This is one of the bigger games Saturday, but it’s a tad more important for Auburn, who is home and already has two losses in SEC play. It doesn’t help these teams that they play each other twice while both only play first-place LSU once.
Auburn has a better record, yet it doesn’t have that really good win on the resume. In fact, while the Tigers have wins over NC State, Furman and Mississippi State, none of them are guarantees to make the NCAA tournament. While their two losses were on the road, they were against two of the better teams they’ve played this season.
While Kentucky hasn’t been consistent, it already has road wins at Arkansas and Texas Tech, as well as on a neutral site against Michigan State and home against Louisville. Sure, some of the losses don’t look good, but that high-level potential is something Auburn hasn’t displayed.
Needless to say, but this game should be a battle. Both teams have fairly balanced squads and can attack from any number of ways. That said, Kentucky has the better defense and probably more consistent offense.
Big man Nick Richards has turned his game up as a junior and gives UK a double-double threat every time out. He’s posted 40 points and 25 rebounds the last two games and will have a tough matchup against Auburn big man Austin Wiley.
Wiley draws more fouls, but he also plays less. The problem for opponents is that Richards is just the tip of what Kentucky can do because they have a trio of guards who can all go off.
You never know what Tyrese Maxey is going to do, but Ashton Hagans has length running the offense and Immanuel Quickley has been stout since entering the starting lineup.
Auburn has the bodies to match up, but its offense simply hasn’t been that good in league play, rating ninth in the SEC in terms of efficiency. Main shooters J’Von McCormick, Samir Doughty and Danjel Purifoy are all around 30% from three-point range. Against the length of Kentucky, that’s not a good number to have.
Wiley can be a force in the paint, but he averages 20.5 minutes per game. Doughty is their leading scorer, yet he’s 3-for-18 in the last three games from distance. The one player that could be the difference is Isaac Okoro, who is a future NBA player.
If he plays at the three spot, he’d have a size advantage on whomever guards him. He’s still learning and doesn’t have much consistency, but he’s scored 33 points the last two games.
Auburn’s shooting struggles are a main reason more will be on UK, not to mention the Wildcats won on the road against a tough Texas Tech squad last weekend.
This should be a fun, mostly up-and-down game with both teams going on multiple runs. Kentucky is the more consistent team, but Auburn hasn’t lost at home and will be jacked to take down Kentucky again.
But if Wiley can’t stop Richards and the shooting struggles continue for the Tigers, the Wildcats will ride their trio of guards to a close win.
Auburn 73 Kentucky 70