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January 18, 2006

South Carolina preview & roundtable predictions

After winning last season's postseason NIT, South Carolina entered the 2005-06 season with high expectations. The Gamecocks returned six players who averaged 18 minutes or more last season and added three JUCO transfers, giving Coach Dave Odom a legitimate reason to believe his team could make the NCAA Tournament as they did two seasons ago.

Things started well enough as Carolina sprinted to a 3-0 start before losing the title game of the Great Alaskan Shootout to Marquette in a high-scoring overtime thriller. But the Gamecocks lost their only three even remotely-tough December games to Clemson, Temple, and Pitt, and now come to Memorial Gym having dropped their first three SEC games - two of which were home contests -- to Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Georgia. As a result, USC staggers across the Tennessee border at 9-7 overall.

South Carolina sports one of the best guard tandems in the conference in Tarence Kinsey and Tre Kelley. Kinsey ranks among the SEC's leaders in every scoring category, and has become the de facto leader of the team.

Renaldo Balkman handles things inside for USC, and he is having an adequate season. But the 'Cocks' offseason losses -- especially massive man-child Carlos Powell, who seemed to have played for USC forever -- has left the Gamecocks lacking in the paint.

South Carolina wasn't expected to lead the SEC East, so they aren't really underachieving. But like Arkansas was last weekend, a loss to Vanderbilt would put USC into a deep hole that would be difficult to overcome in a conference that will likely not have a strong RPI.

For some reason, South Carolina causes problems for Vandy that are unprecedented in SEC play. USC has only lost to Stallings once, and has defeated Vandy at home every time they have come to Memorial except one.

Vanderbilt has had a maddeningly-inconsistent year in terms of shooting and rebounding, but the Commodores have fared much better with an 11-3 overall record. After an emotional victory in Lexington over Kentucky, Vandy played perhaps their worst game of the year against a struggling Arkansas team, shooting just 38% and getting murdered by a 39-20 margin on the glass.

VU clearly enters the game as the better team on paper, and the Commodores also have the all-important home-court advantage. However, few teams have historically caused Vandy as many problems as the Gamecocks have. Vanderbilt's 76-65 win in Memorial Gym last year snapped a five-game USC win streak against the Commodores, and Vandy has dropped eight of the past 10 (and 15 of the past 19) games in the series.

Both teams are very similar in terms of this year's matchup. Both South Carolina and Vandy primarily play eight men, shoot reasonably-well, keep turnovers to a minimum, and don't overwhelm anyone on the glass.

But where the Gamecocks have traditionally given Vandy trouble is on the defensive end. Carolina isn't big, but always has long, lean athletes who swarm the basket and try to make the game "ugly" by disrupting Vandy's offensive patters and keeping the scores in a lower range than VU likes to play.

Vanderbilt's trio of Julian Terrell, Ted Skuchas, and DeMarre' Carroll will have to perform better than they did against Arkansas when the three combined for 14 fouls but only 12 points and nine rebounds.

The backcourt features a pair of interesting matchups. Tre Kelley and Mario Moore were two of the league's better returning point guards coming into the season, but Moore has had a very disappointing campaign while Kelley's improvement has been marginal.

The wing matchup features VU's Shan Foster against Kinsey. Both players are among the league's leaders in three-point field goals made and three-point percentage. Vanderbilt will likely use Derrick Byars, their best all-around player, to defend Kinsey. But Stallings bemoaned the fact that he played Byars for 37 minutes at Arkansas, so he will probably try to get junior co-captain Dan Cage more PT tonight.

If the past is any indication, expect this game to be a hard-fought contest that goes down to the wire. The key to the game will likely be whether the Commodores can find a way to combat Odom's effective defensive schemes and avoid offensive stagnation. If so, Vandy has an excellent shot at a second-straight win over the Gamecocks.


South Carolina
PG: Tre Kelley, 6-foot, 182 lbs.
10.7 ppg, 3.4 apg, 2.8 rpg

SG: Rocky Trice, 6-foot-2, 160 lbs.
7.1 ppg, 1.8 apg, 2.7 rpg

C: Brandon Wallace, 6-foot-9, 195 lbs.
7.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 27 blocks

PF: Renaldo Balkman, 6-foot-8, 210 lbs.
11.1 ppg, 2.6 apg, 6.4 rpg, 26 blocks

SF: Tarence Kinsey, 6-foot-7, 184 lbs.
15.4 ppg, 1.9 apg, 4.9 rpg

PG: Mario Moore, 5-foot-11, 181 lbs.
6.3 ppg, 2.3 apg, 1.9 rpg

SG: Shan Foster, 6-foot-6, 190 lbs.
16.4 ppg, 1.9 apg, 2.9 rpg

SF: Derrick Byars, 6-foot-7, 221 lbs.
11.9 ppg, 3.9 apg, 4.2 rpg

C: Julian Terrell, 6-foot-9, 248 lbs.
11 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 24 blocks

