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From the Pressbox: Notes from Tom Leach (Nov. 18)

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When Kentucky and South Carolina last met, the Gamecocks were 3-1 in the league, having already beaten Vanderbilt and Florida (on the road).  Now, USC comes into the rematch with UK having lost six of its last seven games. So what went wrong?

"They're a very young team playing in a very unforgiving division," said Andy Demetra, the radio voice for South Carolina men's basketball, noting this will be USC's fifth straight game against Southeastern Conference East foes, all of whom are projected to make the NCAA Tournament. "They have not quit and that's something for them to carry into (this game)."

South Carolina has three freshmen in its starting lineup, led by guard Bruce Ellington, but his shooting numbers have been on the decline lately. He's hit just 25 percent of his shots over the last four games, all Gamecock losses.

"As the season wears on, coaches have these things called game plans and they see a player once and they can adapt their game plan to defend him," said Demetra, adding that Ellington is nursing a bruised left calf muscle that had him at only about 70 percent in the loss at Tennessee on Wednesday night.

Demetra said foul trouble for Ellington hurt USC in the loss to Kentucky last month and said the Gamecocks' most productive game for points in the paint came in the loss to UK.

However, one of South Carolina's best inside players, Lakeem Jackson, is still nursing a foot injury and is not expected to return to the lineup until next weekend.

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Kentucky is projected to be either a four or five seed in most NCAA Tournament projections you might see, but there is an opportunity for the Cats to make a significant move upward, so says Jerry Palm, the bracket analyst for CBS Sports and collegerpi.com.

"A good hot streak by Kentucky could get them to the 3 line and I wouldn't even rule out squeezing onto the 2 line," Palm said on "The Leach Report" radio show this week. 

Palm doesn't think there are any "great" teams this season, so games called "upsets" may not really be all that surprising to knowledgeable basketball observers. He doesn't even think it would be a big shock to see any one seed go down early come March Madness.

"The gap between the top of the bracket and say the four or five seeds is not nearly as big this year as it has been in other years," Palm said. "Usually, by this time, there are one or two teams that are dominant. We don't have anybody like Kansas and Kentucky last year (in the 2011 field)."

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Last year's team excelled in the transition game and head coach John Calipari admitted he thought this team would be better than it has been in that area. Lately he's been pushing Brandon Knight to attack the rim in transition before worrying about setting up the offense.

"I think we're not attacking as much," Calipari said. "Some of it is our defense. When you're not getting any steals, when you're not getting anything off that glass to get you going, (you won't have as many transition opportunities). We're not playing a lot of people and guys aren't running (hard) on every possession."

Kentucky has been a low turnover team, but Calipari suggested that might mean his team is not aggressive enough. Barely making more free throws than their opponents in SEC play might back up that notion.

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The rankings for the top prospect in the 2011 class may change from time to time but there's no question in Calipari's mind who the best player is -- it's future Wildcat Michael Gilchrist.

"If there's a better player in the country, they've got to show him to me," Calipari said on his weekly call-in show on the Big Blue Sports Network earlier this week, praising Gilchrist's "vicious will to win."

Here's what former Division I coach Brian Nash said of Gilchrist after watching him score 28 in a recent outing (courtesy Jeff Goodman's blog at foxsports.com): 

"Most gifted players at the high school level allow their talent to carry them on most nights," Nash wrote. "Gilchrist combines his talent with a passion and drive that you do not see too often from a high school athlete. His athleticism makes him an incredible rebounder who tracks down boards all over the floor and above the rim. His ball-handling has improved to the level where he can rebound the ball and lead a fast break while making good decisions. He is the ultimate mismatch as an offensive player in the halfcourt."

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