‘Conference play is a whole ‘nother animal.’ USC starts SEC season at Florida
Who: South Carolina (5-7) at Florida (8-4)
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Exactech Arena in Gainesville, Florida
Radio: 107.5 The Game in Columbia area
Series: Florida leads 45-26
Last meeting: Feb. 10, 2018 — Florida won 65-41 in Columbia
1. On the road again
The Gamecocks are 2-4 under Frank Martin in SEC openers, including last season’s loss at Ole Miss.
Carolina’s gotten used to being on the road in this game. Saturday marks the sixth time in seven years the Gamecocks aren’t at Colonial Life Arena to begin league play. Columbia last hosted USC’s first SEC game in 2015.
Good news for the Gamecocks? They enter a building they was good to them last year. Carolina’s upset of the then 24th-ranked Gators at Exactech on Jan. 24, 2018, served as one of its best wins of the season.
2. Pace Watch, Part II
Has Florida become the Virginia of the SEC?
The Gamecocks fell to the Cavaliers and their famously patient style on Dec. 19. Now, here come the Gators, a team that plays the slowest of any SEC team. UF ranks No. 337 nationally in adjusted tempo, according to KenPom.com. South Carolina, at No. 26 nationally, plays the quickest of any SEC team.
“They play slow,” Martin said Thursday on his Carolina Calls radio show. “So a lot like Virginia, when you’re down 10 to Virginia, it’s like being down 20 to a team that plays fast. Florida’s kind of become that team in our league.
“If you fall behind against them, because they don’t play real fast on offense, there’s fewer possessions so it makes it harder.”
3. Long distance
South Carolina split its games with Florida last season. In the win in Gainesville, the Gamecocks shot 52 percent from beyond the arc (11 of 21), taking advantage of the then-worst 3-point defense in the SEC.
A year later, it’s not going to be so easy. The Gators enter first in the league in 3-point defense, allowing teams to make less than 30 percent of their attempts. USC is next-to-last in the league, making less than 31 percent of its 3s.
After the end to the Chris Chiozza era, Florida is longer on the perimeter with 6-foot-5 freshman Andrew Nembhard, 6-3 Noah Locke and 6-5 Keyontae Johnson.
“They have exchanged Chiozza, who’s a 5-foot-9 unbelievable competitor, for a 6-4, 6-5 point guard in Newbhard,” Martin said. “On that alone, I can tell you it’s a lot harder to pass and shoot over a 6-5 guy than a 5-9 guy.”
Coach: Mike White (178-81 in eight seasons overall; fourth season at Florida — 77-41)
Projected starters: G Andrew Nembhard (7.3 points per game), G KeVaughn Allen (10.3), G Noah Locke (9.4), F Kevarrius Hayes (7.3), F Keith Stone (7.6)
Last game: Beat Butler 77-43 on Dec. 29 at home
KenPom ranking: 17 (No. 56 in offense efficiency, No. 6 in defense efficiency)
Notes: Among the 15 players who lead their SEC teams in scoring, Allen ranks last at 10.3 points per game. ... Nembhard, a five-star prospect, was the headliner to Florida’s 2018 recruiting class, a bunch ranked No. 19 by 247Sports. ... The Gators have lost to Florida State (No. 18 on KenPom), Oklahoma (No. 22), Butler (No. 42) and Michigan State (No. 4).
Coach: Frank Martin (235-151 in 12 seasons overall; seventh season at USC — 118-97)
Projected starters: G Tre Campbell (5.3), G A.J. Lawson (13.8), F Keyshawn Bryant (9.3), F Chris Silva (12.5), F Maik Kotsar (8.6)
Last game: Beat North Greenville 97-46 on Dec. 31 at home
KenPom ranking: 126 (No. 192 in offense efficiency, No. 81 in defense efficiency)
Notes: Freshman forward Alanzo Frink (sprained ankle) is expected to travel, but his playing status is TBD. ... Bryant is from Winter Haven, Florida, a town 130 miles south of Gainesville. ... The Gamecocks have won their last two games against Florida away from Columbia, including the 2017 Final Four-clinching victory in New York.