No. 19 Tennessee is back in action on Wednesday night at 9 p.m. ET against Frank Martin’s South Carolina Gamecocks. The game was originally scheduled for Tuesday night, but was pushed back a day due to a positive COVID-19 test within the Vols’ program. It has not yet been announced whether it was a player and if UT will be short-handed.
The Vols (14-5, 7-5 SEC) enter the contest coming off of a tough 78-65 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge on Saturday. Freshman guard Jaden Springer did his best to lead Tennessee to victory, scoring a team-high 21 points, but Tennessee shot just 35 percent from the field as the offense once again sputtered.
South Carolina (5-9, 3-7 SEC) is coming off of a loss to Ole Miss and will be short-handed in Knoxville. In the loss to the Rebels, starting guard Jermaine Couisnard (ankle) and starting forward Justin Minaya (head) left the game with injuries and will not travel for tonight’s game.
Couisnard and Minaya have started in all 14 games for Carolina this season, Couisnard is averaging 9.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.6 assist per game, while Minaya is averaging 8.1 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds, respectively.
Tennessee leads the all-time series with South Carolina, 47-28, dating to 1927. The Vols have won five of their last six games against the Gamecocks and are 28-9 when this series is played in Knoxville. They’ve won three straight at Thompson-Boling Arena.
A win for the Vols would extend Tennessee’s home win streak to four games while giving the Vols a 12-2 record at Thompson-Boling this season. Victory for the Vols would also make them 6-1 in their last seven games against Carolina.
Managing editor Ben McKee, as well as RTI contributors Trey Wallace and Blake Von Hagen, make their predictions for Saturday’s game between the Vols and Gamecocks:
Tennessee may be short-handed against South Carolina on Wednesday night, but so will the Gamecocks. And two of the Gamecocks’ top four scorers missing the game will likely be more impactful than one or two potential Vols missing the game. UT in theory would handle Carolina with both teams at full strength, so even though Tennessee is dealing with COVID, there’s no reason it should lose to this bunch of Gamecocks.
At the end of the day Tennessee is better on both ends of the floor. As long as the Vols knock down shots, which isn’t a given, the Vols should be back in the win column on Wednesday night. Emphasis on the should.
Pick: Tennessee, 73-63
MVP: Tennessee freshman guard Jaden Springer
Springer is the only consistent piece to this Tennessee basketball team. He’s scored 20 points in three straight games and he’ll do so once against for a fourth straight game against the Gamecocks to lead the Vols to a win.
Tennessee is coming off a lackluster performance in Baton Rouge, thanks in part to a rough afternoon shooting the basketball. The Vols shot 35% from the field and 29% from the perimeter. This has become a trend for Tennessee, hot one night and then cold the next. If the Vols are going to have success against the Gamecocks, then they must take advantage of their open looks. This South Carolina team will not be a pushover, as they’ve played tough at times, while dealing with absent players.
The Vols need their leaders to step up, plain and simple. If this team is going to have success in March, John Fulkerson and Yves Pons must be a bigger part of the boxscore. The duo combined for seven points against LSU, which leaved the Vols without a post presence. Rick Barnes spoke about Fulkerson needing to want the basketball and have the offense flow through him at times, so tonight is the perfect opportunity. If the Vols can control the paint with their attacking of the basket and points in the paint, I see no reason this team can’t win by 15 points or more.
Pick: Tennessee, 79-61
MVP: Tennessee sophomore guard Josiah-Jordan James
Triple-J has quietly put together a nice season at many different positions. His ferocity on defense will be key tonight, as the Vols look to lockdown the perimeter. James should be able to expose the paint play of South Carolina and get up the court in transition.
South Carolina has struggled with consistency this season after having two weeks of December games canceled due to COVID-19. The Gamecocks have shown the ability to compete with teams at the top of the conference, knocking off Florida on the road and nearly upsetting Alabama last week. They have also shown the propensity to get blown out, losing to Auburn and Mississippi State by at least 15 points. Tennessee has had consistency issues of its own, so it’s tough to know what to expect on Tuesday night.
The Vols have the better defense and better offense, so they should be able to get through this game with a win. South Carolina has a few of the better athletes in the SEC and gets out in transition, which could give the Vols some trouble. If Fulkerson and Pons are unable to get things going on the offensive end, AJ Lawson and Keyshawn Bryant will make Tennessee fans sweat. The Vols have dominated the series and have played well at home, so I expect them to get the win in the end.
Pick: Tennessee, 76-69
MVP: Tennessee freshman guard Jaden Springer
Springer has been the easy pick for MVP over the last few games and I don’t see a valid reason to switch things up now. Tennessee should be getting out in transition on Tuesday, which makes Springer a threat on every possession.