COLUMBIA -- When the 2008 Southeastern Conference men's basketball tournament began, nobody figured Georgia had any shot at winning it. The Bulldogs went 4-12 in the SEC during the regular season, tying for the conference's worst record. Their coach, Dennis Felton, seemed likely to be fired following a quick exit in the league tournament.
Then Georgia won three games -- including two in one day because of delays caused by a tornado -- to make the championship game, in which it beat Arkansas and earned one of the most unlikely major conference bids ever to the NCAA tournament.
As South Carolina prepared earlier this week to travel to New Orleans for the SEC tournament, where the Gamecocks will play Alabama at 3:30 p.m. today in the opening round, coach Darrin Horn talked to his players about what Georgia did, and showed them video of it.
Horn's team this year was even less successful than the 2008 Bulldogs, and like Felton that year, many fans want Horn dismissed. The
Gamecocks went 2-14 in the SEC regular season and finished last in the standings, though one of their wins was over Alabama, 56-54 in Columbia.
Moreover, the SEC's best team this year, top-ranked Kentucky, is far superior to the league's best team in 2008, Tennessee. Kentucky (30-1, 16-0) falling in the SEC semifinals would be much more stunning than Tennessee doing it four years ago.
But the Gamecocks had a fresh start on their minds Tuesday when they left for New Orleans.
"I think you have to go into any postseason like that, because anything is possible and you never know what could happen," said senior wing player Malik Cooke, USC's leading scorer.
Even one win in New Orleans would be an unexpected accomplishment for this team, and if the Gamecocks achieve that, they will face Florida on Friday.
To get their first SEC tournament win since 2008, when they went 1-1 and lost by two points to Tennessee, they must do many of the same things they did while beating Alabama in the regular season -- the teams' only meeting this year.
Horn raved about USC's ball-handling and offensive rebounding that night. USC had just nine turnovers. The Gamecocks averaged 12.2 in SEC games this season. Against Alabama, they rebounded 19 of their 46 missed shots -- 41.3 percent. Their offensive rebounding percentage in league play this season was 35.5 percent.
"In some ways, there's got to be some confidence there, that this is a game that we won and we didn't have many wins to speak for in league play," Horn said. "At the same time, the thing we're really trying to stress to them is: Here are the things we did well, and why we had a chance to win, and why we came out on top. It's really more about not just the win, but focusing on the things that we did that led to it, and let's go out and do those things."