COLUMBIA -- In the midst of five consecutive games against SEC Eastern Division opponents, at least Darrin Horn's South Carolina basketball team has two of them at home this week.
The Gamecocks host No. 17 Florida at Colonial Life Arena at 8 p.m. today and Georgia on Saturday afternoon.
The Gators (18-5, 7-2 SEC) lead the division, although the Gamecocks (13-8, 4-4) did surprise Florida in Gainesville back on Jan. 15.
"They really outplayed us all the way through," Florida coach Billy Donovan said this week.
Horn said that game can be thrown out, though, on account of the changes in the two teams.
South Carolina has dropped three of four, including Saturday's 18-point loss at Vanderbilt. Florida has won five of six, including close home wins last week against Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Three of Florida's seven SEC wins have come in overtime, including one at Tennessee and one at Georgia.
"We're excited about (tonight)," Horn said. "You've got Florida coming in here, (a team) that has performed the best in the league to this point. They've done it by doing the things that we want to do.
"They finish close games. They defend well. They've gotten contributions from a lot of different guys."
The Gators have four players who average in double-figure scoring, including this week's SEC player of the week, senior forward Chandler Parsons.
After averaging 17.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals in the wins against the Commodores and Wildcats, both ranked opponents, Parsons was also recognized as the basketball writers' national player of the week.
Even with the East lead, Donovan says the team's ceiling has not yet been reached. Starting a sophomore, a junior and three seniors (including one fifth-year player), experience is a major reason why Florida was the preseason favorite to win the league.
"I still think we have some room for improvement as our younger guys continue to get better," Donovan said, "and the other guys have room for improvement. I do not look at us as being a top-10 or top-20 team right now."
USC is still .500 -- tied with Vanderbilt -- playing in a division that includes five teams in the RPI top 40.
Horn said he was not disappointed with the effort the Gamecocks displayed Saturday in Nashville. He said it was more about what was going right for a Vanderbilt team that seemed to find itself. The Commodores shot 51 percent from the field and made 11 3-pointers.
"When guys have career nights, it's hard to get the win," he said.
Horn also repeatedly said he does not believe in the idea of young teams -- the Gamecocks regularly play four freshmen, including point guard Bruce Ellington -- wearing down. That question surfaced early, considering there's still half the SEC schedule to play.
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