COLUMBIA — Darrin Horn has a new and pleasant problem -- reining in expectations.
The South Carolina men's basketball coach is having to do a lot of that these days, with his team on the verge of surpassing its win total from each of the past two seasons.
Horn's approach last week, after a stirring win against Florida, was to say his team "hasn't accomplished anything yet." Monday, after a home win over Ole Miss, the message was the same.
"We're one game above .500 in league play, and we could very easily be much less than that," Horn said.
At the same time, the first-year coach is dispensing reminders of how far the Gamecocks (14-4, 3-2 SEC) have come. Horn said the players were "shocked" when told they did not win consecutive league games last season, as they did last week.
"When he told us, I thought we at least won two in a row last year, but we didn't," guard Devan Downey said. "So you know, we're taking a step forward."
A third consecutive league win -- which has not happened since the 2006-07 season -- is within grasp; today, the Gamecocks face reeling Vanderbilt (12-7, 1-4), which has won the past five in the series.
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said he thought before the season that USC had a chance to be a good team because it was returning its key players.
"They have experience and they have athleticism and they have some guys that can shoot," Stallings said. "They've got all the elements, and (Horn has) done a nice job of getting them to play together and getting them to play the way he wants them to play. But he inherited a talented group of players, in my opinion."
Horn agreed with the last statement but pointed out that they "had not won" anything yet. He harkened back to when he started coaching at Western Kentucky six years ago, when his aim was to build a program that would sustain success in the long term.
"That's the same mindset and approach that we've taken here," Horn said. "When you have a Devan Downey and a Dominique Archie and those guys, the results show up a lot sooner on the court."
Vanderbilt's best player might not be at full health when his team comes to town. Sophomore center A.J. Ogilvy, a preseason first-team All-SEC pick, was suffering from an upper respiratory virus as of Monday morning, which limited him to 15 minutes in Sunday's loss to Florida.
Ogilvy has scored only 11 total points in his past two games. He is averaging 15.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, which is a dropoff in production from last season for the 6-foot-10 Australian.
"For him to play like a first-team all-conference player, that's what we need," Stallings said. "He needs to do that on the offensive end, he needs to do that on the backboards, defensively. That's one of the things that certainly needs to happen in order for us to be a better team."
Gamecocks guard Branden Conrad does not appear close to returning. A recent evaluation showed the senior's foot injury has yet to heal enough for him to start the rehabilitation process. As a result, Horn said there was no timetable for his return.
Conrad, a senior, started seven of eight games before sustaining the injury in practice.
South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Vanderbilt Commodores
: 7 p.m.
: Colonial Life Arena
: USC 14-4, 3-2 SEC; Vanderbilt 12-7, 1-4
: Darrin Horn (125-52 in six seasons, 14-4 in first season at USC), Kevin Stallings (305-186 in 16 seasons, 182-123 in 10 seasons at Vanderbilt)
• Tickets: 800-472-3267
WHAT TO WATCH
• The Commodores could pose matchup problems for USC; they are athletic, have good size and go about five-deep on the bench.
• Horn claims not to be worried about the team's free-throw shooting. But the Gamecocks rank 10th in the SEC and have shot less than 50 percent in a game three times.