USC Will Host Davidson in NIT 1st Round

The South Carolina basketball team will continue its season with an appearance in the NIT starting on Tuesday when they host Davidson at the Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks will be in their first postseason tournament since winning the 2006 NIT title.

It will not go down as the dream scenario coach Darrin Horn might have envisioned when he took the job at South Carolina. But he does recognize that the Gamecocks must start somewhere.

Despite a share of the SEC East title and 20-plus wins, the Gamecocks are headed to the NIT instead of the NCAA Tournament where they will play host to Davidson on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

"We're excited to play. It's postseason and, again, that's a step. We would have loved to have been in the NCAA," Horn said. "The bottom line is we're a 20-plus win team with some postseason coming, and that's progress for our program." Since the SEC split into two divisions in 1991, every team that has won 10-plus games in conference play has been selected to play in the NCAA Tournament - until now.

With a 21-9 overall record and a 10-6 record in league play, the Gamecocks have become the first SEC team not selected to the Big Dance despite 10 wins.

The biggest problem might have been Carolina's record against quality teams. Though USC does own three wins over top 25 teams, none of those teams finished there and none made the NCAA Tournament.

In total, USC played four teams that made the NCAA Tournament (Clemson, LSU, Tennessee and Mississippi State) and finished 0-6 against them. That, weak non-conference schedule, and a perception of a down year in the SEC, are what Horn points to as possible reasons for his team not going to the Big Dance.

"That's one of those things when it doesn't happen you can woulda-shoulda all you want, but it would be hard pressed for me to look at what the SEC received and say that our non-conference was the deterring factor," Horn said. "When your league champion receives an eight, and a team like Tennessee, who again did all of the things that they're told you have to do in terms of playing on non-conference schedule and going out of your conference and competing and all those things, and receives a nine, and the tournament champion receives a 13, I don't know that the deterring factor was non-conference. But again, we don't have any way of knowing that."

Though the Gamecocks did finish with a share of the SEC Eastern Division title, the team comes into the NIT as a lower positioned squad. Conference foes Auburn and Florida were selected as two of the top four seeds in the NIT after they had stronger finishes to the season. USC dropped three of their last four games. In all, the Gamecocks own a 5-1 record against teams making the NIT (Florida, Auburn, Baylor and Kentucky).

In nine appearances in the NIT, the Gamecocks are 13-7, including back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006. In their last three appearances in the tournament, USC has made it to the championship game all three times.

While it isn't their ultimate goal, Horn is putting emphasis on continuing to play hard, as a strong run in the NIT could serve as a springboard for his program.

"My comments to them were that we've had a great year and obviously we're disappointed, because ultimately we all would have liked to have been in the NCAA Tournament; but we feel like we still have basketball left to play, and we want to try to make the most of that," Horn said. "My biggest thing is, whether you're in the NCAA or NIT, now that the conference tournament is over, you truly are going to play your last game if you don't win; and when you've got seniors that have been a part of your program - and we've got two special ones in Zam (Fredrick) and Branden (Conrad) - you want to keep playing with them as long as you can."

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