This appears to be a perfect chance for Auburn to grab an upset against Kentucky, even on the road. The Tigers are coming off a huge performance in which they shot 17-for-33 from deep against Arkansas, but more importantly, the Wildcats will be without Reid Travis. The power forward had 17 points and seven boards in 29 minutes when these teams met a month ago, an 82-80 road win for UK.
Travis isn’t everything, but he provided a major presence in the paint on both ends of the cOurt. Without him, Auburn could go through Chuma Okeke at the Four spot and feed him as much as possible. Okeke scored 11 points in the first meeting, but it still wasn’t an efficient effort as he went 1-for-5 from deep and didn’t often try to attack down low. Without Travis, UK will turn to EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards and things will be a little different. Even if PJ Washington guards Okeke, that could open up for Anfernee McLemore or Austin Wiley to get a few more open looks.
Of course, Auburn didn’t win the first Game even though it played how it wanted to. Bryce Brown went 6-for-7 from three and finished with 28 points, yet it still wasn’t enough. That’s problematic because he’s not going to shoot that well again against the best three-point defense in the SEC, especially on the road. But while Brown, Jared Harper and Malik DuNBAr are all great shooters, they can’t rely exclusively on the three in this Game. That’s where the bigs come into play with Okeke and Wiley. If those guys don’t at least try to Scorein the paint and get Washington into foul trouble, the chances to win shrink.
The main thing going for UK is that this meeting was the last time PJ Washington was a minimal factor offensively, scoring 13 points on eight shots. since, Washington has scored at least 18 points in eight of the last nine Games, surpassing 12 shots taken in all of them. Without Travis, he may see an even bigger uptick in production, as long as he doesn’t get into foul trouble. If he doesn’t, Washington should play close to 40 minutes and rack up at least 20 points and 10 boards. Of course, Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson are still there and they combined for 40 points in the first meeting. Those two are playing well and could easily go for another big Game since Auburn doesn’t have great perimeter defense with guys like Harper and Brown. Ashton Hagans could also play a factor since he has a few inches on Harper and with Travis out, he may be asked to attack the basket a little more.
Even without Travis, Kentucky is in good position to win this Game, especially at Rupp Arena. If Auburn doesn’t rely on the three and can have success down low with Okeke and company there will be a chance for an upset. That should at least keep these teams close, but it can’t be overlooked that Auburn’s only two true road wins this season have come at Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. That’s a hard stat to bet on.
Our Pick – Kentucky -7