COLUMBIA -- To hear some folks tell it, the "For Sale" sign is already up in Dave Odom's front yard.
But the only person who's going to make the decision on Odom's future -- South Carolina athletics director Eric Hyman -- isn't talking and won't consider any action until the season's over.
Hyman was in the Colonial Center four days ago as UNC Asheville shocked the Gamecocks 61-58. The loss was USC's first at home to a mid-major team since 2000 and a devastating blow to a team heading into tonight's SEC opener at No. 13 Vanderbilt.
But the chance remains for USC to at least win enough to catch the eyes of the NCAA tournament selection committee.
And that would erase a lot of doubts.
"It's good we're going into the conference," Odom said, "because that, in and of itself, will get our attention. We can drop the baggage of the past. That's what grown people do and good teams do and good coaches do. So let's do that."
The Gamecocks have 16 regular-season games and one guaranteed SEC tournament game remaining.
The SEC is weak, with only three teams in the top 25 (No. 8 Tennessee, No. 13 Vanderbilt and No. 16 Ole Miss). Only the Volunteers have played anything remotely resembling a tough schedule.
The Gamecocks begin with a tough start -- Vanderbilt tonight and Tennessee on Saturday -- but after that it becomes a pick-'em.
The other three SEC East opponents -- Georgia, Florida, Kentucky -- aren't formidable. The SEC West looks almost as shattered -- Ole Miss is unbeaten but hasn't played many high-profile opponents. The rest of the division, which faces USC once each, at best will throw a .500 team at the Gamecocks.
But the way USC is playing, it can't look at a single game and count it a win.
USC's RPI was 148 Tuesday. To raise it, the Gamecocks must win the greater majority of their games and beat the ranked teams. A 10-win SEC season would give the Gamecocks an 18-12 record and if some of the wins are over Tennessee and Vanderbilt, an NCAA bubble berth could be likely.
But in six years Odom has never had a winning SEC season.
A loss to UNC Asheville kick-started one of the best seasons in program history.
Expectations were high for the 1996-97 season, but the team began 5-5, including home losses to UNC Asheville and Charleston Southern that led to a team meeting.
"When we got in there, everybody had their opinion of what was wrong," recalled Melvin Watson, the team's point guard who's currently the Academic Coach and an assistant boys basketball coach at South Pointe High School. "We had one guy, never really talked -- Hagen Rouse. His words were very vital to our meeting."
Rouse, a substitute guard, found the right combination. The Gamecocks, spurred by their all-SEC trio of Larry Davis, BJ McKie and Watson, only lost once in their final 19 regular-season games to claim the school's first SEC championship.
Even though the season ended disbelievingly in the NCAA tournament with a loss to 15th-seeded Coppin State, the example resonates. Like that team, the Gamecocks are led by guards Zam Fredrick and Devan Downey, the squad's top scorers. When long-range artist Brandis Raley-Ross returns from a sprained knee, perhaps as early as Saturday, the Gamecocks will have their guard-based offense intact.
No one's comparing them to the '96-97 group, but Fredrick and Dominique Archie each said after the UNCA loss they knew what happened the last time UNCA beat USC.
"More than certainly, it can happen again," Archie declared. "Got to have a short memory. There's always another game to play, and another opportunity to win."
If the Gamecocks were 8-6 after a couple of successful seasons, the cries for Odom's job probably wouldn't be so loud. It would be a situation of going through a downtime because several productive players were gone and less-experienced players had to get experience.
Half of that's true. The Gamecocks are youth-oriented, returning only one starter and four players who had significant time last year, and they did lose their best player, Tre Kelley.
But the players have only partially lived up to the bargain. Downey and Fredrick, the two transfers, have been outstanding. The freshman class is slowly developing, but will it be quick enough to save this year?
And if not, will the potential of next year and the year beyond be enough to get Odom off the hook if this year's team doesn't win many games?
"Some of those guys haven't been playing with each other very long," said McKie. "Fans just need to be patient. Coach Odom and his staff have done a fairly good job while they've been here but everybody's ready for them to take that next notch up."
If USC fails to make the NCAA tournament, Hyman has to look at all the options.
Odom's contract lasts through the 2009-10 season and the buyout clause drops from $300,000 after this year to $50,000. The team for next year, assuming no defections, returns everybody except Dwayne Day.
Does an NIT berth give Hyman what he wants to see? Will he be satisfied with a .500 or better SEC season? Will the potential of next year be enough?
"I'm sure (Odom) knows people want his head and what people are saying around Columbia," McKie said. "Got to take it with a grain of salt and go in and coach and prepare the kids the best way you can."
Odom said at the beginning of the season he wasn't going to discuss the situation after every game. No one asked him -- at least, not in public -- to comment after the UNCA loss.
Odom turned to the next game.
"I got to talk to them, I got to look them in the eye, I got to see them, I got to feel them, I got to let them know I'm here with them," Odom said, previewing the next day's meetings with his team. "Whatever cobwebs they got left ... we got to get them out.
"We'll do a good job of coming back, we will. There's no question about that."
SOUTH CAROLINA (8-6, 0-0 SEC) AT NO. 13 VANDERBILT (15-0, 0-0)
n When: 8 p.m. today
n Where: Memorial Gym, Nashville, Tenn.
n TV: None
n On the Web: Live Gametracker stats at uscsports.com
n Tickets: Available at the box office
n South Carolina's probable starters: G Devan Downey 5-9 So. (18.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg); G Zam Fredrick 6-0 Jr. (16.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg); G Dominique Archie 6-7 So. (10.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg); F Chad Gray 6-7 So. (3.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg); F Sam Muldrow 6-9 Fr. (4.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
n Vanderbilt's probable starters: G Jermaine Beal 6-3 So. (8.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg); G Alex Gordon 6-0 Sr. (10.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg); C A.J. Ogilvy 6-10 Fr. (19.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg); F Shan Foster 6-6 Sr. (21.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg); F Ross Neltner 6-9 Sr. (8.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
n Notes: The Gamecocks begin conference play after a disastrous loss to UNC Asheville. ... USC's first two SEC opponents are two of the only three Top 25 teams in the league. ... The Commodores, just two years after coach Kevin Stallings was labeled on the hot seat, are off to the best start in school history. ... Although Vandy has won every game, it hasn't played an opponent higher in the RPI rankings than 15 (Massachusetts). The Commodores' opponents' average RPI is 133 and the biggest opponents they've topped have been Wake Forest (10-3) and Georgia Tech (7-6). ... USC has never had a winning SEC record under coach Dave Odom, its best mark 8-8 in 2003-04. ... The Gamecocks have dropped their last four SEC openers.
n Up next: The Gamecocks host No. 8 Tennessee at 8 p.m. Saturday.