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Auburn could face Kentucky in the semifinals at the SEC Tournament.

Why Auburn basketball’s tough SEC Tournament bracket ‘doesn’t really matter’

The SEC Tournament’s start Wednesday marked the first time in nearly a decade that Auburn basketball wasn’t playing on the first day.

That’s a good thing for the Tigers, who are aware of, but not overthinking, the difficult path they face in St. Louis.

“I think our bracket’s tough, but it doesn’t really matter because you got to beat them all if you’re going to win the championship,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “It doesn’t matter when you play them.”

Pearl’s team will face either rival Alabama or Texas A&M in its first game in the quarterfinals Friday. These two potential opponents don’t elicit the best memories. Auburn fell to Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Jan. 17 and lost to Texas A&M by 1 point on Feb. 7 in Auburn Arena.

RELATED: After All-SEC snubs, Auburn ready to demand respect when ‘everybody’s watching’

With a win, Auburn will be rewarded with a matchup against either Georgia, Kentucky or Missouri. The Tigers defeated all three of those teams, but they certainly weren’t cakewalks.

“I’d been on record probably a month or two ago, I felt like Texas A&M, Alabama, Kentucky for sure were three of the most talented teams in our league, certainly three teams with great, great size, great depth,” Pearl said. “You put Missouri into that equation, especially if Michael Porter plays in addition to what they have, them bringing him in.”

Auburn is doing a couple different things to prepare for its opponent. First, the Tigers won’t have another contact practice this season. Pearl can’t afford to lose someone to an injury during practice. After that, Auburn is working on itself, Pearl said, “…more than anything else.”

MORE: Auburn coach Bruce Pearl ‘disappointed’ with SEC all-conference snubs 

Pearl’s team watched Alabama take on Texas A&M and then took in the Georgia-Missouri game Thursday. Auburn gets to relax and catch its breath for at least a second before things really ramp up. Tournaments are tough even more so in March — and even more so when you’re the 2018 Auburn Tigers.

“I think the first game is always your toughest game when you go to a tournament setting,” point guard Jared Harper said. “Texas A&M and Alabama, they will have played the night before. Maybe they are a little fatigued, but they played the night before. Also, I think both teams are looking that if they are able to play us and beat us that they are a lock for the tournament, so we have to know going in that they are going to come hard and we have to come even harder.”

In a sense, Friday will provide a clean slate for Auburn. More eyes will be watching and paying attention, giving Pearl’s team a chance to make the statement it’s desperately trying to make. The harshest judgments are on the way.

“People might think that we got hot early in SEC play,” Harper said. “But now we have gotten to the point where everyone is 0-0, so it is like a whole new season to convince people and show people that we are here to stay and win the SEC Tournament and that we are actually a legit team.”

Pearl, Harper and Bryce Brown all agree that they don’t have a preference on who they will play Friday. Auburn will just have to be prepared. More importantly, there’s another sentiment they all share.

“I’m just ready to play, honestly,” Harper said. “Just anybody.”

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