After the big Florida win, USC is just trying to ‘get better every single day’
Who: No. 14 Mississippi State (12-1, 0-0 SEC) at South Carolina (6-7, 1-0)
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
Radio: 107.5 The Game in Columbia area
Series: Mississippi State leads 21-14
Last meeting: Feb. 24, 2018 — Mississippi State 72, South Carolina 68 (OT)
KenPom prediction: Mississippi State 78, South Carolina 71
1. South Carolina finally has momentum this season. Can it be sustained?
The dramatic win over Florida has USC on its first winning streak of the season. It took 13 games before the Gamecocks finally found success on consecutive nights.
Mississippi State, which swept Carolina last season and is on a nine-game winning streak, has potential to quickly squash that USC momentum.
“Their top six guys have been together for three years,” USC coach Frank Martin said Monday. “And their seventh man is a McDonald’s All-American, so they got real good players with unbelievable experience. They’ll be as good as they’ve been all year. They’re a real good basketball team.”
South Carolina is seeking its second 2-0 SEC start in three seasons.
2. Defense rises again?
Entering Florida, the numbers didn’t add up to a traditionally tough USC defense. The Gamecocks were 11th in the SEC in points allowed (70.4 a game) and next-to-last in the league in 3-point field percentage defense.
But then, playing up to more of Martin’s standards, Carolina held the Gators without a field goal over the final 7:17 to complete the rally in Gainesville. Florida missed its final seven 3s.
Such play will be needed again against a potent Bulldogs team that’s reached 80 points five times over its last nine games.
“I think we’ve been defending well,” Martin said. “I’ve been pushing them and they’ve bought in. We gotta keep working at it. We’re not there yet.
“It continues to be a problem for this team, we gotta finish off possessions by coming up with the rebound or the loose ball. It almost cost us the (Florida) game, our inability to get defensive rebounds and loose balls in the last two and a half minutes of the game.”
The Bulldogs are 18th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.
This will be Quinnday Weatherspoon’s sixth career game against South Carolina. The active SEC scoring leader has saved 69 of his points for the Gamecocks, including 31 last season.
“He does everything,” Martin said. “He shoots the 3, plays off the bounce, plays without the ball, as good a sneaky offensive rebounder as I’ve coached against in my time here in the SEC. ... He’s real good. I’m sure if you ask (MSU coach) Ben (Howland), he’ll tell he’s tired of coaching against Chris Silva. I’m tired of coaching against Q. Weatherspoon. He’s real good, he’s a problem.”
Coach: Ben Howland (468-252 in 23 seasons overall; fourth season at Mississippi State — 67-46)
Projected starters: G Nick Weatherspoon (10.1 points per game), G Lamar Peters (13.2), G Quinndary Weatherspoon (17.2), F Reggie Perry (7.6), F Aric Holman (12.5)
Last game: Beat BYU 103-81 on Dec. 29 at home
KenPom ranking: 19 (No. 17 in offense efficiency, No. 46 in defense efficiency)
Notes: The Bulldogs and Gamecocks share two common opponents. MSU beat Wofford (98-87 on Dec. 19) and Clemson (82-71 on Dec. 8). ... MSU’s only loss came Nov. 20 to Arizona State on a neutral floor. On their current nine-game winning streak — an SEC-best — the Bulldogs have shot better than 50 percent from the floor four times. ... Howland is 3-3 against USC as Mississippi State’s coach.
Coach: Frank Martin (236-151 in 12 seasons overall; seventh season at USC — 119-97)
Projected starters: G Tre Campbell (5.3), G A.J. Lawson (13.2), F Keyshawn Bryant (9.2), F Chris Silva (12.9), F Maik Kotsar (8.2)
Last game: Beat Florida 71-69 on Jan. 5 in Gainesville
KenPom ranking: 114 (No. 172 in offense efficiency, No. 74 in defense efficiency)
Notes: After averaging 10.3 points and six rebounds through USC’s first eight games, Silva is up to 17.2 and 7.8 over the last five contests. ... South Carolina’s 22 turnovers at Florida were its most since 24 at Oklahoma State on Dec. 6, 2013. ... Lawson, who still leads the Gamecocks in minutes (27.9 per game), sat the final 9:21 at Florida. He scored six points, his fewest since being shut out against Wofford on Nov. 26, and didn’t record an assist.