The South Carolina team Florida welcomes to the O'Connell Center tonight for its 2014 SEC opener could be one of two teams. Even the good one might not be much trouble for the Gators, though.
South Carolina has looked both very good (a win over Saint Mary's in Hawai'i, and a game road loss at Baylor) and very bad (a loss to USC Upstate, and a completely uncompetitive loss to Boise State the day after the Saint Mary's win) this season, something that Gamecocks fans might want to get used to under the similarly mercurial Frank Martin, now in his second year of coaching in Columbia.
This South Carolina team relies heavily on driving guards drawing fouls, and getting rebounds to win games, and has been alternately very good and rather iffy in both respects — against Saint Mary's, they shot 29 free throws, and made 18, while snagging 11 offensive boards; against USC Upstate, they shot 20 free throws, and made 14, while snagging "just" 17 offensive boards on a staggering 49 misses. The 'Cocks also foul a lot, ranking 327th nationally in Defensive Free Throw Rate, and while Florida is 280th in free throw shooting, the Gators could certainly still do damage from the line with a lot of shots tonight.
The team that wins the battle of the boards will probably win the game, and Florida's been doing that of late, especially on offense, grabbing better than 40 percent of available offensive rebounds in its last four games. But South Carolina's actually been better on the offensive glass than the (very good) Gators have this year, snagging 39.9 percent of available offensive boards period. Five Gamecocks grab offensive boards on better than 10 percent of their possessions, and it'll be imperative for Florida to keep at least a couple of them — Demetrius Henry and Mindaugas Kacinas are the two most likely glass-eaters — out of the box score.
But Florida's also got the memory of a very similar South Carolina team coming to Gainesville and getting smacked to work from, given that the Gamecocks' 75-36 loss to the Gators, just the third game in which Florida has ever doubled up an SEC foe, was less than a year ago.
Actually watching this game might be the biggest challenge for Gators tonight. Much like Florida's Saturday win over Richmond, the Florida-South Carolina broadcast is a CSS/Cox Sports special. The good news about this one is that DirecTV and DISH are providing free previews of ESPN Full Court this week, so subscribers will be able to check out the game through those avenues, and that WatchESPN will have the game online.