Vanderbilt and LSU are the favorites to win this week's Southeastern Conference tournament after mowing through regular-season play with uncommon ease.
The real intrigue, however, is the new single-elimination format in the opening round of the tournament.
Instead of the usual double-elimination format, the league's coaches say the sudden-death round was added because of scheduling and the expansion of the tournament field from 10 to 12 teams.
The top four seeds receive a bye to the second round, where double-elimination play begins.
Several teams with borderline NCAA tournament hopes will play crucial games during the opening knockout round, including No. 9 seed Texas A&M and No. 10 Auburn.
Play begins Tuesday morning at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Ala.
"It certainly adds a lot of excitement to that first day of the tournament," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
Texas A&M and Auburn need wins to strengthen their postseason credentials while others like No. 5 Mississippi State and No. 6 Ole Miss are safely in the NCAA tournament, but still trying to grab one of the top 16 spots that would allow them to host a regional.
Mississippi State coach John Cohen said the SEC is a difficult league because of the quality that exists from top to bottom. Ten of the league's 14 teams have a winning record and are also in the top 50 in the NCAA's latest RPI rankings.
The expanded league tournament might be unconventional, but Cohen says it's a good step toward giving more SEC teams a postseason shot.
"Our league has a really difficult challenge and I think it's the best solution for our league because of all the issues that exist," Cohen said.
While the No. 5 through No. 12 seeds will beat each other up on Tuesday, the top four seeds (Vanderbilt, LSU, Arkansas and South Carolina) get to rest and prepare for Wednesday's second round.