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Looking ahead to Kentucky? Rick Barnes would be ‘shocked’ if his team looked past South Carolina

Barnes is trying to keep the focus on Wednesday.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

To no fault of their own, Tennessee has been breezing through a rather pedestrian SEC so far this season. The Vols sit at 10-0 in league play, having only been pushed a few times. Since their scare in Nashville, it’s been all double-digit wins.

So you would kind of understand if the Vols were looking beyond South Carolina to a top-five matchup on the road against a bitter rival on Saturday.

“I would be shocked,” Barnes said of the possibility that his team could be looking ahead. “Our guys have so much respect for South Carolina. They understand where they are right now. I think they have a great respect for our league.”

The Gamecocks are nothing to scoff at. Frank Martin’s team is just 12-11 overall, but they sit fourth in the SEC at 7-3. They pushed Tennessee in Columbia in the middle portions of the second half, but the Vols flipped their patented second half switch and put South Carolina away late.

“Anytime you are going up against South Carolina, I think you know they are going to play an extremely hard and physical game,” Barnes said. “I think everybody knows that. We fully expect it. They compete as hard as anybody you are going to play against. That’s what we expect.”

South Carolina ended up losing the first game against Tennessee by 22 points as the Gamecocks fell apart late. But Chris Silva’s 28 points had South Carolina within two points at the 13 minute mark in the second half. Now heading out on the road, Frank Martin will need another effort like that from Silva, and then some.

“If you talk to our players, they have as much respect for (Silva) and how hard he plays as anybody we compete against,” Barnes said. “He is going to play extremely hard. We have tried to guard him the best we can and we will continue to try and do that. He is a terrific player. It’s hard to keep a guy like that from not being effective.”

South Carolina picked up a narrow road win against Georgia after losing to the Vols, then were blown out at Kentucky. They rebounded after that this weekend, taking care of Arkansas in Columbia.

They’ll get another shot at No. 1 on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. ET.