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South Carolina

vs.

Kentucky

College Basketball Pick

1/21/17

One would assume Kentucky is running away with the SEC based on its record alone, but two teams have surprised in the first half of the season. SEC unbeatens South Carolina and Florida met Wednesday night (SC won 57-53) and both look like legitimate contenders to the Wildcats atop the conference. Of course, that depends on your definition of legitimate. The Gamecocks and Gators have good teams, but we’ll find out just how good in this game with Kentucky hosting South Carolina in their only meeting this year.

The problem for South Carolina is obvious. Kentucky has been untouchable at Rupp Arena in SEC play, beating every one of its three opponents by at least 20 points. Sure, the Wildcats have looked susceptible in road games, but that won’t be a factor in this one. The Gamecocks know what they’re coming into and they’ve faired well at Georgia and Tennessee already this season. In fact, SC still hasn't lost with Sindarius Thornwell in the lineup, who leads the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals. So there’s a reason the Gamecocks have three losses and it’s mainly because Thornwell wasn't playing.

But this is a bit of a different task for Thornwell and he experienced that in last year’s meeting. South Carolina had a better record when they met, but the Gamecocks fell 89-62 at home with Thornwell turning the ball over six times and scoring only seven points. Obviously these aren’t the same teams, but Kentucky still has the size and length to give Thornwell problems. For the Gamecocks to stay close, they’ll need guys like PJ Dozier and Duane Notice to have good games, as well.

The matchup to watch will be Kentucky’s SEC-leading offense against South Carolina’s SEC-leading defense. That’s a tall ask considering the talent the Wildcats have. On any night, Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox have the ability to go off, and there’s not much opponents can do against them. Monk is a great shooter, while Fox is usually the fastest guy on the court. And then you throw in the slightly more experienced Isaiah Briscoe, and defenses are struggling to keep these guys in front of them. South Carolina’s first task will be keeping Edrice Adebayo and company off the offensive glass and then go from there. If the Gamecocks can hold their own in the paint with Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar, that’ll be a starting point.

That said, Kentucky has been able to score on every opponent it has seen this season. The way to beat the Wildcats is to attack them on the other end. The problem for the Gamecocks is that they aren’t a good shooting team and if Thornwell doesn't have a good night, this could be over by halftime.

The Gamecocks have surpassed 70 points just once in conference play and that probably won’t cut it against Kentucky. The Wildcats have scored at least 87 points in every SEC game and the only defense they’ve had trouble with was Louisville. South Carolina does not have the same pressure-heavy defense and paint presence as the Cardinals, so it’s hard to see them matching that win. To come close, the Gamecocks will need to score, otherwise, this one could be yet another Rupp Arena blowout for Kentucky.

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