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Kentucky vs. Auburn roundtable, predictions & thoughts on Reid Travis injury

Breaking down Wildcats vs. Tigers and what the Reid Travis injury means moving forward.

John Reed, USA Today Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats are set to host the Auburn Tigers in one of the biggest SEC matchups this week.

The last time these two teams met up it came down to a missed floater from Jared Harper with six seconds left, a made and missed free throw from Immanuel Quickley, and then a missed prayer from Samir Doughty that ended with Kentucky winning by a score of 82-80.

Needless to say, it was a wild game where both teams were heavily involved on both ends of the floor. Since then, the Tigers haven’t been playing as great as they were to start the season.

This game is big for both teams, but more so for Auburn. They don’t have any great wins on their resume and if they want to get a favorable seed for the tournament, they need this one against Kentucky.

The biggest thing to look for with Kentucky is that they will be without their senior Reid Travis. Obviously, this is a big blow to a team that has been on fire as of late, and Reid has played a big part in it. Now, it’s time for Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery to step up in his absence.

Our writers here at A Sea of Blue have come together to offer their analysis and prediction of the outcome:

Nick Wheatley

Two preseason top-10 teams will face off on Saturday. But the two have gone in different directions this year. Kentucky started out slow, but has since lived up to expectations. Auburn started out fast, but has quickly faded. The Tigers can still be a dangerous basketball team, especially if they’re hitting their threes, but they haven’t lived up to the lofty expectations.

However, the Tigers have been better since the last time these two teams met. Auburn was without starting center Austin Wiley last time around, and his return has been a positive. His minutes have been limited, but Bruce Pearl has said the minutes cap will be lifted. And unfortunately, this time Kentucky will be without their starting center, Reid Travis.

It’s hard to predict how the team will fare without Travis. While he’s not the team’s best player, he does all the little things and is important to their success. UK is lucky to have EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards to slot in, but neither provides a similar presence in the paint.

His absence will hurt, there’s no doubt about that. UK’s biggest advantage against Auburn is their size down low. They lose a bit of their ability to punish teams physically. Travis’ defensive acumen is so underrated, and he does so much more than just rebound. No one on the team can per se replace him.

I can guarantee this team will be quite a bit different without him. UK needs decent production from Montgomery and Richards, and they need their other stars to step up. I think PJ Washington will slow down without Travis because the attention will be solely on him. If PJ can dump it off to Richards or Montgomery, then it might open things up. But Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro have to come ready to play.

As far as Auburn goes, they jack a lot of threes. They make a lot, too, but they shoot at a much lower rate away from home. The Cats were able to shut the Tigers down for 35 minutes last time they played before Auburn went on a crazy shooting streak. Honestly, I was leaning towards this game being a blowout had Travis played. I’m not as confident now because there are so many unknowns with the loss of Travis.

I think UK will win, but they have to guard the three-point line. Auburn’s going to make shots, but Kentucky can withstand it.

And as far as the rest of the season goes, I’m not worried about Arkansas. The Cats could struggle on the road at Ole Miss, but I think they can pull out a win similar to Mississippi State. And I actually think UK will match up better with Florida after slotting in Montgomery or Richards.

The biggest problem the Cats will face will be at Tennessee. What was a great matchup a week ago is now a tough one for the Cats. I have a feeling that game will be for the SEC regular season title, and, sadly, I think Tennessee will dominate Kentucky in the paint and come out on top.

In the end, I see Kentucky winning Saturday and going 4-1 in the rest of the regular season.

Prediction: Kentucky 77 Auburn 69

Tj Barnett

This will be a very interesting game due to the fact that Reid Travis will miss his first game of the season. It’s unfortunate because of how well these guys have gelled during conference play.

With that being said, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards need to play big, and I think EJ will have more of an impact, so keep an eye on that. If they can improve their games, then Kentucky becomes an even bigger threat to win it all once Travis returns.

The Auburn Tigers will be desperate for a win as they’re trying to improve their seed for the tournament. Despite this, I think the Cats will get this victory, primarily because it is in Lexington.

Prediction: Kentucky 73 Auburn 66

Aaron Gershon

Despite an up and down year, Kentucky should not expect a walk in the park when the Auburn Tigers come into town Saturday. Kentucky hardly escaped the plains back in January as Tyler Herro led them to a two-point road win.

However, despite having home court, it may be even more difficult this time. Reid Travis will be out with a knee injury. When the two teams met last month, Travis dropped 17 points and was a big factor in the end result. The two players who will replace him, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards, combined for one point that game.

In addition, big man Austin Wiley, who missed the first Kentucky Auburn matchup, will be a go for the Tigers this time around. With all this said, it’s a different Richards and Montgomery set to take the floor Saturday than a month ago. Both have made great strides at both ends of the floor and, by tag-teaming Travis’s minutes, should be just fine.

The Tigers haven’t proved they can win a big game on the road and Kentucky doesn’t seem like the place they’re going to do that. Richards and Montgomery need to step up, and I genuinely believe they’re both capable.

