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South Carolina (10-20) vs. Alabama (20-10)



The Sports Network

DATE & TIME: Thursday, March 8, 3:30 p.m. (ET)

FACTS & STATS: Site: New Orleans Arena (18,500) -- New Orleans, Louisiana. Television: SEC Network. Home Record: USC 9-9, Alabama 13-3. Away Record: USC 1-9, Alabama 4-7. Neutral Record: USC 0-2, Alabama 3-0. Conference Record: USC 2-14, Alabama 9-7. Series Record: Alabama leads, 22-13.

GAME NOTES: The Alabama Crimson Tide will try to take the first step toward a championship run on Thursday afternoon, as they tangle with the South Carolina Gamecocks in the first round of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament from New Orleans Arena.

Alabama had to settle for the fifth seed in this tournament after finishing 9-7 in league action. The Crimson Tide had a solid four-game win streak going before falling at Ole Miss to close out the regular season. Alabama has the second-most tournament championships in the SEC with six, though it has a long way to go to catch up with perennial league power Kentucky (27). The Tide last won the conference crown back in 1991, and they sport a 59-45 all-time record and a record-tying 52 appearances in the SEC postseason. Alabama has reached the championship game 13 times, and own a .567 winning percentage in the tournament, both of which rank second only to Kentucky. The Crimson Tide fell to the Wildcats in the semifinals last year.

South Carolina was saddled with the No. 12 seed after a rough regular season that included just two league wins. The Gamecocks are the only current member of the SEC without a tournament title on their resume', having posted a 16-20 mark all-time in the event with two appearances in the championship game. USC has suffered four consecutive postseason losses to its league counterparts, dropping a first-round matchup with Ole Miss last year. The Gamecocks' last win in the tourney came in 2008 -- an opening-round win over LSU.

The winner of this matchup will move on to face No. 4 seed Florida in the quarterfinals on Friday.

These two teams have met five times in the SEC postseason with Alabama owning a 3-2 edge in those matchups. The Gamecocks picked up one of their two league wins versus the Tide back on Jan. 25 in Columbia -- a narrow 56-54 final in their only meeting of the regular season. Alabama leads the all-time series with South Carolina by a 22-13 margin, and owns a 6-2 edge in neutral-site encounters. The teams have split their last 10 meetings.

The Crimson Tide possess a good balance of offense and defense, which allows it to compete on a nightly basis in one of the country's strongest conferences. While the offense doesn't wow you, 'Bama puts up a brick wall on defense in surrendering a league-low 57.9 ppg. Teams are allowed to shoot only 38.7 percent from the field, second to only Kentucky, while Alabama connects on 44.9 percent of its total shots. The Crimson Tide average 65.1 ppg on that percentage, but are also buoyed by the SEC's second-best free-throw shooting percentage (.708). The Tide's plus-7.2 scoring margin is also among the best in the conference behind only Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt. Senior JaMychal Green is at the head of the offense for 'Bama with his 13.8 ppg and .543 shooting percentage to go along with 7.3 rpg. Sophomore Trevor Releford is a solid second option, averaging 12.0 ppg and a team-leading 2.8 apg, while hitting 47.4 percent of his field goal attempts. Andrew Steele kicks in 7.3 ppg and shoots 50.8 percent from the floor. Alabama has a decent edge on the glass overall with a plus-2.5 margin.

The Gamecocks have had their fair share of struggles on offense this year, and sit second from the bottom in the SEC at 61.5 ppg on just 40.2 percent shooting. The defense allows it to be somewhat competitive in holding opposing teams to 65.1 ppg -- but on a league-worst 44.6 percent shooting from the field. The Gamecocks don't do themselves any favors in the rebounding department either, securing a conference-low 31.5 per game. Despite having a decent rebounding defense, USC's margin stands second from the bottom in the SEC at minus-1.9. Senior Malik Cooke's 12.5 ppg paces the offense and his 4.8 rpg stand third on the club. Sophomore Bruce Ellington slots in second on the team with his 11.0 ppg followed by freshman Anthony Gill (7.8 ppg), who also grabs 4.9 boards per contest. Damontre Harris adds 6.8 ppg and a team-high 5.6 rebounds while Damien Leonard averages 6.6 ppg and serves as USC's top three- point threat with 50 treys on 31.1 percent shooting.

Despite South Carolina's win over the Tide earlier this season, Alabama remains the clear favorite in this one. If 'Bama can get its offense churning early, it could be a runaway win to the quarterfinals.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Alabama 66, South Carolina 55

03/08 10:30:54 ET