It’s been an interesting start to the SEC season, and both Auburn and Kentucky are trying to avoid their second loss in Conference play. With Tennessee running over everyone, another loss could easily cost a chance at the Conference title.
After getting sMACked around by Ole Miss, Auburn has bounced back with a couple easy wins, albeit against two of the worst teams in the Conference (Georgia, A&M). The Tigers have lost to the best teams faced with their best wins coming against mediocre Pac-12 squads. It’s been a little better for Kentucky mainly because it has the wins over UNC and Louisville in non-conference. On the other end of that, the Wildcats also lost to Seton Hall and fell to Alabama to start SEC play. Winning on the road is the hardest thing in college basketball and that’s why Auburn is favored in this Game.
There are a few stat outliers in this matchup, starting with the Auburn defense that’s fallen off in Conference play. The Tigers are near the top of the charts in terms of blocks and steals and that’s helped their overall efficiency, but they also rate poorly at defensive rebounding and defending the three-point line. Kentucky hasn’t been as good at offensive rebounding in Conference play, but still ranks in the top 10 in terms of percentage for the season and that could help them steal a road win. UK’s main issue defensively is stopping the three and while that number has improved in Conference play, that could be something Auburn capitalizes on.
The Tigers may not be that efficient from deep, but they shoot a ton between guards Bryce Brown (16.2 ppg) and Jared Harper (15.1 ppg, 6.7 apg). Brown has taken the most threes on the team by far, but he’s Fourth on the team at 37.7%. Samir Doughty and Malik DuNBAr are the others that shoot better than 40% but they’ve combined for 92 attempts. To win and cover, Auburn will need more than Brown and Harper and that’s usually what happens at home. Austin Wiley is one guy that’s had bigger performances off the bench, but the Tigers have Four guys that average between 8.4 and 10.8 points per Game. Anfernee McLemore isn’t far behind (7.1 ppg) and he’s hit double digits in three of the last Four.
That variety of scoring should help against a UK defense that has seemingly figured things out, allowing no more than 50 points in each of the last two Games. Some of that has to do with Ashton Hagans figuring things out at point guard, while the combo of Reid Travis and PJ Washington is proving to be a formidable duo down low. That being the case, it’s likely that either freshmen Keldon Johnson or Tyler Hierro will be on Bryce Brown and that edge goes to Auburn.
The other problem for UK is that it doesn’t have anyone that shoots better than 39 percent from distance. That’s Auburn’s biggest weakness defensively, but that may not be an area Kentucky can capitalize. However, with misses, it’ll be up to Travis and Washington to get offensive rebounds against the likes of Wiley and Chuma Okeke. OUtside of the 6-11, 260-pound Wiley, the Wildcats have a size advantage at every position so that could come into play. Auburn’s key on defense will be to stop Hagans at the point of attack, who is averaging 15.8 points, 4.4 assists and 3.6 steals over the last five Games. He’s become an excellent point guard that sets up leading scorers Johnson and Hierro on the perimeter, but also Travis and Washington down low.
Auburn won in this spot last season and will be hard to take down with back-to-back road Games on the Schedule. Kentucky has been hard to predict on the road and if Auburn hits shots from deep like Alabama did, the advantage goes to the home team.
Our Pick – Kentucky +4.5