Milwaukee (1-0) at South Carolina (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Sunday, November 11, 3 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Colonial Life Arena (18,000) -- Columbia, South Carolina. Television: FSN. Home Record: Milwaukee 1-0, South Carolina 0-0. Away Record: Milwaukee 0-0, South Carolina 0-0. Neutral Record: Milwaukee 0-0, South Carolina 0-0. Conference Record: Milwaukee 0-0, South Carolina 0-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The South Carolina Gamecocks open up the 2012-13 season this afternoon with a home date against the Milwaukee Panthers as part of the Hoops for Hope Classic.
Milwaukee began its season on Friday night with a convincing home win over Division II foe University of Mary, 76-46. The win was a solid start for the Panthers, who have won at least 19 games in three consecutive season under head coach Rob Jeter.
The Gamecocks were one of the few pushovers in the SEC last season, going 10-21 overall while winning just two games in conference play. Hoping to breathe new life into the program, South Carolina introduced Frank Martin as its new head coach in the offseason. Martin was fantastic in five seasons at Kansas State, leading the Wildcats to a 117-54 record and four NCAA Tournament appearances.
This bout marks the first-ever meeting between these two schools. Milwaukee hasn't played a current member of the SEC since it lost to eventual national champion Florida in the 2006 NCAA Tournament.
While Milwaukee can not be pleased about shooting 43.1 percent from the floor against a Division II opponent, it was able to make up for it by connecting on 13 three-pointers and shooting 13-of-16 from the foul line. The Panthers also played great defense, forcing Mary into 15 turnovers and less than 33 percent shooting from the field. Kyle Kelm came off the bench and turned out to be the team's top performer, going 6-of-9 from the field (3-of-4 from three-point range) en route to 15 points. After playing the last two seasons at Southeastern Community College in Iowa, Jordan Aaron was impressive in his first game for the Panthers. He earned the start at point guard, dropping 12 points and dishing out seven assists. Thierno Niang (11 points), another junior college transfer, rounded out the unit's double-digit scorers.
Expecting a one-season turnaround may be setting unfair expectations for the Gamecocks' new head coach, but there are several key pieces in place to at least offer some hope of improvement. Eight players return to the rotation, led by junior guard Bruce Ellington (11.0 ppg, 3.1 apg). Although he's just 5-9, Ellington has shown the ability to both get to the hoop and drain outside shots, hitting more than a three-pointer per game during his career. While not spectacular, Damien Leonard (6.8 ppg), Brenton Williams (6.1 ppg), R.J. Slawson (4.5 ppg) and Eric Smith (4.1 ppg) all bring valuable experience to the table. Southern Miss transfer LaShay Page (11.6 ppg) will be an immediate help in the backcourt, and 6-11 Lithuanian Laimonas Chatkevicius has a great combination of size, skill and shooting touch. Freshman Michael Carrera (6-5, 212) has cracked the starting lineup and scored 12 points in an exhibition game against Kentucky Wesleyan.
Hiring not only an experienced head coach but a proven winner is a huge step forward for South Carolina, but the pieces for a quality run in the SEC simply aren't in place this year. The Gamecocks will have the home crowd on their side, but Milwaukee will ride the momentum it build in its opener to move to 2-0.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Milwaukee 75, South Carolina 70
11/11 10:33:16 ET