PF: DeMarre Carroll, 6-foot-7, 210 lbs.
9.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 17 steals


Chris Lee (Nashville, TN), VandySports.com Publisher
Carolina has given Vandy fits over the years, and that alone makes me nervous. Odom always seems to find something to disrupt VU's offensive flow, and with Vandy having trouble on the boards, Balkman could be a real factor inside if the Commodores aren't assertive in the paint. VU's had trouble guarding point guards off the dribble, and Kelley's penetrate-and-dish skills could also be cause for concern.

Vandy was awful in many areas against Arkansas, but Kevin Stallings has done a good job in preparing his team after a loss. After the emotional high of the UK win, perhaps it was difficult to get the team to come back to earth; after the abysmal performance in Fayetteville, Stallings should have no such trouble for Wednesday night's game.

I expect the usual ugly, grind-it-out game for much of the night, and I believe it will be close for much of the evening. But at the end, I think the Commodores have a toughness that the Gamecocks haven't recently shown, and Vandy's surging foul-shooting percentages may be the difference at the end.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 66, South Carolina 61

Mike Rapp (Franklin, TN), VandySports.com publisher
Maybe it's Odom's ACC experience that helps him compete against Vandy, but there's no denying that the former Wake Forest coach knows how to disrupt VU's systems better than anyone in the league. VU has a better record over Kentucky in Nashville than they do against South Carolina.

The big concern for me is at guard. Kelley and Kinsey are without a doubt the most unsung guard duo in the league. They can shoot it with anyone -- Kinsey is eighth in the league, and at 48% has the highest shooting percentage of any guard in the league.

One thing that Odom is (in)famous for is teaching his kids to play physical -- to push the limits of play until officials tell them to stop. SC players have been quoted as saying Vandy plays soft, and they try to get into their faces and force them into bad decisions. This has resulted in some of the most intense, and sometimes too intense, games in Memorial's history.

South Carolina, like Vanderbilt, prefers the slowdown style. They don't score a lot of points, but they also don't give up a lot of points, either. Vandy and USC both average around 38% from three, but USC's overall field goal percentage is much better than Vandy's.

Vanderbilt is the best free throw shooting team in the conference, and though they are next to last in attempts, they should be able to make up ground at the free throw line tonight. I also expect to see Cage get meaningful minutes, since Byars and Foster played almost the entire game against Arkansas and Kentucky.

Now that USC has finally said goodbye to Powell, Terrell is the undisputed permiere big man on the court tonight. But I expect that fact to make this game even more provocative than these contests have been before. Expect Memorial to taunt Balkman, and don't expect him to take it lieing down.

This is going to be a grind-it-out half court game, and much will depend on how the officials decide to call contact in the paint. Bring your hard hat, 'Dore fans, because Odom's kids will bring their brass knuckles with an SEC 0-fer at stake.

My prediction: Vanderbilt 55, South Carolina 51

Tommy Crockett (Reno, NV), VandySports.com basketball board moderator
When is a wild animal at its most dangerous? Certainly when its back is to the wall and the only way out is through the opponent. Losses to Ole Miss at the Tad Pad, UT and Georgia in Columbia make this a surprise reeling team coming to Memorial Gym.

The 9-7 Gamecocks just haven't found a replacement for the loss of their heart and soul to graduation. Howell is gone and there really isn't a Vandy killer like Eidson from the days of yore in the lineup.

Now put all this on paper and it looks like a good solid home win for Coach Stallings and the Commodores. How many times has Stallings beaten Dave Odom? You guessed it, and it came in Nashville last year after a SEC career in futility against USC-East.

Nashville hasn't meant that Vandy plays its best basketball so far this year. If Stan Heath knew how to disrupt a strong motion offense then Dave Odom does as well. I don't care what the current the won-loss records tell us; this will be a wire to wire dogfight. TarenceKinsey and Tre Kelley can feed the wings plus score on their own and the Commodore job is to stop them.

My Prediction: Vanderbilt 56, South Carolina 55

David Vorhaus (Nashville, TN), VandySports.com basketball board moderator
Odom and company have seemed to own us in Memorial for nearly all of coach Stallings career here. Last year the Dores broke through and won on the Memorial floor, and the real question is whether Vandy can do it again.

