South Carolina Basketball: First SEC opponent getting best player back from injury just in time to play Gamecocks

South Carolina basketball will play the Mississippi State Bulldogs in their first SEC contest this weekend. The Bulldogs have been without their best player, forward Tolu Smith, all season, but he will return against the Gamecocks.

South Carolina basketball plays the Mississippi State Bulldogs this Saturday, and MSU will be getting back their best player, Tolu Smith.
South Carolina basketball plays the Mississippi State Bulldogs this Saturday, and MSU will be getting back their best player, Tolu Smith. / Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
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South Carolina basketball is 12-1 for just the 6th time in program history (12-0 or better also counts), and the Gamecocks are "officially in position to be in position" to make the NCAA Tournament according to college basketball analyst John Rothstein.

The SEC basketball schedule begins this week, and that's when the real test begins for Carolina. The 18-game conference slate will separate the decent teams from the good teams and the good teams from the great teams. ESPN's Joe Lunardi currently has South Carolina basketball as one of nine SEC teams (which would be a record) in the Big Dance, but the SEC schedule and SEC Tournament will determine if that sticks or not.

It will be a long and hard road for Lamont Paris and his team in year 2 of his tenure in Columbia, and the first test of the SEC schedule just got more difficult.

According to Mississippi State Bulldogs coach Chris Jans, star forward Tolu Smith, who has only played in one game this season due to injury, will play against the Gamecocks this weekend and will not have a minutes restriction.

Smith has been MSU's best player the past two seasons, and the All-SEC forward was projected as a preseason All-American this year before a foot injury sidelined him until the Bulldogs' final game of 2023.

A big-time scorer from the forward position, Smith will test the mobility of Gamecock big man BJ Mack and will challenge the other more foul-prone Carolina bigs (Stephen Clark, Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk, Josh Gray, Collin Murray-Boyles) with physical play down low.

Smith is also a good rebounder who is re-joining a really good rebounding MSU team. In addition to being one of the SEC's leading teams on the glass, the Bulldogs also have three different players who are averaging over 6 rebounds per contest this season in Jimmy Bell (who leads the league with 9.2 per game), DJ Jeffries, and Cameron Matthews.

It is unclear how Tolu Smith's reintegration into Chris Jans' lineups will affect the Bulldogs' rotations (Bell, Jeffries, and Matthews have started every game this season), but it can't hurt adding an All-American talent to the fold.

The Gamecocks will have their hands full. Saturday's matchup will take place at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia at 12:00 (noon) and will be broadcast on CBS.

Next. South Carolina Basketball: Update on the Gamecocks' place in the NET rankings, RPI, and Bracketology. South Carolina Basketball: Update on the Gamecocks' place in the NET rankings, RPI, and Bracketology. dark