Tonight, we play the Auburn Tigers coached by Jeff Lebo, a former North Carolina Tarheel between 1986 and 1989. The Tigers are currently 2-5 in the SEC and 12-8 overall. The Tigers were expected to be a possible dark-horse contender for the West by some analysts pre-season, but their team has been hit hard by injuries and suspensions.
Auburn is one of those SEC teams that we have had a lot of success against historically. Kentucky has not lost to Auburn since 2000, either at home or on the road, and have only lost two games to Auburn since 1990. Overall, the series stands at UK-81, AU-17. For more about Auburn from a blogger's perspective, please visit our SBNation brothers at Track Em Tigers.
The top players for the Tigers are as follows:
Per Game Averages
Auburn is one of the smallest teams we will play in the SEC this year. Their starting 5 consists of 4 guards and a 6'8" forward. The Tigers do have some size off the bench in the form of Baboucar Sylla at 7'1", but he is injured with a broken foot, and is expected to apply for a medical hardship. Their powerful starting inside presence, Korvotney Barber (He who was once a UK recruit), is also injured having gone down with a broken hand back in December. Barber is said to be healing slower than expected and is being evaluated weekly. He is not expected to play tonight.
The major threats to score are Quan Prowell, Rasheem Barrett and Frank Tolbert. Prowell is a slasher who can score in the post and from the arc. Barrett is the leading 3-point threat for the Tigers and has the second best percentage from the arc. Quantez Robertson is the leading distributor from the 2-guard spot.
Matchup wise, the Wildcats are bigger and stronger at every position. The Tigers, however, are a very quick team. That speed and quickness has given some teams trouble, most notably then #18 ranked Ole Miss.
Auburn wants to play a high-possession game where they can hurt teams with their quickness off the bounce and their overall athleticism. Their bench is fairly shallow to play such a style, but their players are in great shape and can seemingly run up and down the floor until the stroke of doom. The are an excellent FG% shooting team, second in the SEC, but like the Cats, they are prone to making turnovers despite playing 4 guards a lot of the time. Surprisingly, Auburn doesn't shoot that many threes, but they make about 35% of the ones they do shoot.
On the blocks, Auburn really has nobody. They are a man-to-man team, but have been known to play zone and they may well try to zone us because of the presence of Patrick Patterson. They have no answer at all for him, and Quan Prowell isn't remotely strong enough to guard him one on one in the post. They will be forced to double team or play zone, and probably both.
Defensively, Auburn just isn't very good. They hustle and are athletic, and are second in the league in steals, but they are severely handicapped by their lack of size in almost every position. Auburn is a team that generally must outscore their opponent to win games.
Kentucky must be careful of Auburn defensively, because they will make open shots. They are also a very quick and slashing team, and will try to get into the paint to take advantage of their overall quickness and athleticism. The Cats must guard against this, because they can really hurt Kentucky if their guards live in the lane.
Intangibles and injuries:
Auburn is at home, and they are 7-3 there this year. Frank Tolbert didn't start last game for disciplinary purposes, but when he got in he responded with 32 points off the bench in a losing effort to Vanderbilt. Meeks, Crawford and Bradley are all walking wounded, and we have no idea which or how much we can get out of those players. Advantage - Auburn.
Kentucky wins if:
- They stick to their knitting defensively and keep the pressure on
- They are able to get minutes out of Crawford, Bradley and/or Meeks
- They are able to get the ball to Patterson on the blocks.
- They continue their solid FG% and good ball movement
- They keep the Auburn slashers out of the paint
Auburn wins if:
- Kentucky has an off night shooting the ball
- They take good care of the ball and force Kentucky to turn it over
- They are hot from three
- They get most of the 50/50 balls
- They get Patterson in foul trouble or otherwise neutralize him
Auburn is the weakest defensive team we have played in the SEC season. They are solid offensively, but they are very small and depend on quickness, which is a hard way to win games. Kentucky will not allow them to get the tempo where they want it, so they will be forced to run a lot of half-court offense, something that they aren't really great at.
The way Kentucky can lose this game is by not taking Auburn seriously. They don't have a complete roster, much like the Cats, and because they are so small, they are forced to take a lot of perimeter shots. If they are cold from outside, there is really little they can do against a team like Kentucky except try to force turnovers and score off them. While Kentucky has given the ball up a lot this year, they are definitely on the upswing in the turnover department, and it will really hurt Auburn if that trend continues.
Overall, the Cats should be able to win this game comfortably. But it won't be easy, as Auburn will scratch and claw to the bitter end. Jeff Lebo has his players giving their all, and as we know from the Kentucky side, that can be the difference.