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Kentucky vs. Auburn: Analysis, betting trends, expert picks & prediction

A look at how the experts and oddsmakers think Round 2 of Kentucky vs. Auburn plays out.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday will mark the first full 40-minute outing the Kentucky Wildcats will play without starting center Reid Travis.

Travis suffered a sprained knee at Missouri and is slated to miss around a couple of weeks. With a large hole to fill, the Kentucky Wildcats will need to adjust quickly with the Auburn Tigers coming to Lexington.

Analysis

The ascension of PJ Washington’s offensive production has benefited from the defensive load Travis has shouldered, most recently against Tennessee star Grant Williams last weekend. Now, with Travis sidelined, Kentucky’s defensive approach at both ends of the court will be interesting.

The Wildcats have also produced a sound offense as the season has unfolded, which has been based primarily on inside-out execution. As both EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards receive more playing time, both who are more athletic/lanky bigs, Kentucky’s offense could resort more to a dribble-drive approach.

Regardless of what Calipari draws up, rust and some regression should be expected. Kentucky has built an enormous amount of chemistry with Travis in the center of their unit and his absence will sting for a while. However, though in limited minutes, both Montgomery and Richards have provided significant production and energized the team at both ends of the court.

While his second half was promising, Ashton Hagans once again had a rather inconsistent game. Hagans did play exceptionally well against Tennessee, and Kentucky will need that same effort as they take on the Tigers’ backcourt tandem of Bryce Brown and Jared Harper.

In terms of advanced analytics, these two teams will bring contrasting styles to Rupp Arena on Saturday. Kentucky enters the weekend ranked sixth in KenPom, 14th in offensive efficiency and ninth in defensive efficiency.

Auburn, meanwhile, is 14th overall, 15th in offensive efficiency and 29th in defensive efficiency, While Kentucky’s defense may be the strongest attribute of these two teams, it was Auburn’s offense who dictated the pace the first time these two teams met, as Kentucky survived a shootout in The Plains.

Saturday will probably be another offensive-geared contest, especially with Reid Travis sidelined, which should lead to Keldon Johnson playing the 4 a lot. Johnson thrived the first time these two teams met, as he scored 20 points on 7/11 shooting. The Cats will need another similar outing to escape Rupp Arena with a victory.

Betting Trends

Kentucky opened as a 7.5-point favorite. The Cats have been in a slump recently when it’s come to covering the spread. They failed to cover in a loss against LSU and had a push at Mississippi State. They did cover in the blowout win over then-No. 1 Tennessee, then failed to cover Tuesday at Missouri, though they were well on their way to covering before Reid Travis went down.

Even so, it’s hard to see Kentucky beating a hungry Auburn team with nothing to lose by more than a touchdown, so bet at your own peril for this one.

Kentucky

  • 15-11 vs. the spread this season
  • 13-11 vs. the spread as favorite
  • 13-8 vs. the spread following a win
  • 10-7 vs. the spread with 2-3 days off
  • 8-7 vs. the spread as home team
  • 8-7 vs. the spread as home favorite
  • 8-5 vs. the spread against SEC teams

Auburn

  • 13-11-1 vs. the spread this season
  • 1-1 vs. the spread as underdog
  • 4-4 vs. the spread following a loss
  • 8-8 vs. the spread with 2-3 days off
  • 2-5 vs. the spread as road team
  • 0-1 vs. the spread as road underdog
  • 7-6 vs. the spread against SEC teams

Expert Picks

CBS Sports is picking Kentucky to win by an 80-70 margin.

SI is going with a Kentucky win as well:

If the Tigers are going to get it on Saturday, they’re going to have to live well on the offensive end. Kentucky is a particularly terrible matchup for Auburn because of its size and ability to clean up the offensive glass. Auburn will need big performances from Bryce Brown and Jared Harper in this one. The two combined for 45 points in the first game, and it wasn’t enough. They’ll need at least that many to have a chance on Saturday. One other factor to consider is Auburn’s top-ranked defensive-turnover rate in the country. Kentucky can get sloppy with the ball every now and again, and live-ball turnovers would likely also be key to an Auburn upset.

Kentucky 78, Auburn 69

Sports Chat is picking Kentucky to win and cover the spread.

All four of ESPN’s experts are picking Kentucky to win, though only four of them expect the Wildcats to cover.

ESPN BPI gives Kentucky a 72.6% chance of winning at home vs. the Tigers.

TeamRankings is projecting a 75-67 win for the Cats.

KenPom gives the Cats a 73% chance of winning and projects a final score of 75-68.

All six of our staff picks are in favor of the Cats at home.

Prediction

Kentucky’s regression could cost them the lead early on. However, they roster one of the country’s best players in PJ Washington.

The Wildcats should be able to effectively adjust by feeding Washington at the elbow as well as deep in the paint, allowing the opposite big to cut/slash off the ball. Head coach John Calipari may even elect to play stints of Saturday’s game with a “small ball” unit.

Regardless, Kentucky is playing at a high level and should pull away at the end to sweep their season series with Auburn.

Final Score: Kentucky 81, Auburn 74