What to Know: No. 1 Tennessee vs. South Carolina

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    (Photo via Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics)

    Tennessee and South Carolina just met on the basketball court two weeks ago in Columbia. Now, they’re set to tip-off in Knoxville on Wednesday night.

    The No. 1 Vols (22-1, 10-0 SEC) beat the Gamecocks (12-11, 7-3 SEC) by a score of 92-70 the last time these two teams played. South Carolina managed to cut Tennessee’s nine-point halftime lead down to just two points with 13:07 left in the game, and the Gamecocks looked poised to make the Vols sweat.

    But then, the Vols poured on the gasoline and lit the match.

    Tennessee closed out the game on a 32-12 run over the final 13 minutes, and they came away with a 22-point victory. If not for Chris Silva’s exceptional performance (28 points, 10 rebounds), the Gamecocks might’ve faltered earlier than they did.

    South Carolina entered SEC play in a rut, losing seven of their first 12 games of the season. But since conference play has begun, the Gamecocks have found a different gear. They’ve won seven of their 10 SEC games and currently sit fourth in the conference standings.

    After jumping out to a 4-0 record in conference play, the Gamecocks have come back down to earth over the last few weeks, going 3-4 in their last seven games. Three of those four losses have come by at least 20 points.

    The Vols, meanwhile, have continued their winning ways since the last time these two teams met. Tennessee is riding an 18-game winning streak and have yet to lose in conference play.

    Here’s everything you need to know when the Vols host South Carolina on Wednesday night.

    Get Silva in Trouble

    The last time Tennessee played the Gamecocks, they got torched by senior forward Chris Silva in the first half. The reigning SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year was a force on offense in the first half of play, scoring 22 points on 6-of-10 shooting while bringing down six rebounds.

    But the second half was a different story, and that’s because the Vols got him in foul trouble.

    Silva picked up three fouls in the second half, and that altered how he played. He was held to six points and only three field goal attempts in the last half of play, and that proved to be a major factor in the outcome.

    That game wasn’t an exception for Silva, though. He’s struggled with not picking up fouls all season and throughout his South Carolina career.

    In 23 games this season, Silva has fouled out of three contests and has picked up at least four fouls in 16 of the 23 games he’s played. When he picks up three fouls or less, he’s averaging 15.3 points and 7.9 rebounds. When he gets four or more fouls in a game, he’s averaging 13.1 points and 6.6 rebounds.

    Silva has fouled out of 21 of the 125 games he’s played at South Carolina, and he’s picked up at least four fouls in 75 of his 125 career games. Limiting him will be the key to keeping the Gamecocks off balance.

    Don’t Get Beat from Deep

    Tennessee has gotten better at defending the three over their last couple games, but it’s still an area of concern for their defense. And the Gamecocks are more than capable of taking advantage of that.

    The Vols held Florida and Missouri to a combined 30.2 percent shooting from three over the last week. But prior to those games, teams had been making 39.2 percent of their three-pointers in the seven games before those two contests.

    In SEC play, South Carolina is making 37.8 percent of their threes, which is the third-best three-point shooting percentage in conference play. They were 10-of-15 from three in their last outing against Arkansas, and they made 11 of their 16 shots from distance against Georgia on February 2nd.

    When these two teams last met, South Carolina made seven of their 22 threes in the game, finishing with just a 31.8 shooting percentage from deep.

    Get Ready for Free Throws

    There are few teams in the SEC better at drawing fouls from their opponents than South Carolina. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, they’re also the worst offender at dishing out fouls as well.

    The Gamecocks are drawing 20.1 fouls per contest against SEC opponents this season. That’s the third-most in SEC play. But they’ve also fouled conference opponents more than any other team this season, giving out 21.5 fouls per game.

    Because of all the fouling on both ends, South Carolina has attempted the third-most free throws in SEC play this year (231). But no other SEC team has allowed more free throw attempts to opponents either, as teams have gone to the charity stripe 256 times against the Gamecocks. South Carolina also isn’t a great free throw shooting team, only making 66.2 percent of their free throws in SEC play.

    Tennessee has been fairly proficient at drawing fouls themselves, getting teams to foul them 19.1 times a game in SEC play. The Vols are only averaging 17.6 fouls per contest in conference play, though.

    The last time the Vols and Gamecocks played, South Carolina attempted 29 free throws but only made 17 of them. Tennessee wasn’t great from the charity stripe either, going 13-of-20 from the line.

    Another Rematch

    Wednesday’s game will mark the third-straight game in which the Vols are playing a team they’ve already taken on once this season.

    Tennessee played Florida for the second time a week ago, and they took on Missouri for a second time over the weekend. The Vols won both those rematches, sweeping the season series against both the Gators and Tigers.

    The Vols will be looking to sweep their season series against South Carolina for the second-straight year. Last season, Tennessee defeated the Gamecocks 70-63 in Columbia in January then took them down in Knoxville by a score of 70-67. Before those wins, the Vols had lost three-straight games to the Gamecocks and had dropped four of their last five games against them.

    It’s a Trap!

    Tennessee has a huge match-up with No. 5 Kentucky coming up in Lexington on Saturday. Is there a chance that the Vols are overlooking the Gamecocks for that game against the Wildcats?

    This scrappy South Carolina team is more than capable of going into an opponent’s arena and leaving with a victory. They own road wins over Georgia, Vanderbilt, and Florida in SEC play this season, and the Gamecocks are 2-2 in their last four games in Knoxville.

    The Vols better not take the Gamecocks lightly, because South Carolina has enough talent on their roster and leadership from head coach Frank Martin to pull off an upset.

    On the flipside, though, South Carolina has also been blown out on the road against Kentucky and LSU, and they lost on the road to a bad Oklahoma State team as well.

    South Carolina may have found some recent success in Knoxville over the last couple years, but historically they’ve had major issues winning on the road against Tennessee. The Vols are 26-9 all-time against the Gamecocks in Knoxville.