College Sports

USC’s next challenge? Putting its perfect SEC record on the line at unbeaten LSU

Frank Martin: ‘I like this team. They got some resolve.’

South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin following USC’s 74-71 win over Vanderbilt on Jan. 16, 2019.
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South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin following USC’s 74-71 win over Vanderbilt on Jan. 16, 2019.

Game info

Who: South Carolina (9-7, 4-0 SEC) at LSU (13-3, 3-0)

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 107.5 The Game in Columbia area

Series: South Carolina leads 18-15

Last meeting: Feb. 28, 2018, in Columbia — South Carolina 83, LSU 74 (OT)

KenPom prediction: LSU 83, South Carolina 72

STORYLINES

1. Battle of unbeatens

Playing opposite Virginia-Duke on Saturday — a battle of the No. 1 teams in each major poll — is the only game this weekend where both teams remain perfect in league play.

With a win, the Gamecocks would move to 5-0 in the SEC for the second time in three years. This would be the most impressive feat of USC’s run as LSU hasn’t lost at home in over a calendar year. The Tigers have won 16 in a row at the Maravich Center. They’re 9-0 this season, average score of 85-68.

“They’re as talented and as athletic as any team in the SEC,” USC coach Frank Martin said Thursday on Carolina Calls.

2. Stopping Waters

South Carolina’s improved point guard play will get its biggest test against LSU’s Tremont Waters.

The sophomore dropped 19 on the Gamecocks last season, including a late 3-pointer over Maik Kotsar that forced overtime. He leads the SEC in steals and is fourth in assists. Carolina’s on-ball defense, which wasn’t great against Vanderbilt’s Saben Lee on Wednesday, will have to improve.

“Tremont Waters is one of those special players,” Martin said. “I absolutely love watching that young man play. He’s tough as nails. Has great instincts as a player with the ball in his hands. He’s a hard guard.”

3. Reunions

LSU, which brought in a top-5 recruiting class last year, has a talented roster — but not one the Gamecocks are unfamiliar with.

Naz Reid, a former five-star prospect who’s averaging 13 points and five rebounds a game, played high school ball in New Jersey with Chris Silva and Alanzo Frink. Emmitt Williams, a top 30 player in the ‘18 class who’s averaging eight points off the bench for the Tigers, played AAU ball in Florida with Keyshawn Bryant.

LSU

Coach: Will Wade (122-63 in six seasons overall; second season at LSU — 31-18)

Projected starters: G Tremont Waters (13.6 points per game), G Skylar Mays (13.3), G Marlon Taylor (7.2), F Kavel Bigby-Williams (7.3), Naz Reid (12.9)

Last game: Beat Ole Miss 83-69 on Tuesday in Oxford

KenPom ranking: 30 (No. 19 in offense efficiency, No. 75 in defense efficiency)

NET: 15

Notes: LSU, on a six-game win streak, has lost this season only to Houston, Florida State and Oklahoma State. The Cougars and Seminoles are a combined 30-5, while OSU is 8-9. ... The Tigers are averaging 88.3 points per game in conference play. That’s second only to Tennessee. LSU’s made 49 percent of its 3s against SEC competition. That tops the league. ...SEC opponents are making just 26.5 percent of their 3s against LSU. The Tigers held Ole Miss to eight makes on 28 attempts Tuesday.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Coach: Frank Martin (239-151 in 12 seasons overall; seventh season at USC — 122-97)

Projected starters: G Tre Campbell (5.7), G A.J. Lawson (13.3), F Keyshawn Bryant (9.7), F Chris Silva (12.2), F Maik Kotsar (8.7)

Last game: Beat Vanderbilt 74-71 on Wednesday in Nashville

KenPom ranking: 94 (No. 129 in offense efficiency, No. 82 in defense efficiency)

NET: 114

Notes: USC’s 4-0 start to league play has caused a 112-spot jump in NET, the new tool that the NCAA is using to help determine the tournament field. An RPI replacement, NET relies on game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin (capped at 10 points), net offensive and defensive efficiency and the quality of wins and losses . ... With his next one, sixth man Hassani Gravett will have a career-high for 3s in a season. ... Lawson, a 57 percent free throw shooter over the season’s first seven games, is 83 percent at the line over his last nine.

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Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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