Who: South Carolina (4-4) at No. 5 Michigan (9-0)
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan
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KenPom prediction: Michigan 76, South Carolina 59
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 107.5 The Game in Columbia area
Series: South Carolina leads, 3-2
Last meeting: Nov. 23, 2016— South Carolina won 61-46 in Columbia
1. Wrong opponent at the wrong time
South Carolina is off to its worst start since Frank Martin’s second season as USC coach. Its loss to previously 2-6 Wyoming on Wednesday featured 17 missed 3-pointers, 16 turnovers and a blown halftime lead.
And now comes a legitimate Final Four contender.
The back-end of a home-and-home series comes at contrasting times for these programs. Michigan already has wins over Villanova (by 27 points), Providence (by 19), North Carolina (by 17) and Purdue (by 19). National runners-up last March, the Wolverines appear ready for another deep postseason run. The Gamecocks, who also have No. 4 Virginia and Clemson left on the non-conference schedule, are looking at a below .500 record entering SEC play.
2. Shooting struggles vs. stout defense
The Gamecocks have shot below 30 percent from 3 in four games this season, including the cold display against Wyoming’s 2-3 zone. They’re next-to-last in the SEC in overall field goal percentage.
“Couldn’t make layups, couldn’t make 3s,” Martin said Wednesday after the Gamecocks went 22 of 66 from the floor. “Can’t go on the road and win if you can’t make layups. And you got to make some 3s.”
Michigan enters Saturday as the No. 1 defense in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings.
How can USC create easy offense? Perhaps by establishing pace. The Gamecocks, according to KenPom, play at the nation’s 26th-quickest tempo. Michigan is No. 334 in KenPom’s tempo ratings. Getting transition looks will be key for USC.
3. Canada connection
On the Saturday slate, there’s few college basketball games featuring better freshmen facing one another.
USC’s A.J. Lawson (49) and Michigan’s Ignas Brazdeikis (50) are not only among The Athletic’s top 50 prospects for the 2019 NBA Draft, they’re both from Ontario.
Lawson ranked as Canada’s fifth-best prospect in the 2018 class and Brazdeikis ranked sixth, according to NorthPoleHoops.com.
Coach: John Beilein (808-461 in 41 seasons overall; 12th season at Michigan — 257-143)
Projected starters: G Jordan Poole (11.9 points per game), G Charles Matthews (13.3), G Zavier Simpson (6.8), F Ignas Brazdeikis (17.0), C Jon Teske (8.1)
Last game: Beat Northwestern 62-60 on Tuesday in Evanston, Illinois
KenPom ranking: 4 (No. 19 in offensive efficiency, No. 1 in defensive efficiency)
Notes: The Wolverines went 1-1 against the SEC last season, including a 99-72 win over Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament. ... Michigan is No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring defense (52.7 points per game), field goal percentage defense (35.3) and assist to turnover ratio (1.6). It’s second in the league in scoring margin (plus-19.2). ... The Wolverines have won 23 of their past 24 games, with the only loss coming to Villanova in the 2018 national championship.
Coach: Frank Martin (234-148 in 12 seasons overall; seventh season at USC — 117-94)
Projected starters: G T.J. Moss (7.0), G A.J. Lawson (14.9), F Keyshawn Bryant (8.0), F Chris Silva (10.3), F Maik Kotsar (7.9)
Last game: Fell to Wyoming 73-64 on Wednesday in Laramie, Wyoming
KenPom ranking: 104 (No. 173 in offense efficiency, No. 45 in defense efficiency)
Notes: In the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Gamecocks have been outscored by 21 points this season. They’re plus-52 in the other 30 minutes. ... Silva set a season-high for shot attempts (14), but a near season-low for field goal percentage (21.4) at Wyoming. ... After logging a combined 73 minutes against Wofford and Coastal Carolina, Hassani Gravett played a season-low 18 minutes in the Wyoming loss. He scored two points.