Todd van Emst
Conference play for the Tigers continues with their first road trip. Auburn visits Columbia, S.C., to face the Gamecocks on Saturday.
Auburn (7-7, 1-0 SEC) is on a nice little streak with wins at home against FSU and LSU and has broken even with a .500 record overall. South Carolina (10-4, 0-1) dropped its first conference game on the road at Mississippi State, 56-54, which snapped a five-game winning streak. Even with ten wins in non-conference play, the bigger games on the schedule -- St. John's and Clemson -- resulted in a loss, and the Gamecocks suffered a surprising defeat at the hands of Elon.
Ken Pomeroy ranks Auburn at 156 and South Carolina checks in at 217. It wasn't until recently that Pomeroy gave the edge to the Tigers, with the current prediction being a one-point win for Auburn.
Frank Martin, former Kansas State head coach who turned the Wildcats around, is in his first season as head coach of the Gamecocks. His projected starting lineup includes freshman forward Mindaugas Kacinas (6'7, 210), senior forward Lakeem Jackson (6'5, 235), junior guard Brian Richardson (6'4, 175), junior guard Eric Smith (5'11, 205), and junior guard Bruce Ellington (5'9, 197). Key players off the bench are junior guard Brenton Williams (5'11, 175) and freshman forward Michael Carrera (6'5, 212).
Williams leads the team in scoring, averaging 12.3 points per game, having played in all 14 games. Ellington, also a running back on the Carolina football team, is not far behind, averaging 10.0 points in just six contests. Williams, Jackson and Richardson are the team's most active shooters and all are making over 40 percent of their shots (52.9, 61.3 and 40.9, respectively). Williams has 13 steals on the season and Jackson leads the way for rebounding with an average of 7.4 per game. Jackson and Kacinas also have 13 blocks so far. The team as a whole is shooting at 45.5 percent and making three-pointers at a 35.3 percent clip. The Gamecocks are hitting 69.5 percent of their free throws.
South Carolina contained Mississippi State defensively by only allowing the Bulldogs to score on 38.8 percent of their shot attempts and holding State to 0-for-10 on three-pointers. Richardson had 20 points on the night, but the 24 turnovers committed by the Gamecocks may have been the deciding factor in their loss. They are averaging 17.8 turnovers a game, while Auburn sits at only 14.3, giving up just nine against FSU and 12 against LSU.
The keys to this game obviously are continuing to spread the scoring responsibilities to players other than Frankie Sullivan, improving rebounding, forcing turnovers and making free throws. The Tigers have the talent to win, but the bigger question is whether or not they can get their first conference road win since the 2010-11 season.
Check out the Tigers and Gamecocks on the SEC Network at 12:30 p.m. CT. Audio broadcast is available on the Auburn IMG Network / XM 199.
Tony Barbee on South Carolina
"Going into their ﬁrst conference game, South Carolina had won ﬁve games in a row and were playing well. (Bruce) Ellington is going to be 100 percent committed to basketball now so we all know he is one of the better guards in the league. He can score the ball and can play the point guard spot. That new coaching staff has them playing really hard. They are very aggressive defensively. They really get after it. They really rebound the ball so it's going to be a tough task going into Columbia and try to play with them."
On Auburn playing its ﬁrst SEC road game
"The guys are really starting to buy into what we want them to do offensively and defensively and the main part about competing and playing hard at all times. We are excited about going on the road. Having that LSU victory at home gives us a lot of conﬁdence going on the road."
On Auburn's play during the last three games
"We have been competing and ﬁghting and giving it everything we have for 40 minutes. We are looking forward to a tough road test. It is always tough going on the road, especially in league play. We are excited about it."