South Carolina men's basketball assistant coach Mike Boynton drove to Charlotte on Monday to watch the Southern Conference title game. Boynton has worked for the coaches of both teams, Wofford and Appalachian State, and wanted to support them.
But Boynton and the Gamecocks had other reasons to care about the result.
Barring a run to the SEC tournament championship, the Gamecocks hope to play in the NIT. They are on the bubble for the second-tier tournament, and results of the non-BCS conference title games will have a huge bearing on their position.
Regular-season league champions, such as Wofford, are assured an NIT spot if they fail to win their league tournament. Every time that happens, it takes an at-large bid away from the NIT.
Therefore, Wofford's win was good for the Gamecocks. So was Siena's comeback victory against Fairfield on Monday night in the Metro Atlantic championship.
But Coastal Carolina's loss in the Big South final on Saturday was bad for USC. So was Stony Brook's loss in the America East quarterfinals on Sunday. Those teams will earn automatic NIT bids, pushing out a couple of potential at-large teams.
Yes, it might be sad to be projecting the NIT, after the Gamecocks were on the NCAA bubble entering last seasons' SEC tournament. But at 15-15 overall, 6-10 in the SEC, that's where the Gamecocks are - and coach Darrin Horn has ruled out playing in the College Basketball Invitational or the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
Still, senior Brandis Raley-Ross was adamant that the NIT would not be a nice consolation.
"It was (a) nice last year," the Gamecock guard said, before correcting himself: "Well, it was a disappointment last year. Coming into the season, we felt like we were a (NCAA) tournament team, and we still do. That's our goal, the NCAA tournament."
A Web site that projects the NIT as of Tuesday had the Gamecocks narrowly missing the 32-team tournament. Alabama, projected as a No. 7 seed in the NIT, is USC's opponent in Thursday's first round of the SEC tournament.
While the NIT has no rule against taking a team with a losing record, it never has done so. So a loss to Alabama almost certainly would end the Gamecocks' season.
If they win, then fall to Kentucky in Friday's quarterfinals, they might have a chance. The Gamecocks have an RPI of 84, which is respectable for the NIT, and own victories against Kentucky and Vanderbilt - the two best teams in the SEC - as well as Richmond (an NCAA lock) and Florida and South Florida (NCAA bubble teams).
They also have a marketable player in Devan Downey. However, the NIT claims its selection committee operates the same as the NCAA's, looking at numbers and records and not a team's ability to sell tickets.
So who would be the competition for an at-large bid? The NIT projection site lists teams such as Arizona, Texas Tech, North Carolina and N.C. State, as well as mid-majors Illinois State, Wright State and Northeastern.
But Horn made clear that the most important thing for the Gamecocks is to take care of business, but not for the purpose of making the NIT.
"This game is important because it's the first game of our tournament," Horn said. "Ultimately, what you do all year long is to prepare and build for Thursday. So implications about the NIT are not even thought. Beating Alabama and being prepared for tournament play is what you want to do."