Where to watch: South Carolina (17-11, 9-6 SEC – #71 KenPom rating) at Alabama (15-13, 7-8 – #46) – Today 7:30 p.m. Central, Coleman Coliseum, SEC Network
Who to watch: Jaden Shackelford. A likely SEC All-Freshman team selection, Shackelford has been an important piece for the Crimson Tide all season and many nights has emerged as the top scoring threat. But with John Petty (elbow) all but certain to be out tonight, Shackelford will get his first taste of knowing before the game starts that he must have a strong game for his team to win. Kira Lewis can’t carry the scoring load by himself. Beetle Bolden is too streaky and foul prone to be relied on heavily and Jaylen Forbes is much too raw. As for the frontcourt, it may be the worst in the league, at least for as long as Herbert Jones must play without practical use of his left hand. So it is up to Shackelford to exceed his average of 14.9 points per game with defenses locked in on him like never before.
What to watch for: A battle of attrition at the charity stripe. If Bama can’t get to the foul line against the Gamecocks, it simply isn’t trying. South Carolina ranks dead last in Division I basketball in average number of fouls committed (22.9) and free throw attempts allowed (27.6). The Tide isn’t much better off, averaging 20 fouls a game, which translates into 23.2 attempts at the line by opponents. Both teams also get plenty of chances of their own at free throws, with Alabama (627) ahead of USC by one attempt. That could make for a far choppier game than might be expected from two teams in the top 20 nationally for pace of play. One difference that could work in Bama’s favor: all that extra work from the line hasn’t cured the Gamecocks’ rotten foul shooting. South Carolina shoots 61.8 percent from the line, which makes the Tide’s 69.2 percent average look sparkling.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris