Starting tonight, the USC men's basketball team has three chances in four days to do something it failed at once last year: Winning in Charleston.
More importantly, the Charleston Classic offers a chance for the Gamecocks to do something else they didn't last year: Build a good nonconference resume.
It starts with a first-round matchup with La Salle, a solid mid-major. Then there's a potential second-round game against a Big East team (South Florida) and a Sunday game against perhaps a team from the ACC (Miami) or Big 10 (Penn State).
"We just knew it was going to be a good tournament with quality teams, which is what we were looking for," Gamecocks coach Darrin Horn said.
Two purposes of a nonconference schedule are to find opponents that will help a team's NCAA tournament resume but also prepare it for conference play. That can be a tricky balance.
Two years ago, in Dave Odom's final year as coach, the Gamecocks played a challenging nonconference schedule. They went 8-6, losing a number of close games, and the team seemed mentally drained before playing its first SEC game.
Last year, Horn took over and put together a schedule that helped boost the team's confidence. But the team's low schedule strength, which was not helped by a down year in the SEC, was a factor in the team missing the NCAA tournament.
This year's schedule may be more of a happy medium. It starts with the Charleston Classic, entering its second year as an event.
The games will be played at the Carolina First Arena, the home of the College of Charleston, which cannot compete this year because it was in last year's event. Horn is fine with that, as his team lost in overtime to the Cougars last year as part of the arena's opening.
Not that the danger for another upset isn't there. LaSalle may not jump out at the casual fan, but the Explorers are in the Atlantic 10, traditionally one of the top mid-major leagues.
"It's gonna be a game that's gonna be a real test. And I think when we looked at our schedule and wanted to upgrade it, this is a great example," Horn said. "This is a team that's going to compete for their league championship, in a very good league in the A-10. And when we looked at wanting to play teams that we knew were really good, this is the kind of team that we had in mind."
The Gamecocks also play Richmond, another A-10 team, on Dec. 16. South Carolina added a trip to Boston College this year, and plays annual rival Clemson and Baylor, which it has played the past three seasons.
Even one of the seemingly weaker games on this year's schedule looks a bit tougher. Wofford, which USC visits Dec. 19, won at Georgia on Tuesday night, and only lost by three at Pittsburgh.
A good performance against that schedule should put South Carolina in better position to get into the NCAA tournament. But the Gamecocks look at this weekend's tournament in another way.
"We see this tournament right here as our first championship," freshman forward Lakeem Jackson said. "We want it really bad. We've been working really hard. So we're just gonna go down there and compete really hard, come out with the win."