COLUMBIA - A year after traveling to a handful of big-name opponents, South Carolina's men's basketball team will get the chance to host marquee nonconference games this season.
The Gamecocks will host Baylor (Nov. 18), Oklahoma State (Dec. 6) and Clemson (Dec. 19) before Christmas. South Carolina played all three opponents on the road last winter.
South Carolina announced its 13-game nonconference schedule Tuesday. The schedule includes eight home games.
"Once again we have put together a very challenging schedule," USC coach Frank Martin said. "A schedule to prepare us to find success and be prepared in the SEC. We start with very tough home games, followed by a great tournament in Charleston, and a road game at Marshall, which is one of the most difficult facilities and places to play at. We're extremely excited about the challenges. Hopefully this schedule will harden our basketball team and prepare it for the unbelievable challenge of competing in the SEC."
USC also has a neutral-site game against Iowa State on Jan. 3 in Brooklyn, N.Y. It will be the first-ever meeting between the Gamecocks and Cyclones.
Martin, who came from Kansas State and the Big 12, laughed Tuesday when it was mentioned South Carolina will play three opponents from his former conference. It's no coincidence. Martin said there are similarities between the style of basketball - and the quality of basketball - played in the Big 12 and SEC.
"I have a lot of respect for the coaches in the Big 12, and I think they do for me as well," Martin said. "Obviously, I'm familiar with that league. So I think it's great, great opportunities to play quality, quality basketball early in the year to challenge our team. ... I think it prepares our team for the SEC."
South Carolina opens its season Nov. 14 when North Florida visits Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks will then participate in the Charleston Classic on Nov. 20-23.
Martin compiled an ambitious nonconference schedule, one that will likely give his young program more growing pains early in the season. He's well aware. Martin uses marquee nonconference games as a recruiting tool, enticing television cameras and - he hopes - better high school players to his program.
"It's a lot easier on coaches' lives when you figure out a way to schedule where you've got 10, 11 wins before you enter January," Martin said. "You sleep a little better when you're going into a game, and you know you're better than the other team on paper. When you're constantly challenging your team, it gets real stressful. Because, what happens is, come January your days disappear because you're so consumed with every opponent because every game is so hard.
"If you schedule that way in nonconference play, it makes for a long 5 1/2 months. With all that said, that's the way it needs to be."