The 2013 SEC men's basketball tournament will tip off on Wednesday night in Nashville, Tenn., where the conference's four worst teams will square off in two matchups that will set the stage for Thursday's second-round action.
Texas A&M, South Carolina, Mississippi State and Auburn have had tough seasons to say the least, but each will be given one last opportunity to earn a trip to the 2013 NCAA Tournament this week, as the SEC Tournament champion will snag an automatic bid to the Big Dance.
Every Cinderella run has to start somewhere, and these four teams are hoping it begins Wednesday night in Tennessee.
Below, we'll predict each of Wednesday's two first-round matchups.
No. 12 South Carolina vs. No. 13 Mississippi State — Wed., March 13 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Frank Martin's Gamecocks look poised to advance to the second round of the SEC Tournament on Wednesday. Despite its struggles in conference play this season, South Carolina has had some bright moments in Martin's first year.
On the other hand, Mississippi State had been horrid up until the start of March. The Bulldogs won two of their last three games to conclude the regular season, but had lost 13 straight from mid-January to the start of March. Rick Stansbury's squad ranks toward the bottom of the barrel in almost every key category and doesn't boast a single player averaging more than 10.3 points per game this season.
Mississippi State may be the hotter team at the moment, but South Carolina is coming off a 79-72 win over the Bulldogs in Columbia last week.
Brenton Williams likely won't score 38 points off the bench for the Gamecocks on Wednesday, but it won't matter as they get set to take on one of the worst offensive teams in the country. Two big reasons to pick against Mississippi State on Wednesday: It ranks 309th in the country in scoring offense (60.6 PPG) and 311th in field goal percentage (40.1 percent).
Look for Martin's Gamecocks to come out with energy and knock off the Bulldogs for the second time in a week to reach the second round on Thursday where they will play fifth-seeded Tennessee.
Prediction: South Carolina
No. 11 Texas A&M vs. No. 14 Auburn — Wed., March 13 at 10 p.m. ET
Texas A&M should have no trouble defeating Auburn on Wednesday night in Nashville.
Yes, the Aggies have dropped four of their last five coming into the SEC Tournament, but the Tigers have been even worse, losing nine straight to end the year, and 15 out of 16 overall dating back to mid-January.
Having gone 3-15 in the SEC this season, Auburn is the worst team in the conference and one of only two teams in the SEC that failed to reach double-digit wins this year. Tony Barbee's squad only has four victories since Jan. 2 and ranks 240th and 282nd, respectively, in points per game (64.9) and field goal percentage (40.9 percent).
Plus, the Aggies already have a win over Auburn this season, having beaten the Tigers on their home court last February. Texas A&M actually trailed at halftime of that game, but cruised in the second half behind a strong effort from senior guard Elston Turner, who's leading A&M with 17.7 points per game this season.
Auburn will be led by Frankie Sullivan and Chris Denson, two upperclassmen who are combining for a tad over 26 points per game this season. However, they'll have to surpass that average by a landslide on Wednesday night if they hope to advance to the second round and play sixth-seeded Missouri.
Prediction: Texas A&M
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