NASHVILLE, Tenn. - In any other conference, it would sound silly: How could a team seeded fifth in its division entertain thoughts of winning four games in a row, including one against one of the top teams in the country, to capture the league title?
But when that league is the SEC, there is precedent. Last season, Mississippi State won the championship as the West's No. 3 seed. The year before it was Georgia, the last-place team in the East.
Thus, the USC men's basketball team is pinning its hopes on making a similarily unexpected run. The Gamecocks, the East's No. 5 seed, open today against Alabama.
"The past two years, the underdogs have won it," Gamecocks senior Devan Downey said. "We're kind of using those teams as motivation."
Senior teammate Brandis Raley-Ross theorized about how the Gamecocks could be the latest SEC long shot to pull off the feat.
"It's momentum. It's the game of basketball," Raley-Ross said. "You get a win, all of a sudden you're making shots and everything's going your way. You keep it going."
Given all that, here is a ranking of the chances for each of the 12 teams to cut down the nets Sunday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
Besides being the most talent-laden team, the Wildcats will play before what will basically be a home crowd. Lexington is about three hours away, and blue-clad fans will dominate Nashville as long as their team is alive.
The Commodores were clearly the league's second-best team. Plus, a loss entering the tournament (Saturday at home to USC) may be a good kick in the pants. But the home-city advantage might not help: Coach Kevin Stallings pointed out this week in the two previous SEC tourneys in Nashville, his team owns one win.
The Volunteers come in having won five of six, including double-digit victories against Kentucky and at Mississippi State. If Scotty Hopson and company have a hot-shooting tournament, that could carry the Vols to the crown. The drawback in picking them is they haven't played well in the SEC tournament under Bruce Pearl.
4. Mississippi State
There's a reason the Bulldogs were able to pull it off last year. Their combination of 3-point shooting and defensive post play was key to a weekend run, and they have essentially the same team this year. Plus they would only have to win three in a row this year.
The Gators have depth and good guard play, two big keys to a long run. But they have also lost three in a row, so winning four in a row would be quite a switch.
Point guard Chris Warren has been coming on late, and the Rebels are on a four-game win streak. Of course those victories were all against teams from the much-weaker West.
7. South Carolina
With Downey, all things are possible. And the Gamecocks are the only team in the league to own victories against Kentucky and Vanderbilt. But do the Gamecocks have the depth to last four consecutive games?
The talent is there, with Courtney Fortson's drives, Rotnei Clarke's shooting and the inside play of Mike Washington and Marshawn Powell. But the Razorbacks enter having lost five in a row.
The Crimson Tide looked really good last week. But there's still not enough talent to make a deep run.
The Tigers are loaded with seniors, and have won three of their past five. Guard Tay Waller has really played well lately too.
The Bulldogs only won five games in league play, but they were close in almost all of the 11 losses. They have a youthful flair that could propel them.
The league's most disappointing team, going from 13-3 last year to 2-14 this year. It would probably take a natural catastrophe for the Tigers to win it - but hey, it worked for Georgia.