It wasn’t the response a reporter was looking for, but Frank Martin used the question to push something off his chest.
“I'm going to answer your question in a second,” said the South Carolina basketball coach, “but you said something that triggered something in my head.”
This was late October 2017 and Martin, coming off a Final Four run, wasn’t happy with a narrative he saw circulating about his program. The Gamecocks, in his mind, were NOT set up with a soft nonconference schedule.
“I'm just telling you, that insults me,” Martin said defiantly. “When people say I'm soft, or I like soft, that insults me. That insults my players.”
If such a topic rises to the surface again this fall, Martin won’t have to be so defensive. Instead of his signature stare, he might just grin at a reporter — or tear up.
USC’s 2018-19 schedule is about finished — and there’s nothing soft about it. In fact, it might be the hardest Martin’s faced in his seven years in Columbia.
The SEC on Wednesday announced each school’s league opponents for the upcoming season. South Carolina has home-and-homes with Georgia, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Missouri and Texas A&M. It hosts Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and Ole Miss and it travels to Florida, Kentucky, LSU and Vanderbilt. (Dates, times and television information will be released later.)
These 18 games are now added to the known portion of the nonconference slate. South Carolina will host Stony Book (Nov. 9), Norfolk State (Nov. 13), Virginia (Dec. 19), Clemson (Dec. 22), Coastal Carolina, travel to Michigan (Dec. 8), Wyoming and Oklahoma State (Jan. 26) and take on Providence (Nov. 16) and Michigan or George Washington (Nov. 18) at a neutral site in Connecticut.
Of the 23 opponents listed above, 12 appeared in the NCAA tournament last year. They play Sweet 16 participant Texas A&M twice, second round finisher Tennessee twice and get first round finisher Missouri twice. There’s a chance, too, that they twice face national runner-up Michigan.
Previous Martin teams never faced more than seven opponents in the regular season that appeared in the Big Dance the year before.
Gary Parrish on Tuesday released his way-too-early Top 25 on CBSSports.com. Eight upcoming USC opponents are listed, including Tennessee (No. 3), Kentucky (4), Virginia (7), Auburn (10), Mississippi State (15), LSU (19), Michigan (21) and Clemson (24).
Joe Lunardi lists 10 upcoming USC opponents in his latest 2019 NCAA tournament bracket projection on ESPN.com — Virginia (2-seed), Kentucky (2), Tennessee (2), Auburn (3), Michigan (4), Clemson (6), Florida (7), Mississippi State (7), LSU (8) and Oklahoma State (11).
The Gamecocks (17-16 overall) beat three eventual Big Dance teams last season — Kentucky, Florida (away) and Auburn. Carolina is returning four starters, including All-SEC forward Chris Silva.
South Carolina 2018-19 basketball schedule
2017-18 NCAA tournament teams are in BOLD
Nov. 9 – Stony Brook
Nov. 13 – Norfolk State
Nov. 16 – Providence (in Connecticut)
Nov. 18 – Michigan OR George Washington (in Connecticut)
Dec. 8 – AT Michigan
Dec. 19 – Virginia
Dec. 22 – Clemson
Jan. 26 – AT Oklahoma State
TBA – Coastal Carolina
TBA – AT Wyoming
TBA – Georgia
TBA – Mississippi State
TBA – Tennessee
TBA – Missouri
TBA – Texas A&M
TBA – Alabama
TBA – Arkansas
TBA – Auburn
TBA – Ole Miss
TBA – AT Georgia
TBA – AT Mississippi State
TBA – AT Tennessee
TBA – AT Missouri
TBA – AT Texas A&M
TBA – AT Florida
TBA – AT Kentucky
TBA – AT LSU
TBA – AT Vanderbilt