IHTIT: Tennessee Vols vs. South Carolina Gamecocks Basketball Preview (1/30/24)
It's Hoops Time in Tennessee: after surviving America's Worst GymTM Saturday night, Tennessee (15-4, 5-1 SEC, 8-4 vs Quad. 1&2) returns to Knoxville to host a surprisingly tough South Carolina squad (17-3, 5-2 SEC, 6-2 Q2+). The Gamecocks were tabbed as the SEC's worst by the media in preseason, but Lamont Paris has his squad currently sitting in a tie for 3rd in the league, fresh off a 17-point beatdown of Kentucky a week ago.
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- Somewhat of an oddity, but none of South Carolina's top players qualify for Flair! despite the level to which the Gamecocks have overachieved this season.
- Junior guard Meechie Johnson is thisclose to the Scoring Specialist badge with his 15.7 PPG being good for 10th in the SEC--but with no other top-10 ranks on offense he goes Flair!-less.
- I've started choosing the opposing players to feature here based on their usage rate--which leads to freshman Collin Murray-Boyles (who hasn't started every game, but has the team's 3rd-highest usage rate) being on the chart rather than senior guard Ta'Lon Cooper.
- However, Cooper is among the SEC's best in assists, effective FG%, and offensive rating, so keep an eye on him (#55). Also, you gotta kinda love the Gamecocks having a guy named Ta'Lon.
- Junior forward and Vandy transfer Myles Stute would be listed here, but he is out with a shoulder injury.
- On the Vols' side, I've moved Jordan Gainey back to the 6th Man spot, as his usage has crept back above Jahmai Mashack's--though both are playing huge roles for UT this year.
Despite all of South Carolina's overachieving this season, USC has not proven capable of taking their show on the road. Beating Kentucky was huge--but it happened in a friendly environment. The Gamecocks do have SEC road wins against Missouri and Arkansas, but a loss at Clemson and a blowout 47-74 loss at Alabama show that the 'Cocks struggle against higher-rated teams on the road. That doesn't mean Carolina can't beat a team like UT, they just haven't yet. If the Gamecocks want to cement their place among the SEC's best, they need a road win against top competition.
Tennessee, meanwhile, has a 52-28 lead in the all-time series, winning nine of the last 10 and five in a row. In Knoxville the Vols lead 31-9. Kenpom has UT as 12-point favorites with a 87% chance of winning. It's hard to argue with any of that. Until South Carolina shows they can win a road game like this, there's no reason to assume they're going to.
Prediction: Tennessee 81, South Carolina 70
Below Average Betting Advice: After a thorough audit of tpicks made in this space, the record currently stands at 3-5-1 (2-3 vs spread, 1-2-1 on O/U) (Not counted in that number: 4-1 on straight up picks.) There was an opportunity to flip that number over the weekend, but my utter disdain for Memorial Gym clouded my judgement--should've known better than to pick against that den of iniquity. There's also the fact that I typically have these previews written and waiting on the lines to come out, so I always have the early, and often worst, lines to pick from.
Tennessee is only 4-6 ATS in their last 10, but all four wins come at home, where they've been perfect ATS since the start of January. USC is 7-3 ATS in that same span, 2-1 on the road, and always the underdog. The O/U for these teams has basically been a coinflip. Tennessee opens as a 13-point favorite with an O/U of 136.5. That's a whole point more than the Kenpom spread against a team that covers 70% of the time. So while I like the Vols to win, I'd take USC +13.5. If that number moves down to say 11 or so, then UT becomes a safer pick IMO. With the heater Dalton Knecht has been on carrying the Tennessee offense, I also like the over 136.5 (but not much higher than that).