Which team is playing for more?
Nineteenth-ranked South Carolina is trying to re-discover what enabled a 15-0 start before a drubbing at Alabama. Missouri, already struggling with a young roster, has nothing but pride to play for after it found out it won’t be going to the postseason, including the SEC tournament.
There’s a lot on the table when the two meet on Saturday.
The Gamecocks (15-1, 2-1 SEC) never got in the game against the Crimson Tide, being torched on defense early and unable to make any kind of offensive splash. It was a rather rude end to what had been a magnificent start, and despite it just being one loss, the concerns of so many years started to rise.
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"Tomorrow, like Mike (Carrera) said, we get back to work," Sindarius Thornwell said. "We did a horrible job of stopping the ball and guarding the ball. We gave them open looks and gave them opportunities to make shots."
Frank Martin had no doubt his upperclassmen would get the team in gear to recover from the loss, and the Gamecocks get a home crowd against a Missouri team that had a really, really bad week. Not only did the Tigers lose to middling Arkansas (featuring former Mizzou coach Mike Anderson) 94-61 at home on Tuesday, but Wednesday brought a program-crippling blow.
Mizzou announced its findings from an NCAA investigation and self-imposed several punishments, such as vacating wins from the 2013-14 season, a $5,000 fine and scholarship restrictions. The Tigers will also not be allowed to participate in the SEC or any other postseason tournaments this year.
The NCAA can add other punishments if it sees fit. It was the latest sock to the jaw to Kim Anderson, a former Mizzou player and assistant coach who is finding out his dream job is a nightmare. While he was responsible for none of the violations – all occurred under predecessor Frank Haith – Anderson already suffered through a lousy season dealing with heavy player discipline. He knew he was going to struggle this year with a young roster, and now they’re in a play-out-the-string scenario, with nothing to really play for.
"I’m disappointed that the action of a few individuals put our program in this type of situation," Anderson said at a news conference on Wednesday. He also said that had he known Missouri was under investigation, it wouldn’t have changed his mind on taking the job.
Martin was sorry for an old friend and the battles he’s having to fight. It’s similar to what Martin faced at USC – with no NCAA investigation, obviously – and the two have talked before about how to handle losing while installing your system.
"He’s had to take over a situation where they lost a lot, and basically start from scratch, and that’s hard," Martin said. "The teams you’re playing against, they don’t feel sorry for you. The teams you’re playing against, they’re trying to beat your brains in. They don’t sit back and say, ‘Poor Frank, poor South Carolina, poor Kim, poor Missouri.’"
The Tigers can feel sorry for themselves or try to adopt an us-against-the-world mentality – hey, SMU is undefeated right now although it’s also ineligible for the postseason. But the Mustangs have a lot of experienced talent Mizzou simply doesn’t have, and the Tigers are about to play a Gamecocks squad that, if Martin’s players do what he thought they’d do after Alabama, will be hungry for the next game.
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Gamecocks vs. Tigers
Who: Missouri (8-8, 1-2 SEC) at No. 19 South Carolina (15-1, 2-1)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
TV: SEC Network
Tickets: Available at the box office
Missouri’s probable starters: G Terrence Phillips 5-11 Fr. (7.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg); G K.J. Walton 6-3 Fr. (5.9 ppg, 1.6 rpg); G Wes Clark 6-0 Jr. (9.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg); F Russell Woods 6-8 Jr. (4.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg); F Kevin Puryear 6-7 Fr. (12.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
South Carolina’s probable starters: G P.J. Dozier 6-6 Fr. (7.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg); G Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 Jr. (11.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg); F Mindaugas Kacinas 6-7 Sr. (11.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg); F Michael Carrera 6-5 Sr. (11.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg); C Laimonas Chatkevicius 6-11 Sr. (10.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
Next game: The Gamecocks tip off at Ole Miss at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
Football coach Will Muschamp will address the crowd at halftime.