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With University of South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier officially off of the hot seat following a nine-win 2010 season, our focus now turns to the school’s basketball program – led by third-year head coach Darrin Horn.

After winning 21 games (and sharing the SEC Eastern Division championship) in his inaugural season two years ago, Horn’s Gamecocks posted a losing record last season and missed out on postseason play.

So … we must be chomping at the bit to give the young coach a hard time, right?

Wrong.

We gave Horn a hall pass last season for two reasons – first, we were too busy bitching and moaning about Spurrier, and second, Horn is just now starting to build his program … with players that he has recruited. And while we’re notoriously impatient for USC to rise above its historic athletic mediocrity, we’re learning that these things take time.

(Grrrr).

So … how is the 37-year-old Kentucky native doing this season?

So far, so good.

Horn’s 2010-11 Gamecocks are off to a 6-1 start – a record which includes Sunday’s 64-60 victory over arch-rival Clemson, a member of the powerful Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). Sunday’s win marks the first time USC has beaten Clemson on the hardwood since the 2003 season – which is particularly exciting when you consider that the win came in large part thanks to the contributions of a pair of true freshmen, Bruce Ellington and Brian Richardson.

“I think the thing that continues to encourage you about moving forward and looking to the future is that we keep finding ways (to win) with different guys,” Horn said after the Clemson game. “This was a game where we didn’t get to play to our strengths for a variety of reasons. For a young team to have to grind it out the way that we did and still find a way to come out on top is really encouraging. All in all, it’s a great win for a lot of reasons.”

Horn’s 2010-11 team is young – very young. It features two seniors, two juniors, three sophomores and six freshmen. And with the exception of senior forward Sam Muldrow, all of the players were recruited to USC by Horn.

That’s a solid nucleus of young talent that is already competing at a high level. In fact, the Gamecocks’ only loss so far this season was a nine-point defeat at the hands of sixth-ranked Michigan State – in East Lansing.

If you think South Carolina has historically struggled on the gridiron, it’s been every bit as bad (if not worse) on the hard court. After a flash of greatness during the 1970s under legendary head coach Frank McGuire (and a flicker of brilliance in the late 1990s under Eddie Fogler), USC has been positively abysmal.

The Gamecocks have made it to the NCAA tournament just four times over the last thirty-six years – and haven’t won a game in the “Big Dance” since 1973.

Ouch.

We don’t expect Horn to change that run of futility this season (particularly not when three of the Gamecocks SEC East opponents are ranked in the Top 20), but beginning with next season our expectations will begin to rise.

Horn will need his teams to meet those expectations, too, if he expects to put more “butts in seats.”

Only 10,000 fans attended USC’s victory over Clemson on Sunday – or 8,000 less than the Colonial Center’s capacity.

Pic: Travis Bell, Sideline Carolina

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