As the season wears on, the Tennessee Volunteers head down to Colonial Life Arena to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks. The Vols are 2-0 since claiming the top spot in the country, but don’t expect the Gamecocks to roll over because of their record.
It’s been an unusual year for head coach Frank Martin’s team. He is best known for his physical, tough defensive style of play, but this year USCe sits at 215th in scoring defense and 76th in defensive field goal percentage.
Despite the shortcomings and a 4-5 start to the year, Martin’s crew has pulled off impressive wins against Mississippi State, Missouri, and Auburn.
Can they get another big win against Tennessee?
Conference Record and Standings
- Southeastern Conference
- 10-9 (5-1) t-2nd
- Lost last game
- G A.J. Lawson: 13.2 PPG, 39.0 FG%, 67.9 FT%, 29.9 3PT%, 4.1 REB, 2.7 AST, 2.7 TO, 1.4 STL, 29.6 MIN
Thanks to Martin, Lawson’s young career has already been elevated both on and off the court. Martin turned heads recently after comparing Lawson to the Boston Celtics’ P.J. Dozier and Lawson’s play is backing up his coach’s evaluation.
Lawson is a lightning-fast player who does his best work on the move. His defense is still a work in progress, but he’s realizing his potential more and more.
And speaking of potential, the thought is that Lawson will be a top-50 NBA prospect should he decide to leave the program after this year. Tennessee will need to stay focused on him Tuesday evening.
- F Chris Silva: 13.1 PPG, 50.6 FG%, 75.9 FT%, 35.3 3PT%, 6.9 REB, 2.1 BLK, 2.2 TO, 1.1 AST, 29.6 MIN
South Carolina’s big man will be a tough test for the Vols. He is the reigning defensive player of the year and is a matchup nightmare when he stays out of foul trouble.
Silva’s slow start earlier in the season was one of the reason’s for the Gamecocks’ slow start as a whole. He averaged aroundn 11.1 points per game during the 4-5 start, but has averaged 14.9 over the last 10 games. The team is 6-4 during that span.
If Tennessee can contain Silva, it’d be a major advantage for the team. But that will be much easier said than done.
- F Keyshawn Bryant: 9.5 PPG, 46.6 FG%, 56.5 FT%, 16.7 3PT%, 3.6 REB, 0.5 BLK, 2.0 TO, 1.6 AST, 21.8 MIN
The impressive freshman plays some of the fewest minutes on the team, but is fourth-leading scorer, checking in at 9.5 points per game.
The 6-foot-6 190-pound forward can line up at the 2 or 3 and make life hell for opposing defenders. He’s had eight games where he has scored in the double-digits.
Just check out this play against Auburn. It tells you all you need to know about Bryant’s abilities.
Keyshawn Bryant with AUTHORITY! pic.twitter.com/kkDLCwDKXX— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 23, 2019
Thomas Dziagwa and the Oklahoma State Cowboys were able to beat the Gamecocks 74-70 this past Saturday during the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Dziagwa matched a career-high 19 points and the Cowboys had two other players score 14 or more points.
South Carolina was 6-1 entering the game, but struggles on offense and ill-timed defensive breakdowns cost them the victory in the end.
Frank Martin’s offense was dreadful in the first half, shooting a tad over 34% from the floor. A lack of physical play also contributed to the early 12-point deficit for the Gamecocks. As a team, not one single player attempted a free throw in the first half.
Talk about settling for shots.
The defense didn’t do them any favors, either, as the Cowboys closed the game on a 12-4 run after South Carolina led 63-62 with a little over 5:30 to play.
South Carolina has the horses to make Tennessee’s life hell on Tuesday night, but it will come down to execution. Will we see the team that upset the Auburn Tigers and the Mississippi State Bulldogs or the one that lost to Wofford, Stony Brook, and Wyoming?
The Gamecocks do have one element in their favor and that is the fact that Tennessee doesn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders at the moment. They’ve trailed in each of their last three games and were down a season-high 12 points to West Virginia before storming back to win by 17.
Tennessee will need to find a way to contain Silva and keep Lawson from making plays in the lane. The Vols will also need Admiral Schofield to get out of the current slump that he is going through. If he can’t get going and Silva neutralizes Grant Williams, then the Vols could be in for a long day.
But of course, this is the number one team in the country we are talking about here. If they come out and play their game, then expect them to stay at the top for another week.