Three things to watch for — UK vs. South Carolina



Here are three things to watch for when UK (22-1, 8-0 SEC) plays at South Carolina (9-11, 1-5 SEC) at 6 p.m. on ESPN/ESPN2.

1. Dominance — UK has crushed its last two opponents, LSU and Tennessee, by a combined 50 points, giving rise to numerous articles about how the Cats are the clear-cut No. 1 team. I wouldn’t disagree with that — but I would say that it’s advisable to wait another three weeks. UK still hasn’t played Vanderbilt, at home or away; Florida, at home or away; or Mississippi State on the road. Its SEC schedule is about to ramp up, and we’ll get a better sense of how truly elite UK is at the end of that stretch.

For now, UK will play the next opponent given to it on the schedule, and that somebody is South Carolina. The Gamecocks are 1-6 in SEC play but seemingly on the upswing. They beat Alabama at home, lost to Ole Miss by four on the road and lost to Florida by eight on the road. Still, UK has mismatches across the board — including on the boards.

South Carolina’s leading rebounder averages 5.3 per game, a number that three Cats top. The Gamecocks are the SEC’s worst defensive rebounding team and UK is the SEC’s best offensive rebounding team. The Cats should be able to exploit their size advantage and dominate the inside.

Right now, UK is moving at the right pace.

“Probably about where they should be. I’m not going to tell you we’re behind, but I’m certainly not going to tell you we’re ahead,” coach John Calipari said in assessing how his team is progressing. “It’s February, and we’re playing like a February team.”

If UK can turn in another imposing performance on the road, they will be rolling as they head into a significant three weeks.

And look more like a March team on the way.

2. Shooting — USC allows opponents to make 44.5 percent of its field goal attempts, the worst rate in the SEC. UK makes 48.5 percent of its shots, the best rate in the SEC. The Gamecocks are especially porous when defending the 3-point line, as opponents make 39.1 percent of their shots from behind the arc. For UK’s top perimeter threats, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller, this could be a game to bounce back from a tough shooting night against Tennessee, when they combined to shoot 1-7 on threes.

3. Teague’s improvement — It doesn’t seem that long ago when nearly everyone had some degree of criticism for Marquis Teague, but Teague’s recent production has been more than solid, as shown by comparing his first eight SEC games to John Wall’s and Brandon Knight’s:

Teague: Averaging 4.13 assists and 2.38 turnovers in his first eight SEC games.

Wall: Averaging 5.88 assists and 3.88 turnovers in his first eight SEC games.

Knight: Averaging 3.5 assists and 3.25 turnovers in his first eight SEC games.

Granted, Teague doesn’t have to score nearly as often as the other two — his 8.75 points per game average in the same span pale compared to Wall’s 15 and Knight’s 16.1 — but that just allows him to focus on running an offense.

Teague will need to continue his solid play as UK makes its way into the SEC homestretch. Another good game on the road against South Carolina will be a good step.

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