David Cloninger

Will Zion be watching? USC men to open on road next season

South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin
South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin dmclemore@thestate.com

South Carolina will begin its 2017-18 season at Wofford as the first game in Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium, coach Frank Martin confirmed on Thursday. The Gamecocks, coming off their greatest season and first Final Four berth, are getting closer toward finalizing their non-conference slate but still have a few slots to fill.

“We still need two games. One will be a non-DI, one will be a guarantee game,” Martin said. “I’m trying to give every small school in the state an opportunity between the exhibition game and a regular-season game.”

USC has scheduled Coker, Francis Marion and Lander over the past three years and will continue that trend next year while seeking another big name for the Gamecocks’ season ticket-holders. As it stands, USC will host Massachusetts and Texas Tech (Big 12/SEC Challenge) in 2017-18 and is working on a 2-for-1 agreement with Wyoming, which would begin with a home game next year as well.

The Wofford game had been previously reported as the Terriers’ season-opener but Thursday was the first time the Gamecocks confirmed it as theirs. Martin has never been shy about helping in-state teams with their schedules and it could come in handy in recruiting, as well – 2018 No. 2 national recruit Zion Williamson hails from Spartanburg.

Recruiting’s always figuring into scheduling plans, which is why Martin also will return a game to Florida International this season after the Panthers visited Columbia in December.

“We recruit Miami, so we got to get our team down there,” said Martin, a 1993 graduate of FIU.

USC will not return a game to Michigan right away after the Wolverines played at Colonial Life Arena in November, instead playing in Ann Arbor in 2018-19. The Gamecocks will begin a home-and-home agreement with Massachusetts, though, after the two schools agreed on a basketball series to coincide with a 2016 UMass-USC football game.

Martin is also working on a series with Wyoming, coached by former Kentucky standout Allen Edwards. Edwards played for Martin in high school and that series should begin in Columbia this season.

Martin spoke after the SEC released its conference schedule for next year, although dates weren’t attached. The Gamecocks knew they’d be playing home-and-home schedules against Georgia, Mississippi State and Tennessee and the league added Auburn and Florida to USC’s slate this year.

USC beat Auburn on the road in its only game of the series last year while going 2-1 against the Gators. The Gamecocks topped Florida at Madison Square Garden to reach the Final Four.

“It’s kind of what I expected,” Martin said. “Teams that we traveled to last year are pretty much coming here.”

USC will host Kentucky, LSU, Missouri and Vanderbilt while traveling to Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Kentucky again signed the country’s top recruiting class while Missouri landed No. 1 overall recruit Michael Porter.

“The league has gotten real good right now. There’s no bad teams,” Martin said. “There’s no more South Carolinas where, whenever South Carolina went in the other team would sit back and say, ‘Ah, we got an easy one tonight.’

“The teams we get coming here are all going to be real good, and the buildings we’re getting ready to go into, they’re all going to be real good. Which is the way it needs to be.”

NOTE: Martin feels “pretty confident” that he has a favorite to replace departed associate head coach Matt Figger. Each party is in no rush but Martin is reaching beyond coaches he’s worked with in the past.

“We need a different voice,” Martin said. “I think it’d be good for our staff just to have somebody that doesn’t bring in, ‘Well, he knows how Frank does things.’ I need somebody to come in and say, ‘Hey Frank, why do you do it like that?’

“Not that it doesn’t work, but it stimulates growth by making us all think.”

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2017-18 SOUTH CAROLINA BASKETBALL SCHEDULE

Date Opponent

TBA at Wofford (season-opener)

Nov. 16-17, 19 at Tire Pros Puerto Rico Tipoff, San Juan

(USC, Iowa State, Tulsa, UTEP, Boise State, Florida State, Illinois State, Western Michigan)

TBA MASSACHUSETTS

TBA at Clemson

TBA at Florida International

TBA WYOMING

Jan. 27 TEXAS TECH (Big 12/SEC Challenge)

March 7-11 at SEC tournament (St. Louis)

Home games in CAPS

SEC schedule (dates TBA)

Home games: Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Tennessee, Vanderbilt

Away games: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Texas A&M

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