The South Carolina Gamecocks didn't get off to the greatest start, going 2-5 in their first seven games.
But they've rebounded since, winning six of their last seven games, and they played then-No. 2 Ohio State tough on Dec. 17 before falling, 74-66.
No. 2 Kentucky, however, has been just as advertised. The Wildcats have gone 14-1 so far, with their lone defeat coming on a buzzer-beater against Indiana.
Here's a look at the upcoming game.
Where: Rupp Arena, Lexington, KY
When: Saturday, Jan. 7 at 4:00 p.m. EST
Listen: WISW-AM 1320 (Columbia, SC), UK IMG
Betting Line: No line as of this writing
What’s At Stake?
South Carolina is fighting for respect. The Gamecocks got all of zero votes in the AP rankings to start the season, and haven't gotten much respect since.
But the Gamecocks are also on a surge and if they keep playing like they did against Ohio State they could surprise some people.
As for Kentucky, the Wildcats are gunning for a national championship this season and they certainly have a legitimate shot. But first thing's first, they want to capture the SEC title, as well.
What They’re Saying
Writes Andy Katz of ESPN.com:
"Kentucky simply has the most talent of any SEC team. The Wildcats are extremely difficult to match up against because of their length, size and versatility...Kentucky is seemingly unbeatable in Rupp Arena."
There's also the return of two-sport athlete, Bruce Ellington, who was a receiver and kickoff returned for South Carolina during the football season
Writes Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader:
"The end of football season and the return of Ellington, a member of the Southeastern Conference's all-freshman basketball team last season, has been highly anticipated."
Said head coach Darrin Horn, via the Herald-Leader:
"One thing that's overlooked in all this is that even though he's a tremendous athlete, you're still dealing with a 20-year-old. That's a lot. That's a lot for anybody to do, much less a young person."
How Ellington holds up this basketball season is something to keep an eye on. He went 3-for-5 for nine points in his first game back against South Carolina State on Tuesday, hitting all three of his 3-point attempts.
South Carolina Player to Watch: Malik Cooke, F
Senior forward Malik Cooke is the Gamecocks' most important player. He's averaging 13.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.0 blocks this season. He's averaging the most minutes on the team (30.4) and he scored 21 points against Ohio State on Dec. 17.
Kentucky Player to Watch: Anthony Davis, F
Freshman Anthony Davis has a legit shot at being selected No. 1 overall in the 2012 NBA draft. He's one of the most, if not the most, hyped underclassmen in the country.
So far, Davis has not disappointed, averaging 12.7 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 4.5 blocks per game. He's done this while shooting nearly 65 percent from the floor. Terrence Jones has nothing on Davis.
Key Matchup: South Carolina vs. Anthony Davis
Let's be honest, if the Gamecocks can't slow Davis, they are going to have a hard time beating Kentucky or even getting close.
They need to be mindful of him in the post when they go up for layups and will likely need to double-team him at times throughout the game.
Prediction: Kentucky 80, South Carolina 65
Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2012/01/06/2017592/ellington-a-dual-threat-for-gamecocks.html#storylink=cpyMarquette Player to WatchGeorgetown Player to WatchKey MatchupPrediction