South Carolina will raise its first Final Four banner to the rafters on Monday, but Western Michigan hopes to ensure the celebration ends there. The rebuilding Gamecocks face a tough early-season test on banner night as they host the preseason Mid-American Conference favorite Broncos in an unbracketed contest in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
The Gamecocks hardly resemble the team that made a run to the Final Four last spring, but they have an influx of new talent - including Frank Booker, a graduate transfer from Florida Atlantic who scored 12 points in a 73-52 win at Wofford on Friday. “I love all these guys already, and I’ve only been here a few months,” Booker told reporters. “Going through practice like we go through practice – all the blood, sweat and tears that we’ve already been through – coming to the game is just relaxing, just playing basketball.” Western Michigan, which walloped NAIA opponent Siena Heights 103-72 in its season opener on Saturday, fits the profile of a potential bracket buster come March. The Broncos won the only previous meeting 82-55 in 1946, accounting for one of their two wins in six tries against current SEC teams.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, SEC Network
ABOUT WESTERN MICHIGAN (1-0): The Broncos were crisp in the season-opening rout of Siena Heights, as they shot 52.2 percent and had six players score in double figures. Preseason All-MAC guard Thomas Wilder, who averaged 19.3 points last season, led the way with 16 on 6-for-10 shooting, and he also dished out six assists in 23 minutes. The Broncos also have good size in the frontcourt for a mid-major team with 6-8 forward Brandon Johnson, who scored 14 points in the opener, and two solid centers in 7-footer Seth Dugan and 6-10 reserve Drake LaMont.
ABOUT SOUTH CAROLINA (1-0): The Gamecocks entered the season looking for a go-to guy to replace star Sindarius Thornwell, and they had four candidates step up by scoring in double figures on Friday. Sophomore forward Maik Kotsar led the way with 13 points against the Terriers, while graduate transfers Booker and Wes Myers gave the Gamecocks veteran leadership in the backcourt. Chris Silva also had a solid night with nine points and 10 rebounds in 20 minutes, which is typical of the stat line South Carolina has come to expect from him.
1. South Carolina went 11-for-23 from 3-point range against Wofford despite returning only 6.4 percent of its 3-point field goals from last season.
2. The Gamecocks, who were 20-1 when winning the battle of the boards last season, outrebounded Wofford 40-28.
3. The Broncos are 3-29 against Power Five opponents since the 2004-05 season, and they haven’t defeated such a team since knocking off Virginia Tech in the 2006 Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla.
PREDICTION: South Carolina 73, Western Michigan 69