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Undefeated South Carolina, Clemson Men’s Hoops Teams On Collision Course

College basketball is heating up in the Palmetto State …

Who would have guessed that a December 6, 2023 matchup between the University of South Carolina and Clemson University’s men’s basketball teams would pit a pair of undefeated squads? Who knew the matchup would feature two teams suddenly on the cusp of making the Top 25? Two programs securing the sort of close, critical early-season victories that could potentially position them for a shot at NCAA glory next March?

We are obviously a long way from even beginning to think about bubble speculation … but you can’t have your bubble burst unless you’re on the bubble to begin with. And you don’t get on the bubble to begin with unless you win games like those both of these Palmetto State programs are currently winning.

In their second season under head coach Lamont Paris, the Gamecocks (7-0, 0-0 SEC) are off to their best start since the 2016-2017 squad began the year 8-0. That team wound up in the Final Four, by the way.

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Paris needed the hot start. His team went an atrocious 11-21 during his first season at the helm of the South Carolina program. Paris, 49, was hired last March to replace former head coach Frank Martin – who really didn’t do much during his ten seasons at the helm of Gamecock basketball aside from that deep 2017 postseason run.

Was Paris the first choice for the job? No. Nor was he the second. Or the third. But he’s proving his critics wrong so far this season – and he’s doing it without the services of last year’s leading scorer (and second round NBA draft pick) Gregory “G.G.” Jackson II.

Meanwhile, the Tigers (7-0, 1-0 ACC) are keeping their naysayers silent so far, as well. Clemson is off to its best start since the 2008-2009 season – which saw the team win its first sixteen games under former coach head coach Oliver Purnell. Current head coach Brad Brownell was hired to replace Purnell in April 2010, but his lengthy tenure in Tigertown – like Martin’s tenure at South Carolina – has been underwhelming on the whole. In his fourteenth season at the helm of the program, Clemson has made the NCAA tournament just three times – most recently in 2021. Last year’s squad won 23 games but failed to qualify for the Big Dance – putting tremendous pressure on Brownell coming into this season.

So far, he and his squad has answered the bell …

(Click to view)

Clemson guard Joseph Girard III (Clemson Tigers)

Clemson opened ACC play at home with a 79-70 win over Pitt on Sunday, powered by 25 points from fifth-year senior transfer guard Joseph Girard III of Glenn Falls, N.Y. and 22 points from senior center PJ Hall of Spartanburg. The Tigers previously upset No. 24 Alabama – ending the Crimson Tide’s 19-game home winning streak and 18-game winning streak against non-conference opponents. Hall and Girard led the way in that game, too, posting 21 and 16 points, respectively.

For the Gamecocks, junior guard Meechie Johnson of Cleveland, Ohio is leading the way with 17.9 points per game. Johnson drained five of seven three-pointers in South Carolina’s home win over George Washington on Friday – part of a school record 18 deep bombs. He’s stroking the ball at a career-best 48.8 percent through seven contents.

Graduate transfer forward B.J. Mack of Charlotte sank four of eight from long range in the rout of the Revolutionaries. Mack is second on the team with 16.7 points per game.

South Carolina is hitting an sensational 40.2 percent of its long-range baskets so far this season – which, ironically, is almost identical to its total field goal percentage from last season (40.3 percent). News flash: When your team is hitting at the same clip from behind the arc that it shot overall a year ago … things are going to improve.

The Gamecocks are also winning with defense – forcing ten or more turnovers in six of their first seven contests.

What will happen when these two arch-rivals meet this week? Wednesday night’s tip-off at Littlejohn Coliseum is set for 8:00 p.m. EST with the ACC Network providing coverage. Roy Philpott will handle play-by-play duties and Dan Bonner will provide color commentary.

South Carolina enjoys a 92-80 overall edge in this series, which dates back to 1913. If you’re wondering why that math doesn’t add up on a yearly basis, it’s because prior to the early 1990s the teams played each other twice a year – sometimes three times.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.

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