Mike Holmes and the Gamecocks might be heading for the NCAA tournament, but the team knows it still has three big SEC games left.
by Cory Burkarth
Ask USC's junior guard Devan Downey how important Wednesday night's game against Kentucky was, and he'll give you an honest answer.
"First place was on the line, simple as that," Downey said. "We could've tried to ignore it and say it's not that big of a deal, but in the back of everybody's mind, we knew that first place was on the line."
Now, the Gamecocks (20-6, 9-4 SEC) sit alone atop the SEC East, and with remaining games against Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and Georgia, some wonder whether there's any pressure on the team to finish the season in first place.
That's not the case according to Downey.
"To be honest, there's no pressure. Nobody thought we would be where we're at except for the guys in this locker room, so it's nothing to handle," Downey said. "People are still probably waiting for us to fall, but we're just going to keep on playing, there's no pressure on us. Nobody thought we'd be here, if people say they did, then they'd be telling a fib."
It's no secret that the Southeastern Conference isn't the strong basketball conference this year that it usually is. But that, along with being in first place this late in the season, NCAA tournament experts believe South Carolina will be a lock for making the big dance next month, regardless of whether they win the SEC tournament or not.
But the Gamecocks first-year coach Darrin Horn said his team isn't thinking about a tournament that his team hasn't yet made.
"We've still got three big SEC games to play," Horn said. "If we play well and win those three, then obviously we control what happens to us."
Carolina travels to Nashville on Saturday to play Vanderbilt. From there, they host Tennessee next Thursday before finishing the season on March 7 at Georgia.