USC to tussle with Commodores in home finale

South Carolina men's basketball coach Dave Odom has no delusions about where his team currently sits as far the postseason is concerned. The Gamecocks currently hold the bottom spot in the SEC East, with a 14-13 overall record and the only losing conference record in their division. Read inside for full story.

But Odom knows that despite all the hardships his Carolina team has faced this season, playing in a postseason tournament is not out of the realm of possibility.

"You now are put in position to not only compete within your league for NCAA berths, but now for the first time you're put in position to compete within your league for NIT berths," Odom said. "You say, 'Well it's always been.' No it hasn't. In the six power conferences, I don't know what the percentage would be, but I bet you that 80-90 percent of the time if you had a winning record, you were pretty much guaranteed you were going to the NIT."

With No. 19 Vanderbilt in town Wednesday night, Carolina has one final home game against a quality team who has struggled on the road this season. The Commodores are 2-5 away from home this year, with wins over Kentucky and LSU. Carolina's final regular season match-up will be against LSU in Baton Rouge, who knocked off defending national champion Florida over the weekend.

"The best thing we can do is beat Vanderbilt, and then that gives us another quality win," Odom said. "Then set our sights on Saturday and see what can happen."

Unless USC wins the SEC Tournament in Atlanta next week, the Gamecocks will be looking to finish their season strong in hopes of receiving a third consecutive bid to the NIT. Odom, who has taken Carolina to three NIT championship games during his tenure, knows that even that will be a struggle with the tournament's decision to narrow the field from 40 to 32 teams.

"Now, you look in the SEC right now, which is what I'm concerned with, I think we'll get five teams (in the NCAA). That puts seven teams unaccounted for in the SEC. Presumably, if you talk to the NIT committee they would say there is no quota system. They'll take the teams at large across the country," Odom said. "If that*s true, then I feel pretty good. But I know that when you get in rooms, they don't start talking SEC three teams, ACC four teams. I don't think they do that, but I know the human element comes into play."

The issue comes up in who and how many teams does the SEC get into postseason play. With all but one of the SEC East teams finishing at or above .500 in conference play, and the SEC West being a jumble with multiple scenarios playing out as to who its champion will be, a struggle for the postseason could place as few as four SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament and could leave the NIT with a decision to make of who is worthy.

*If we're not in the top 64 teams, we've got to be in the next 32," Odom said. "If we can win two or three more games, this year's team is not a whole lot different from those prior teams. The difference is the criteria for making the tournament is different."

The game against Vanderbilt is the home finale for USC, barring any NIT hosting opportunities. Odom is hoping that his team, especially the seniors, get to walk off the Colonial Center floor as winners one last time

"It is our last game here this year," Odom said. "It's kind of different in that we've already had our senior night, but still this is our last night with the seniors here. I know they're not going to undo what they did Saturday."

Tipoff between the Gamecocks and Commodores is set for 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday night.

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