1. The two returning names in the starting lineup for South Carolina are senior Chris Silva and junior Maik Kotsar. The two big men dominated UK’s loss to South Carolina last season, combining for 39 points, 14 rebounds, 3 steals, and a block, while fouling out Nick Richards and Wenyen Gabriel, as well as forcing four fouls on both PJ Washington and Sacha Killeya-Jones. The two shot a combined 22 free throws as Kentucky struggled to contain their post presence all night. This season, 6’9″ Silva is continuing with more of the same, leading the team in scoring at 14.1, rebounding at 7, and blocks at 2 per game which is good enough for fifth in the SEC. The Estonia native, 6’11” Kotsar has continued his blue-collar work for Frank Martin, averaging 8.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, and a team-leading 1.3 steals per contest. Both players are strong bodied and have length that could both UK’s bigs at the rim. PJ Washington vs Chris Silva is the match up to watch tonight.
2. Outside of the two post players, South Carolina has three newcomers in the starting lineup, all in their first year suiting up in the garnet and black. A pair of three-star recruits are giving solid contributions as freshmen for the Gamecocks, while a senior who transferred to Columbia fills out the fifth spot in the starting lineup. Freshman A.J. Lawson was the number 16 combo guard in the class of 2018 and the Ontario native has been South Carolina’s second best player to start the season, averaging 13.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, and a team-leading 2.6 assists. He’s shooting nearly 31% from deep, but he’s only hitting about 66% of his free throws. While standing at 6’6″, he’s often quarterbacking the offense. The second freshman in the starting five is Keyshawn Bryant, who also measures in at 6’6″, but plays more of a wing than a guard. Bryant is not a threat to score from the perimeter and almost all of his shots will be near the rim. The Florida native has hit just three of 19 attempted threes this season, and only 56.3% of his shots from the charity stripe. Lastly, senior Tre Campbell played his first three seasons at Georgetown before transferring for his final year of eligibility. Campbell is the smallest starter, listed at just 6’0″, but he can knock down some threes if left open, hitting over 34% on the year. What is wild about Campbell is that he’ll shoot from all over the floor, but usually only cashes in from deep. On two-point field goals this year, he’s shooting just 30%, having only made 16 of them on the season, compared to 27 threes made.
3. Lately, it has felt like every time I type up one of these posts, I’m describing a team that wants to shoot 25 or more threes against Kentucky to try to shoot the Cats out of the gym. With Kentucky’s struggles at defending the three on the season, it wasn’t a bad strategy. But, the defense has improved, and along with it, the overall play of the team has risen to the best it has been all year. South Carolina is on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to taking and making the three ball. The Gamecocks are ninth in the conference in total three-point attempts, 10th in attempts per game, 13th in three-point percentage, and 10th in points per game. In some ways they are similar to Florida, in that they just flat out might not be able to score enough to keep up with Kentucky for 40 minutes, but at least the Gators were chucking threes to have a chance at a higher score.
4. Frank Martin’s squad is one of the more confusing teams in the SEC so far this year. The non-conference schedule was unkind to the Gamecocks, as they dropped games at home to Stony Brook, a neutral site game against Providence, at home to Wofford, at Wyoming, and at home against Clemson, among others. Their best non-conference win was probably their win over George Washington, who now sits at 7-14 on the season. Entering SEC play with a 6-7 record, South Carolina looked like they’d be struggling to pick up any conference wins at all this season; however, the Gamecocks came out firing and won five of their first six games to start conference play and now sit at 6-2 and in fourth place in the SEC. Their six wins include over both Auburn and Mississippi State, which are two of the better teams in the league. The problem for South Carolina is that playing on the road hasn’t exactly been great for them this season, already dropping four road games. If Kentucky can come out fast, this game could be in hand by the time the second half begins, but as we all know, slow starts have been a common theme for the Cats.
5. Kentucky is 10-3 against South Carolina since John Calipari took over in Lexington. The losses were in 2010, 2014, and 2018. All three losses have been games played at South Carolina and all three have been when a ranked Kentucky is taking on an unranked South Carolina. On the flip side, almost all of the wins have been blowouts, with an average margin of victory for Kentucky at over 22 points per win. Kentucky has beaten South Carolina by double digits 9 out of 10 times and by more than 20 six different times over the last ten years. The spread opened yesterday at Kentucky -18 and I saw it had dropped down to -16 early this morning. If history tells us anything about the Wildcats vs Gamecocks match up at Rupp tonight, then there could be some free money sitting out there in taking Kentucky to cover.
Go Cats. Beat Gamecocks.