You might hate Michael Carrera (and to be honest, nobody would blame you after years of flops and drama and trash talk on the court), but the kid has somehow found a rhythm this season for the Gamecocks, and now he's ballin' out of control.
The senior forward is leading South Carolina (13-0, 0-0 SEC) in points (12.4) and rebounds (6.1) per game, and tonight, his team comes to the Arena to open SEC play against Auburn (7-5, 1-0 SEC). While the Gamecocks have yet to face an SEC team this season, Auburn is coming off a home victory against Tennessee on Saturday to the tune of 83-77. In that game, Auburn's Kareem Canty and Bryce Brown notched 20 points and three rebounds each, while the former also added four assists. South Carolina beat Memphis on Saturday 86-76 to move to 13-0 and remain one of the few undefeated teams in the country and the only undefeated team in the SEC this season.
Tonight's game will be an interesting matchup. The Gamecocks have been impressive in head coach Frank Martin's fourth season, but absent any SEC experience so far, his team will certainly have something to prove against Auburn (despite facing a Tiger team riddled with injuries). A hard-fought 2015 slate of game experience could favor the Tigers tonight, however. According to ESPN, Auburn's strength of schedule stands at 59, while South Carolina's falls much lower at 288. Regardless, both teams will be aiming for perfection—South Carolina looking for a 1-0 in conference play and Auburn trying to stay perfect at 2-0.
As fans are very aware (and as is tradition for the last several years), Auburn has lived and died by the three this season, but luckily, Bryce Brown has begun to find a scoring rhythm, which will hopefully take some pressure off Kareem Canty. Tonight's game will be no different—Auburn must prevail from behind the arc to provide a cushion for a very thin bench. Injuries are certainly nagging a Tigers team with a lot of talent—TJ Lang, having passed concussion protocols, is likely not to start, while New Williams is out once again with knee problems. Tahj Shamsid-Deen is also still out with shoulder problems.
While not injured, Danjel Purifoy still remains unavailable as Bruce Pearl and Auburn continue to wait for his debut this season in a frustrating eligibility situation.
Despite these issues, the bulk of Auburn's scorers remains relatively healthy, and it will take more than Canty and Brown lighting up the threes to ensure a victory against an undefeated and talented Gamecocks team. Cinmeon Bowers, Tyler Harris, and Horace Spencer will need to provide consistent support in the paint on both ends of the floor. Shutting down South Carolina's Carrera will be a difficult task, but mostly because Auburn is aware of his past tactics. Harris, who is prone to foul trouble, and Bowers will need to remain steady and play cool-headed defense against the Gamecocks' leading scorer and rebounder.
For Frank Martin's team, Carrera works with a supporting cast that will bring its best to the Arena tonight. Junior guard Duane Notice, while not a starter, is second behind Carrera in points per game (12.2), and behind him is senior forward Mindaugas Kacinas (12.0 ppg), who also averages 5.8 rebounds and has seven blocks on the season. Notice is also dangerous at the free throw line—he went 12-12 against Memphis on Saturday. Shutting down Carrera and Kacinas will be crucial. The Gamecocks are not a heavy three-point shooting team, but inside the paint, they play very physical, which is where both players have gotten their points all season.
It'll be up to the Tigers to take them up to task in what will hopefully be an electric atmosphere in the Arena for Auburn's second home SEC game of the season. The Tigers will also look to add to a six-game regular season win streak against the Gamecocks that goes back to the 2010-2011 season. No doubt tonight's matchup will be one to remember for the season. If you're on campus or in town, GET TO THIS GAME. Coach Pearl and our guys need a rowdy home-court advantage.
War Damn Eagle.
How to Watch:
Auburn vs. South Carolina
When: 6:00 PM CT
Watch: SEC Network
Listen: Auburn IMG Network
Radio Affiliates: 100.5 FM (Birmingham), 94.3 FM (Auburn), 1230 AM (Huntsville), 106.5 FM (Mobile), 92.3 FM (Montgomery)