South Carolina brings in a desperate team that currently sits at 0-3 in conference after a loss to Georgia this past weekend. Vanderbilt comes off a tough loss at Arkansas, but looks to really make a mark in the conference if it can pick up two wins at home this week before heading for a tough game in Gainsville.

South Carolina comes in with a gritty, long lean team, lead by the guy you love to hate Renoldo Balkmann. He is still the target of vocal displeasure in Memorial from the fight with Corey Smith from three years ago. I look for a tough game defensively throughout.

For Vandy to have a great chance, we must get some more point production from the point guard spot and hope we can get a double-double from Jullian. If Vandy can score and shoot reasonably well, getting into the high 60's or low 70's should spell a win for Vandy. If the game is in the 50's it will be very tight in the end.

My prediction: Vanderbilt 68, South Carolina 57

Danny Sawyer (Nashville, TN), VandySports.com basketball board moderator
No matter how many new or old faces they have in Columbia, Dave Odom's Gamecock teams always seem the same to me. They get after you, they're aggressive on the boards, and they have nice athletes.

This year is no different, despite what the records show. South Carolina has played a difficult schedule and has lost some close ones in SEC play.

When you look purely at talent and which team has the most guys that can put the ball in the basket, Vanderbilt should win hands down. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would argue against that. But sometimes
teams that play scrappy like SC can take some of the talent out of the equation and make it an all out street fight. If that happens, VU will need to match that intensity.

It's hard to know what SC will bring. They could be like animals backed into the corner or they could be on the border of mailing it in. I think we'll see them play hard but, ultimately, I just don't think it's enough. Vanderbilt is just too good in Memorial and they know what a
big week this is with two home games on the schedule.

I look for the Dores to overcome a poor shooting night and make shots down the stretch when they count. I made this prediction on my website so I'm not going to back off of it now.

My prediction: Vanderbilt 72, South Carolina 65

Jesse Johnson (Murfreesboro, TN), VandySports.com Recruiting Editor
Since the debacle that was the 2002-2003 season, Vanderbilt is 39-5 at Memorial Gym. For most Vanderbilt fans, besides that disappointing season in '03, it just isn't common to see an opponent walk into the historic building and come out with a win.

However, when former Vanderbilt head coach Eddie Fogler brought his second South Carolina team to Memorial back in 1995, so began a decade long stretch of seeing the Gamecocks walk right into Memorial Gym and walk out with a win. USC's 8-2 record against the Commodores in "their house" is by far the most success any program not named Kentucky has had in the Nashville gym in recent memory.

Even in seasons when Vanderbilt obviously had the better team -- like in the Commodores Sweet 16 season of 2003-2004, or Kevin Stalling's first Vanderbilt team in 1999-2000 -- the Gamecocks still found ways to win against the Commodores. For this reason, any Vanderbilt follower has to approach this game with extreme caution. For many, last season's victory over South Carolina on March 2nd was one of the highlights of the season simply because the Commodores finally beat South Carolina in Nashville!

For one reason or another, South Carolina has had Vanderbilt's number here, and though the 'Cocks are 0-3 in the conference, you can bet that they will come into Memorial with confidence and with no regard.

For me, actually breaking down this game is simple. Either Vanderbilt comes out the aggressor -- at home, with hopefully a full crowd, and play the way they played against Auburn and Kentucky, and forget about what they did against Arkansas -- or this could be a long and tough game that could frustrate everyone in the building.

Vanderbilt must contain Kinsey and Kelley as they will not hesitate to jack up the 3's. And VU must crash the boards, or players like Brandon Wallace and Renaldo Balkman (every Vandy fans favorite player to boo0 will gobble up rebounds left and right.

South Carolina is not the same team they have been in the past. They aren't showing the same defensive pressure they've been known for, and they're not making the hustle plays that they always seemed to bring under coach Dave Odom. Still, they still have plenty of talent and there is no doubt that Vanderbilt will see their best effort from South Carolina.

Vanderbilt will need Carroll to do his usual stuff on the glass and will need a strong performance from Terrell. Point guard play, from Moore and Gordon will also be extremely important as you can not make lazy passes against South Carolina, no matter how much they are struggling.

Vanderbilt needs to win this game for many reasons: It's at home, it's a matter of pride with South Carolina's history in Memorial, they need to rebound from the loss at Arkansas, and above all else, it's time for this program to start getting ahead in the SEC, instead of taking two steps forward and two steps back. With a RPI currently out of the Top 100, a loss to South Carolina would be damaging to Vandy's NCAA aspirations.

My prediction: Vanderbilt 87 South Carolina 77

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