 games, he still leads Tennessee in assists.
Freshman Santiago Vescovi became eligible after Turner’s injury and has essentially been his replacement. Vescovi is more of a scorer than Turner, but he isn’t the same floor leader. Vescovi is averaging 11.6 points, and opened his career with three straight double figure scoring games, including 13 in the first game against South Carolina. He followed that with 24 total points over the next four games, and inconsistency and turnovers have been an issue (he averages almost four turnovers a game and his assist to turnover ratio is a dismal 1.1). But Vescovi scored 18 last week against Kentucky and 20 in the last game against Arkansas, so he is coming in hot.
“We’ve got to stay disciplined the entire game,” Kotsar said. “They’re a good, disciplined team so we’ve got to stay focused and locked in throughout the game.”
Who: South Carolina (15-9, 7-4) vs Tennessee (14-10, 6-5)
When: Saturday, February 15, 6:00 pm
Where: Colonial Life Arena
Watch: SEC Network