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November 15, 2008WINTHROP EAGLES (1-0)
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (1-0)
When: 4 p.m. today
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Tickets:Available at the box office
Winthrop's probable starters: G Justin Burton 5-10 So. (6.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg); G Raymond Davis 6-4 Jr. (10.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg); C Charles Corbin 6-7 So. (14.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg); F Mantoris Robinson 6-5 Jr. (2.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg); F Cameron Stanley 6-6 Grad (6.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
South Carolina's probable starters: G Devan Downey 5-9 Jr. (12.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg); G Zam Fredrick 6-0 Sr. (17.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg); G Branden Conrad 6-2 Sr. (4.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg); F Dominique Archie 6-7 Jr. (13.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg); F/C Mike Holmes 6-7 So. (17.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg)
Notes: Each team won its season-opener two days ago, USC 89-76 over Jacksonville State and Winthrop 67-42 over North Greenville. The Gamecocks will be without starting guard Brandis Raley-Ross, who sprained his left knee against Jacksonville State and will be out three to four weeks. Forward Sam Muldrow is also expected to miss his second straight game on an academic benching. The Eagles and Gamecocks have each been to the NCAA tournament eight times, but Winthrop has been eight times in the past 10 years. USC has never lost to the Eagles in five tries. The first of an eight-game schedule against in-state teams for the Gamecocks.
Next game: USC hosts USC Upstate at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
Put it like this - Winthrop was enough of a giant-killer to not be overlooked anyway. After SEC stalwart Kentucky lost to VMI - part of the same Big South Conference that holds the Eagles as members - two days ago, South Carolina was even more prepared.
No chance of taking them lightly now.
The problem is, will taking them lightly really be the biggest concern today, when USC hosts Winthrop?
The Gamecocks (1-0) and Eagles (1-0) clash at 4 p.m., each team playing its season-opener two days ago and each team already going through the rigors of a knee injury. Winthrop lost projected starting center Andy Buechert in the preseason to a torn ACL and USC will be without starting guard Brandis Raley-Ross for three to four weeks after he sprained his left knee in the team's first game against Jacksonville State.
With the injury in mind and also seeing VMI's upset already on the board, USC couldn't possible overlook Winthrop. Throw in that the Eagles are tied with USC and Clemson as the state school with the most NCAA tournament berths in history (eight), but theirs are in the past decade, and not overlooking becomes even more prevalent.
Still, it shouldn't be a problem. USC coach Darrin Horn liked what he saw in the season-opener hosting Jacksonville State but it could still be so much more.
"Glad to get a win in our opener," he said after the JSU game. "We saw some good things that we liked, also some things we didn't like so much, especially in the second half. Obviously we have some growing to do in the areas of clock management and understanding what we need to do in game situations. Also faced some adversity tonight.
"We still found a way to finish the game out, so we'll definitely take that."
USC won despite Raley-Ross hitting the deck with 32.3 seconds to play in the first half, eventually being wheeled out of Colonial Life Arena with USC's fan base holding its collective breath. Six players hit double figures, led by Mike Holmes and Zam Fredrick with 17 points each, and the Gamecocks turned back a JSU charge by keeping their composure.
Winthrop offers a severe test, very early into the season. The Eagles are used to winning, as noted from their record over the past 10 years, and knocking off an in-state major program (as they did to Clemson in recent years) would be quite a feather.
USC is intent on not giving them that.
"We were up 20 and still playing like it was early," Fredrick said about the team's new style. "We're going to work on that."
USC's biggest concern stands to be depth (again), Raley-Ross and the academic benching of Sam Muldrow leaving the Gamecocks with nine players. USC should still have a height advantage over the Eagles - their tallest available player is 6-foot-8 sophomore George Valentine.
But USC won't be counting that as a hole card, not with its limited depth. The Eagles love to trap, press and run the floor, just like USC, and the Gamecocks are fully aware of their opponent's past history.
Plus the league bragging-rights chip, earned by VMI.
"Winthrop can beat anybody in the country," guard Devan Downey said during SEC Media Days. "They had North Carolina beat last year. I'm from Chester, they're from Rock Hill, so it's going to be a pretty good game for me too."