SOUTH CAROLINA seems headed for a crowded schedule of major nonconference Division I foes next season.
The Gamecocks learned Thursday they will face Providence on Dec. 1 in Columbia in the expanded Big East/SEC Challenge.
“This will be a good test for our team early in the season and will only strengthen what is already going to be a tough non-conference schedule,” USC coach Darrin Horn said in a statement.
The weekend before the game, South Carolina will play in the Las Vegas Invitational against two of the following three teams: North Carolina, Southern Cal or UNLV.
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Though next season’s schedule has not been released, the weekend after the Big East contest is when USC and Clemson have met the past two years. And Ohio State could come to Columbia the week after the instate rivalry game. They played on the same weekend a year ago.
That would mean as many as five high-major foes in four weekends for a young Gamecocks squad.
Since a tumultuous end to last season saw four players leave the team, Horn repeatedly has said he would not to dumb down the schedule to get more wins. USC finished 14-16 last year — 5-11 in the SEC — for its second straight losing season.
In three years at USC, Horn is 2-8 against teams from the five power conferences outside of the SEC — including 1-3 last season.
But he might have caught a break getting Providence, a team also trying to rebound from a tough year.
The Friars started last season 11-2 in nonconference play before going 4-14 in the Big East and finishing 14th in the conference. Providence has lost 16 consecutive road games dating back to January 2010.
South Carolina is 3-4 all-time against Providence, winning the last meeting in 2007 during the Big East/SEC Challenge in Philadelphia.
The teams get a chance to meet again because ESPN, which carries the Big East/SEC Challenge, is expanding the event from four to 12 games. The games will run from Dec. 1 to Dec. 3, the day of the SEC football championship game.
Some matchups look intriguing: Vanderbilt-Louisville, Kentucky-St. John’s and Alabama-Georgetown. Others are head-scratchers. Why is Arkansas, a team in transition, playing national champion Connecticut? Why are Pittsburgh and Tennessee meeting for a second-straight year? Why put Florida and Syracuse together after the teams have met several times in recent seasons?
And while all 12 SEC teams will participate, four of the 16 Big East members have to sit out. But why put a pair of bigger-name name schools (Notre Dame and Villanova) and a Sweet 16 squad (Marquette) on the bench?
Just like USC’s schedule, fans should learn more as the season draws closer.