Tennessee is looking to improve to 2-1 in SEC play Saturday hosting Frank Martin’s South Carolina to Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Gamecocks haven’t had a great season, but the Gamecocks are built like a classic Martin team that is will make you play 40 minutes to beat them.
“You can’t think about South Carolina without thinking about the impact Frank Martin has,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “Frank is a demanding, excellent basketball coach, teacher and he knows what he wants, and he’s got a great way of getting his guys to play like that.”
South Carolina has been wildly inconsistent this season posting an 8-6 (0-1) record. The Gamecocks have wins at Clemson and at the defending national champions Virginia. However, South Carolina has losses to Boston University, Northern Iowa and Stetson.
What the Gamecocks do well is defend and put pressure on opposing team’s guards. South Carolina has defended well all season holding both Clemson and Virginia in the 50s while only six Gamecock opponents have reached the 70-point mark.
Traditionally the Gamecocks have feasted on passive and weak guards, and while the Gamecocks aren’t as good as they often are, they still rank third in the SEC in steals.
“You know they’re going to challenge you in everything you do,” Barnes said. “They’re going to mix their defenses and they’re going to make it tough on everything that you do. … It’s going to be one of those nights where if you aren’t sharp and ready to take care of the ball, they’ll make you look bad.”
That could be a bad sign for Tennessee who is relying on two freshmen to run the offense, one of which has been on campus for less than two weeks. Both Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James struggled taking care of the ball in Tennessee’s road win at Missouri turning it over a combined nine times.
In the SEC opener against LSU, Vescovi turned it over nine times while James didn’t commit a turnover.
Despite the struggles with turning the ball over, the two guards have meshed well together. In Vescovi’s two games the duo has averaged 28 points per game. Those are the numbers Tennessee needs more of if the Vols are going to win tough SEC games.
“I think they’ve really helped each other,” Barnes said of the freshmen duo. “I think it’s been fun watching those guys coach each other. After the LSU game, I was in the room with Santi (Santiago Vescovi), just he and I, watching tape and Josiah (James) opened the door and sat down.”
“It was really neat to hear Santiago talking to Josiah about what he saw. But it was really neat the other night to watch Josiah calm him down and talk to him.”
South Carolina’s offense has struggled this season as it has in recent years, and the Gamecocks no longer have All SEC talent Chris Silva to carry the offensive load.
South Carolina ranks just ahead of the Vols averaging 69.4 points per game, good for 11th in the SEC.
The Gamecocks have just two players averaging more than 10 points a game as sophomore guard AJ Lawson leads South Carolina with 15 points per game while senior big Maik Kotsar averages 10.3 points.
Tip-off is set for 1 p.m. ET at Thompson-Bolin Arena and will be broadcast on SEC Network.