Thankfully, it’s not PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson or even Herro we’re talking about being injured. Losing Travis is a bummer, but Kentucky can survive. It may be closer than if Travis were a go, but the Cats should still get a home win.

I’ll also go on a limb and predict Montgomery and Richards combine for exactly 17 points, the same total Reid Travis scored against Auburn earlier this season.

Prediction: Kentucky 70 Auburn 60

Shane Shackelford

The loss of Reid Travis is a pretty significant loss to the Cats in the short term. Travis is without question their enforcer in the post, grabbing rebounds and scoring consistently on the block. Losing him for a couple of weeks is a blow but not a death blow.

Here’s why: Two weeks without Travis shouldn’t be near the SEC Tournament and the NCAA tournament, so timing isn’t a huge issue.

However, the load in the post falls squarely on Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery for an extended time. Montgomery has made great strides over the last two months, so an extended run for him should give him ample opportunity to produce at a high level. I’m most curious about Richards, though.

We’ve been waiting for him to produce for more than flashes for nearly two years. I think if he is going to be the producer and enforcer at the rim the Cats need it’s got to happen now. He has his moment. He must finally deliver.

As for the game, we all know Auburn has the ability to stroke it from three and wants to play fast through their guards, so the matchup favors the Cats still. No doubt it will be different without Travis, but if the Kentucky bigs can produce and PJ Washington continues his march toward All-American and SEC Player of the Year, the Cats should be able to fend off the Tigers in a high-scoring affair.

Prediction: Cats 84 Tigers 72

Drew Koch

Before I get into the game, allow me to send my best wishes to Reid Travis. Suffering a knee injury late in your final collegiate season is rough, especially since it had the potential to cost him his first and only trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Thankfully it appears he avoided a major injury and will be back with the team soon. However, in the interim, some of UK’s bigs are going to have to step up, namely Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery. Both players have talent, but have been terribly inconsistent all year.

Richards is more of a rim protector, while Montgomery’s game seems to be more of a stretch-4. That’s not what the Wildcats need. Reid Travis did the dirty work down low and I firmly believe that PJ Washington’s recent success was not just of his own making. Having Travis on the low block opened up so many more opportunities for Washington and the sophomore forward took advantage.

Having said all of that, I think the player that needs to step up more than anyone in Travis’ absence is Tyler Herro. I know, you’re thinking I’m off my rocker, but I’m serious. Even though Herro doesn’t play down low, his ability to stretch the defense with his shot making will continue to open up the lane for PJ Washington.

Kentucky’s guards, namely Herro, must bring the defense away from the basket so they can’t collapse on Washington. Now, it is up to Richards and Montgomery to pick up the slack on the boards, as well as Keldon Johnson.

Onto the game. UK escaped Auburn by 2 points earlier this season, but that was with Reid Travis. However, that was also away from the friendly confines of Rupp Arena. Travis had 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the previous game against the Tigers. He also had 7 rebounds. Those numbers will be missed.

I expect Kentucky to struggle early while they try to find an identity without their grad transfer. It would not shock me if UK were down double-digits early in the first half. I believe UK will close the gap and pull away late. This will be a tough test, but Kentucky is so dominant at home.

If this game were on the road, I’d pick against the Cats. But with the Rupp Arena crowd rocking, I think UK pulls out a victory.

Prediction: Kentucky 74 Auburn 68

Sam Gillenwater

Following an eight-point win against Missouri where Reid Travis went down, Kentucky has a quick turnaround against Auburn on Saturday. The first game was a battle and came down to the wire WITH Travis, but it will be all hands on deck against the Tigers who are lethal even through their struggles since their last loss to the Wildcats.

Losing Reid Travis for two weeks is a huge blow to Kentucky. You could see that this team didn’t look anywhere near the same with him out down the stretch on either side of the ball. The Tigers were able to double PJ on the post and were scoring the ball very effectively down the stretch.

Zion’s knee injury is the talk of the sports world, but Reid Travis’ is just as impactful. It will take an effort from the entire team to fill the void without him, but this falls squarely on the shoulders of EJ Montgomery and especially Nick Richards.

Nick started all 37 games of his freshman year and with Reid gone, he will not only have to play big minutes he hasn’t gotten this season but be productive on offense and definitely on defense. EJ will have to take some of the load, but this is Richards time to shine and breakout for John Calipari.

Auburn may have gone 5-4 since their last meeting with Kentucky, but they are just as potent offensively as Bryce Brown and Jared Harper can get going quick. They will also have the services of Austin Wiley that they didn’t have last time, putting even more pressure on a UK frontcourt that will only go three deep for the next few games. Auburn hit 17 threes while shooting 51.5% from deep in their last game against Arkansas so if UK wants to get a win, they will have to step up defensively again.

An injury to an important piece of a team can either take a team apart or motivate them to stay the course until their teammate returns. This will be a difficult stretch for Kentucky with Reid, but I think this can only make them better. This will force Nick Richards to be the player we all thought he was going to be after the Bahamas.

Even with the potential to drop one against a good Auburn team, I think Rupp Arena helps motivate Richards and push Kentucky over the edge in this one.

Prediction: Kentucky 79-70