– #2 Kentucky hosts unranked South Carolina today in Rupp Arena. The Cats enter the contest with a 14-1 record, fresh off their sixth consecutive win following a dust up with Arkansas Little Rock on Tuesday night. South Carolina, coached by Lexington native Darrin Horn, has struggled to an 8-6 record this season. The Gamecocks come into Rupp on a 1 game streak after beating imaginary S.C. State 71-51.
– Since 1980, Kentucky has won 36 games out of 45 total contests with South Carolina. Recent history suggests that the Cats struggle against Horn’s Cocks, as Kentucky is 3-3 against Scar since 2008. Kentucky’s 2010 loss in Columbia spurned a letter from the USC Student Governemnt Association that promises to be a first ballot inductee to the Bad Decision Hall of Fame. Despite all of this, the current status of the Kentucky- South Carolina rivalry can hardly be considered heated, especially on the hardwood. In all likelihood, players in blue see this matchup more as a tune-up game than a rivalry one. StatSheet.com indicates that Vegas shares that view, as the point spread remains at UK -21. Further, Ken Pomeroy gives the Gamecocks a mere 3% chance of overcoming the Cats.
– If there is any hope at all for Carolina, it comes from the return of guard Bruce Ellington from the gridiron. Ellington, who averages 22 minutes in just 7 games this season, is looking to continue his solid 3 point shooting efforts (44%) and improve his 9 ppg average. Of the 9 Gamecock players that played in each of Scar’s contests this year, only Sr. forward Malik Cooke posts a double digit ppg average (13 ppg). Cooke posts a 45% FG% and is 80% from the charity stripe. Freshman forward Anthony Gill comes into Rupp shooting 66% from the 3-point line. Sophomore guard R.J. Slawson has a cool name.
– When South Carolina has the ball and Bruce Ellington is playing, he controls 24% of Scar possessions. Brenton Williams controls 25% when he is on the floor, and Malik Cooke gets 24%. Scar’s adjusted offensive efficiency score is 103 (#109 nationally) and Kentucky’s defensive efficiency score is 84 (#4). Carolina’s effective FG% is 49% (#163) and UK holds opponents to 39.4% (#2). Look for the Cats to have a battle down underneath the basket, as South Carolina’s offensive rebound % is ranked 38th nationally (37%). Further, Davis by himself (!) averages just over 7 defensive rebounds a game.
– Kentucky has 8 players who have played in 13 or more games this season, and 7 who have played in every game. Of the players playing in 13 or more games, only two (Vargas and Wiltjer) average under 10 ppg. Teague’s assist pg (4.5) average is higher than anyone on the South Carolina roster, as is Lamb’s ppg (14.9) and Davis’ FG%. In fact, Davis averages twice as many rebounds per game (10.6) than Carolina’s top two rebounders combined (Cooke and Gill). To be fair, Teague also leads the Gamecocks in turnovers per game too (3.1 tpg). Teague’s Turnover % (26%) is high. Ken Pomeroy only ranks the top #100 BEST percentages (Lamb’s 10.2% is #62), and #100 is 11.3%. Yikes.
– South Carolina plays both zone and man defense. As a unit, Kentucky’s effective FG% is very high (53.5%) and is in the top 10 percentile of all D-1 programs. The same can be said of their 2 point% (53.1%). Further, Kentucky’s adjusted offensive efficiency score (116.3) ranks in at #7 nationally and the defense is ranked #2 in blocked shots %. The dreaded FT% has improved to 70% (#101) from 68% (#183) just a few weeks ago. Put simply: the body of work that this Kentucky team brings to bear is more than impressive.
– This, from KenPom.com should entertain all of you: the left column is Kentucky’s offense, the middle column is South Carolina’s offense and the right column is the D-1 average. The numbers in blue are the actual percentages while the smaller numbers are national rankings. When Kentucky’s 3PT% (36.4%, #103) improves, this team will be unstoppable.
– UK’s 81 ppg (#13) should improve as March approaches. Kentucky leads (right word?) the league in inexperience (#10 nationally), so we should expect performance to catch up with talent.
Five things to watch for:
1. Which Terrence Jones shows up today?
2. Does Davis continue to dominate with rebounds?
3. Does Teague control the ball and tempo?
4. Does Kentucky’s 3 point shooting improve? (Must be higher than 36%)
5. Does Kentucky cover? (Do they beat expectations?)