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Keep your enemies closer, hoops edition: South Carolina

Auburn heads to Columbia on Saturday for the first conference road game against South Carolina. College and Magnolia checks in with Garnet and Black Attack on what to expect.

South Carolina's Brian Richardson shoots over Mississippi State.
South Carolina's Brian Richardson shoots over Mississippi State.

With no South Carolina on the 2012 football schedule, hoops is our first chance to interact with SB Nation's South Carolina blog, Garnet and Black Attack. We gave them some notes on the Tigers and they gave us their thoughts on the Gamecocks. Tip off is set for 12:30 p.m. CT Saturday at Colonial Life Arena. The game will be televised on the SEC Network and audio broadcast is available on the Auburn IMG Network / XM 199.

Frank Martin is in his first season as a Gamecock. Were you surprised by the hire? How do you feel so far?

We were definitely somewhat surprised by the hire. It's of a piece with an increase in athletics revenues at the school and a more general commitment to improving the athletics programs, but I think most of us were expecting a trendy mid-major coach, as opposed to a coach who is a proven winner at the highest levels. However, the stars aligned, with Martin looking for a new challenge and us ponying up the cash to bring him in.

So far, it's difficult to judge Martin's tenure. Obviously, USC was a very bad team last year, and the roster went from awful to worse when Damontre Harris and Anthony Gill transferred during the regime change. There's not a lot of talent on the current team, and Martin can't be blamed if we have a bad season. I'll say that he seems to have introduced a renewed emphasis on fundamentals that was missing during the Horn tenure, and that he's already making his mark as a recruiter. Hopefully, these two Martin trademarks will pay dividends in coming years, but probably not until then.

What kind of expectations do you have for conference play?

Honestly, pretty low expectations, particularly after losing to Mississippi St. last week. I would be very happy if we win six conference games or so and finish around .500 overall. I'm not exactly optimistic that will happen, but with the SEC not being very good this year, there's definitely a chance, particularly if the team continues to improve.

Lakeem Jackson leads the team in minutes played and field goal percentage (60.6). Brenton Williams is not far behind and is also shooting well. Who else should we know about?

Jackson is probably the team's best player as a versatile wing who does everything well but shoot from the outside. Williams is a good player, but he may see his playing time evaporate with the return of two-sport star Bruce Ellington, who will be an impact player for the Gamecocks. Brian Richardson is another player to keep your eye on. He was a non-factor early in the season, but he's developed into Carolina's most effective offensive player, particularly as an outside marksman. The main weakness for Carolina is the front court, where Martin has experimented with different lineups. Martin actually went with a three guard lineup for much of the Miss St. game, which tells you a lot about the state of the USC front court.

What do you think these guys do best? Are there any areas in which they struggle?

Carolina has some good shooters in Ellington, Richardson, and Damien Leonard. It covers the offensive glass well for a team lacking a quality center. It plays good defense, particularly Ellington and Jackson.

By far, the biggest weakness is turnovers. Carolina committed 24 against MSU, and they led directly to the loss. Ball handling and passing are real problems. During the Horn tenure, Carolina's offense essentially consisted of jacking up long threes every possession, and while Martin has instituted a legitimate offensive system, the presumable lacking of training in the fundamentals during the Horn years really shows when this team is moving the ball around. The turnovers are really a problem because this team isn't good enough to win if it makes silly mistakes.

Who wins this game?

I'm hoping that with the game at home and Ellington hopefully having shaken off the rust against MSU, USC will eliminate some of the turnovers. This can be a decent-ish team if it protects the ball better, and I'll take USC over AU by three.