Frank Martin’s greatest compliment came from an unexpected source
Who: No. 1 Tennessee (18-1, 6-0 SEC) at South Carolina (10-9, 5-1 SEC)
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 107.5 The Game in Columbia area
Series: Tennessee leads 44-27
Last meeting: Feb. 13, 2018 in Knoxville — Tennessee 70, South Carolina 67
KenPom prediction: Tennessee 84, South Carolina 72
1. A shot at No. 1
South Carolina is 1-12 all-time against the nation’s No. 1 ranked team, including a 0-4 mark under Frank Martin. But the USC coach does have a couple of these milestone wins from his Kansas State days.
One of those, coincidentally, came against Texas in 2010. Those Longhorns were coached by Rick Barnes, now the man in charge of the Volunteers.
USC is taking something from the fact it hung with the Volunteers in both matchups last season. The Vols won in Columbia and Knoxville by a combined 10 points.
“Both those games came down to the wire,” said senior guard Hassani Gravett. “It could be expected that this game could come down to the wire as well. It’s about making sure we make the right decisions and keeping that focus that Coach talked about in the end so we can come out victorious.”
2. Containing Williams
It’s rare when Chris Silva doesn’t take the most free throws in a South Carolina game, but Tennessee’s Grant Williams could easily be at the stripe more than anyone Tuesday.
A Naismith Award candidate, Williams has taken 161 FTs this season. That’s the seventh-most in college basketball.
And what’s containing Williams? The 6-foot-7 forward has scored at least 18 points in six of his last seven games.
“He does a good job of reading the defense,” Silva said. “Every time I try to get physical, he tries to out-smart me and tries to use his body for a smart move. And whenever I try to play smart, he tries to be physical. He passes the ball pretty well.
“Those are things I got to pay attention to and keep in mind.”
Following the loss at LSU last weekend, Martin said he felt good about the Gamecocks heading into the next game with Auburn because of an improved practice.
USC lost at Oklahoma State on Saturday. How’d the Gamecocks respond Sunday?
“They were good (Sunday),” Martin said. “I think we’ll play well (Tuesday).”
Coach: Rick Barnes (679-359 in 32 seasons overall; fourth season at Tennessee — 75-45)
Projected starters: G Jordan Bone (13.1 points per game), G Yves Pons (3.4), G Admiral Schofield (16.6), F Grant Williams (20.2), F Kyle Alexander (9.3)
Last game: Beat West Virginia 83-66 on Saturday at home
KenPom ranking: 6 (No. 3 in offense efficiency, No. 25 in defense efficiency)
Notes: The Volunteers lead the SEC in scoring offense, scoring margin, free throw percentage, field goal percentage, field goal percentage defense, blocked shots, assists and assist-to-turnover ratio. ... Tennessee has shot 50 percent or better in 10 of its last 14 games, and 13 times overall. USC has shot 50 percent or better just three times this season. ... Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner — UT’s sixth and seventh men — are averaging a combined 26.5 points an SEC game.
Coach: Frank Martin (240-153 in 12 seasons overall; seventh season at USC — 123-99)
Projected starters: G Tre Campbell (5.6), G A.J. Lawson (13.2), F Keyshawn Bryant (9.5), F Chris Silva (13.1), F Maik Kotsar (8.5)
Last game: Lost to Oklahoma State 74-70 on Saturday in Stillwater, Oklahoma
KenPom ranking: 102 (No. 114 in offense efficiency, No. 105 in defense efficiency)
Notes: The Gamecocks are seeking a fourth straight home win over a ranked SEC opponent for the first time in program history. ... Lawson’s four turnovers at Oklahoma State were his most since committing six at Wyoming on Dec. 5. ... USC’s nine free throw attempts at Oklahoma State were its fewest since seven tries against Vermont on Dec. 1, 2016.