Alex Poythress will have to raise his game today in Auburn. - Andy Lyons
Tonight, the Auburn Tigers welcome the Kentucky Wildcats to the Plains for a game of SEC hoops.
This is our biennial trip to the Plains of Auburn for a basketball tilt with Tony Barbee's Auburn Tigers. Barbee is in his third year at Auburn, and everybody knows how tough it is to recruit down there for basketball. Despite that, Barbee brought in 4-star Jordan Price this year, but unfortunately, the young kid who tied the SEC 3-point record with 11 consecutive made 3-point shots is still down with a foot problem.
Despite their injury troubles, Auburn has been very competitive lately, winning 2 out of their first three SEC games against LSU and South Carolina, and just missing against the Arkansas Razorbacks in double overtime on Wednesday. Auburn is playing decent basketball right now, and their confidence is growing.
Season comparison so far via Statsheet.com
|Rank and Records||UK||AU|
|Strength of Schedule||#53||#148|
|RPI Top 50||0-5||0-1|
Kentucky is 86-17 versus the Auburn Tigers, and has not lost to the Tigers since the turn of the century. Even when Auburn has been very good, they have had difficulty getting by Kentucky.
|24||Brian Greene Jr.||MR||G||6-3||205||FR||3.0||42.5||0.6||1.4||0.9||0.1|
The engine that runs Auburn is Sullivan, who is a bona fide go-to guy. He plays ridiculous minutes, averaging 82+% of available minutes for the season, second most in the SEC. He is an active defender and a dangerous scorer, although something of a volume shooter given the absence of the injured Denson and Price.
Big center Rob Chubb does yeoman's work in the paint, and is one of the best offensive rebounders in the SEC. Chubb is neither athletic nor particularly skilled, but he plays within himself, gets rebounds and blocks and anchors the interior. He also makes the shots he takes as the second-leading 2-point percentage shooter in the SEC.
Off the bench, Dixon-Tatum is a strong rebounder and shot blocker, but not much of scorer. The scoring load off the bench is mostly handled by swingman Noel Johnson.
The Four Factors favor Kentucky, but not by a vast margin. Neither team is great on the offensive glass, but Kentucky does shoot it better, takes better care of the ball and gets to the line more. Both teams are below average from the free throw line, so Kentucky gets the nod there because of how often they get there.
This is a game that Kentucky should win, on paper, but Auburn has been tough lately and there is a lot to be said for a team suffering injury problems that finds a way to get the job done. Sullivan has been playing huge minutes, but he is a senior and ready to accept the challenge, so don't expect him to suffer any ill effects.
Auburn is a team that will zone occasionally, although Barbee is no fan of the zone, much like John Calipari. But given the difficulty that Kentucky has experienced facing zone defense, I would be absolutely shocked if Barbee didn't trot out some zone looks today.
Auburn plays generally at a slower pace than Kentucky, so they will try to control tempo just a little bit. With Willie Cauley-Stein out, Auburn has a size advantage inside with Chubb and Dixon-Tatum. If there was ever an opportunity for Kentucky to lay down and get pounded on the glass, this is the game, because with Cauley-Stein out, it will be up to guys like Kyle Wiltjer and Alex Poythress to take up the slack, and neither of those guys has been particularly strong on the glass so far.
The current line in this game is around Kentucky between -7 and -10, but I strongly suspect this game will be closer than that. Kentucky played better against Tennessee, but they have yet to play a good game on the road (at least that they won). If I am correct in my prediction that Wiltjer has finally turned the corner, then this could be a more comfortable win, but the road has a way of being a learning process for freshmen, and we'll need a good contribution from them.
The key matchup in this game will be Chubb vs. Noel. Noel has to find a way to keep Chubb off the glass and stay in the game. Without Noel in the game, Kentucky gets very small and non-physical, and that will put them at a huge disadvantage. So Noel cannot play with abandon, he must play with great care to preserve his eligibility. The good news is that Noel isn't particularly foul prone, but if I were Barbee I would go right at him from the start.
Archie Goodwin is another key in this game, because Auburn cannot match his size and athleticism. Goodwin is due for a good game, and if he has one, it will be huge for the Wildcats' chances.
This is a dangerous game for Kentucky, not because the Tigers are especially talented, but because without Cauley-Stein, the Wildcats' front-court depth is a serious issue. Calipari is going to have to be very alert in this game, and carefully manage his players. A win here would be a huge confidence boost to this team, and a loss a major bummer.