COLUMBIA — Between classes, study hall and practice, Mindaugas Kacinas says he’s too busy to look at the SEC standings. If he took a peek, he’d see South Carolina one game out of first place.
Despite the Gamecocks’ slip-up Tuesday at Georgia, 25th-ranked USC could still claim a share of the conference lead Saturday at No. 8 Texas A&M. The Aggies were routed Thursday night at Vanderbilt and fell into a first-place tie with LSU, which hosts Mississippi State two hours after tip-off in College Station, Texas.
South Carolina, Florida, and Kentucky are tied for second, one game back. All of which makes Saturday’s 4 p.m. game at Reed Arena potentially a matchup for a piece of first place, pending LSU’s outcome. To Kacinas, it’s the next game on the schedule.
“We don’t overreact to a win or a loss,” the Gamecocks forward said Friday. “We come in every day after the game, we work hard, we learn from our mistakes and move forward.”
That approach served USC well after its first two losses this season. The Gamecocks (19-3, 6-3 SEC) rebounded from a rout at Alabama by beating Missouri, and from a loss at Tennessee by defeating Mississippi State. But the Tigers and Bulldogs are the last two teams in the SEC standings — making Texas A&M (18-4, 7-2) a very different challenge indeed.
The Aggies will be the first ranked team USC has played this season, a big reason the Gamecocks’ strength of schedule languishes at 220th — between Furman and Loyola of Chicago — according to ESPN. Tuesday’s 69-56 loss at Georgia was enough for CBS Sports NCAA Tournament forecaster Jerry Palm to slide the Gamecocks to a No. 9 seed in his projected bracket.
South Carolina “has always had a gaudy record and nothing behind it,” Palm wrote Friday. “It’s the first week of February and the Gamecocks have yet to even play a top 50 RPI team.”
That changes over the next week, as USC plays eighth-ranked Texas A&M, potentially an LSU team in first place in the SEC, and No. 20 Kentucky. Over that three-game stretch there will be a lot of eyes on the Gamecocks — who Saturday evening, could own a piece of first place in the SEC.
Not that Kacinas would notice. “Just a regular game,” he said. “You’ve got to win on the road if you want to have a good season.”