The Missouri Tigers and South Carolina Gamecocks had their ups and downs as the non-conference slate unfolded, but both teams are looking to get off to strong starts in conference play to potentially boost their NCAA tournament profiles.
The Tigers, led by first-year head coach Cuonzo Martin, have compiled a 10-3 record thus far on the season, with this game being their conference opener due to their absence from the Big 12-SEC Challenge in late January.
They have, at times, looked like an NCAA Tournament team with wins over UCF, Stephen F. Austin, Iowa State, and a close loss to West Virginia, but have looked vulnerable even in victories, only defeating Division II foe Emporia State by five and getting run off the floor in the first half in a six-point loss to Illinois.
Even with the relative inconsistency, the Tigers have been one of the better teams in the NCAA, posting a top 50 KenPom rating while posting top 100 offensive and defensive ratings.
The Gamecocks are off to a 9-4 start with Frank Martin at the helm, with an 0-1 conference record with the five-point loss on Saturday to Ole Miss in Oxford.
South Carolina has been one of the best teams in the NCAA defensively, posting the 14th best defensive rating per KenPom, but have not beaten a top-100 team as of this point.
A win over Missouri would be their best win of the season and could boost their resume into one of a top-50 team should they pull out the victory at home.
Let’s take look at players to watch, keys to victory, and a score prediction for Wednesday’s tilt in Columbia, SC.
Players to Watch
Jordan Barnett (Missouri)
The Tigers’ starting small forward has been outstanding this season, posting career high averages in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals while also improving his defensive rating per 100 possessions to a good level of production.
The 2nd-year transfer from Texas has also posted career highs in his shooting efficiency with a true-shooting percentage of 62.7 percent and an effective field-goal percentage of 57.8 percent, which is a high level for a player that shoots nearly six threes per game.
Barnett’s value lies in his rebounding, with him pulling down two offensive rebounds per game, which puts him in the top 25 in the SEC and second on the Tigers’ roster, as well as his shooting, so look for Barnett to have a big game to build off of his stellar performances recently against Stephen F. Austin and Illinois.
Chris Silva (South Carolina)
Clearly the best player on the Gamecocks’ roster, Silva has been dynamic this season, leading the Gamecocks in scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots as a 6-9 center with long arms and defensive mobility.
One of two returning starters from the Final Four team last season, Silva has stepped his game up to fill the void of everything that South Carolina lost from the guard position, and one of the ways that Silva has taken that step is the addition of a 3-point jump shot.
Even though Silva has only attempted eight threes this season, he has made three of them, so defensive units have to respect the jumper to some degree because he can make them at a relatively high rate.
Silva also has an elite defensive box plus-minus rating, which shows his defensive acumen against an average player on an average team, posting a top-10 rating in the SEC in that metric.
Silva’s impact defensively around the rim is his main trait, and combining that with an offensive game that is very solid as well, it makes him one of the best all-around players in the SEC and he’ll be important for South Carolina to win this game.
How Missouri Can Win
The Tigers will need big games out of Jeremiah Tilmon and Jontay Porter down low to slow down the two-headed monster of Maik Kotsar and Chris Silva.
The third and first leading scorers respectively for the Gamecocks, they provide a major portion of South Carolina’s scoring output, so the defensive effort of Tilmon and Porter will be very important to stalling South Carolina’s offense out.
The magic number of points between Kotsar and Silva is 20 combined. The Gamecocks are 8-1 when Silva and Kotsar combine for over 20 points, but just 1-3 when they combine for less than 20 (the win was over Limestone, where Silva only played 10 minutes).
If Missouri can limit Kotsar and Silva, they have a great chance of winning this game.
How South Carolina Can Win
The Gamecocks will need a big performance from Frank Booker, their second leading scorer, both offensively from the off-ball guard spot and defensively against the likes of Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett.
Booker, along with Hassani Gravett, will be important to South Carolina’s success offensively in the case that Kotsar and Silva can’t get it going early.
Booker is a lethal shooter, shooting over 43% from behind the arc, so getting him going early will be very important for the Gamecocks to be competitive in the game, especially if Silva and Kotsar can’t get it going against the Missouri frontline.
The Tigers and Gamecocks both need this win to get off to a good start in conference play.
Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, the Tigers simply have too much talent, and with both teams playing relatively poorly as of late, Missouri’s talent will prove to be the difference on the road.
Prediction: Missouri 67, South Carolina 59