Tennessee welcomed Arkansas to Knoxville on Tuesday night and sent the Razorbacks back west after handing them their most lop-sided loss of the season, 82-61. It was the third straight loss for Arkansas and just the second victory for the Vols in their last six. While the Vols (14-10, 6-5 SEC) got what I consider to be a solid win in a well-played game, even though the Razorbacks were not playing with a full-deck, they have no time to rest on the laurels of a victory. Time to put Arkansas [temporarily] in the rear-view and look to our next opponent; The Gamecocks of South Carolina.
Tennessee has already faced off with South Carolina this season in Knoxville and escaped with a 1 point, 56-55 victory in what was one of the uglier games I have witnessed all season. As I said in that game’s preview, South Carolina is not devoid of talent, and they have a pretty [yet kinda weird] coach in Frank Martin. So lets take a quick look at the Gamecocks’ season up to this point, what we need to improve on from our last matchup, and how I see this game shaking out.
USCe Season Recap
- Record: 15-9 (7-4 SEC)
- SEC Standing: T- 4th
- Categorical Leaders:
- Points: A.J. Lawson (13.7 ppg)
- Assists: Jermaine Cousinard (2.9 apg)
- Rebounds: Maik Kotsar (6.5 rpg)
- Steals: Maik Kotsar (1.6 spg)
- Blocks: Maik Kotsar (1.1 bpg)
- Current NCAA Tournament Projection (Lunardi): Out
Quick Commentary: Since falling to UT earlier this season, South Carolina has won seven of their last eight and placed themselves, so far, in decent position in the SEC race. They continue to play a balanced game with A.J. Lawson as their floor general and Maik Kotsar as the emotional leader and defensive anchor. A defensive team by nature, the Gamecocks also are very unselfish as a squad, and rank 2nd in the SEC in team assists (165) and 3rd in the conference in 3 point percentage (34.9%) during conference play.
Gamecocks-Vols Part II in Columbia
Against the Gamecocks earlier in the season, the Vols did a good job of slowing down leading scorer A.J. Lawson. While neither team played well at all, stopping one of their two main threats seemed to be enough for the Vols to pull out the win. I would hazard to assume that doing so again will result in positive outcomes for UT.
While a couple of our guards (namely Jordan Bowden and Davonte Gaines) should be able to contain Lawson for a second time (as well as Jermaine Cousinard who has had a pretty good second half to his season), I think the Vols should really focus on slowing down Maik Kotsar in round two. In Knoxville, Kotsar had 17 points and 8 rebounds, and while John Fulkerson matched his game pretty evenly (15 points and 10 rebounds), I think that in Columbia he will need to thoroughly outplay Kotsar on both ends. That is the Key-Matchup I will be watching. Unlike the game in Knoxville, Tennessee will also have the services of Uros Plavsic, who will definitely be able to help Fulkerson out, primarily on the defensive end.
The confines of The Colonial Life Arena have been quite to the Volunteers as of late. Since the 2010-2011 season, Tennessee is 6-2 in Columbia. This year, South Carolina is 9-4 overall at home and have only dropped one conference game on their hardwood. I, personally, have never really viewed Colonial Life as one of those places that was too intimidating (but I am not playing), so I don’t think it will have much of an impact on the outcome on Saturday’s game.
I will say this, I am looking for this game to be a much “cleaner” game than last time out. I am looking for less turnovers and better shooting from both sides. All of the Gamecocks’ guards can shoot the three, and that will open up the middle for Maik Kotsar. It is going to be paramount for our front court to slow down Kotsar and keep either Cousinard or Lawson from scoring more than 15 points.
I think the Vols do those things, though. Vescovi is on a hot streak lately, and I look for that to continue. I am also looking for a big game from Yves Pons, who has been a little quieter as of late. South Carolina doesn’t have a single player that can match Pons’ physicality, so I would expect some highlights from the Frenchman as well. My call for this one is Vols 68 Gamecocks 60.
As I have said numerous times, Tennessee needs to pile up all the wins it can. While Carolina is currently on the WAY outside looking in where the NCAA tourney is concerned, a win against a conference foe does nothing if not help the program as a whole. One more thing; I am going to guarantee that U.T. shoots better in this game compared to the first game against South Carolina, so I really believe we have a very good chance at winning this game!
For minute to minute news concerning all aspects of all Volunteer sports, be sure to check out MoreImportantIssues on Twitter (@More_Issues), as well as listening to the podcast on any of the various podcast platforms! Trust me, Landon and Caleb won’t let you down If you’re looking for quality Big Orange talk with a laid-back attitude. Baseball is returning to the field this weekend, and it looks like it is going to be an exciting season on Rocky Top! Until we meet again, this is Dakota Robertson saying see ya later and Go Vols!
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