Darrin Horn looks at the Michigan State basketball program and sees what he wants his South Carolina to become.
In less than three months, the Gamecocks will get a close-up look at the Spartans during a trip to the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich.
Speaking Tuesday about his team’s nonconference schedule, Horn couldn’t hide his excitement about playing Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s powerhouse program, which has played in each of the past two Final Fours and reached the NCAA tournament 13 consecutive seasons.
Horn campaigned to have the Gamecocks included in ESPN’s “College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon” and was rewarded with a Nov. 16 game at 10 p.m. The marathon is comprised of 12 live games covering 24 consecutive hours.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to be on the national stage against a nationally prominent program that has performed and done things in a way that we’d like to be doing them one day,” said Horn, whose second USC team finished 15-16 last season.
The game gives USC exposure at the start of the season and beefs up the nonconference schedule — two goals set by Horn.
“We’re extremely excited for a lot of reasons about this season,” Horn said. “The schedule is a part of that, of course. Our charge will be the same as it has been the last two years: We want to continue to build a program and do that with how we play and who we play. That’s an important part of it.”
The nonconference schedule includes another Big Ten power, Ohio State, which will play host to USC on Dec. 18 in Columbus. The Buckeyes will visit Columbia next season.
The Gamecocks’ home nonconference schedule is highlighted by a pair of games against ACC teams, Clemson on Dec. 5 and Boston College on New Year’s Day.
Horn leaves no doubt about what’s driving him to make the schedule more demanding.
“We want to build a national-level program, and to do that, you’ve got to play national-level games,” he said.
Although he admitted the Gamecocks will miss the services of All-SEC guard Devan Downey, he isn’t worried about this team being able to handle the challenge of playing Michigan State and Ohio State, citing the Gamecocks’ depth and athleticism.
“Our team will be different than it was before, but in a lot of ways, I think that’s exciting because of the talent level and the depth we’ll have,” he said.
Horn also noted that a more difficult schedule only can help if the team is being considered for at at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. He said that’s as much of a matter of eliminating teams from the schedule with low RPIs as it is adding teams with high RPIs.
Other nonconference opponents this season are Wofford, Elon, Radford, USC Upstate, Western Kentucky, Delaware State, Furman, Jacksonville State and S.C. State. The SEC schedule isn’t set.