Kentucky Wildcats vs. Auburn Tigers
Game Time: 2:20 pm EST on March 31, 2019
Location: Sprint Center Arena in Kansas City, Missouri.
TV Channel: Today’s game can be seen on CBS
Announcers: Calling the action will be Ian Eagle, Jim Spanarkel and Jamie Erdahl.
Online Stream: You can stream the game online or on your mobile device using NCAA March Madness Live.
Radio: Tom Leach and Mike Pratt will have the UK radio network call on 630 AM and 98.1 FM in Lexington. You can also listen to the Westwood One call of the game.
Replay: NCAA March Madness and check local listings on CBS Sports Network.
Odds: Kentucky opened as a 2.5-point favorite, but the line is now up to 5 as of noon Sunday.
Predictions: UK has a 61.8-percent chance to win, according to ESPN’s matchup predictor. KenPom give Kentucky a 58% chance of winning and project a 73-71 win for the Wildcats. Go here for more analysis and a prediction.
While we wait, get fired up with the latest offering from Kentucky Wildcats TV:
Two @SEC teams are still standing. Only one will go to Minneapolis. #Elite8 | #MarchMadness | #DreamBIG pic.twitter.com/d7jDbtQh26— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) March 31, 2019
What a night in Kansas City.
Red-hot Auburn boat-raced the 1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels, while Kentucky found a way to grind out a gutsy victory against the Houston Cougars.
An All-SEC Elite Eight matchup will take place Sunday afternoon, and the winner will be rewarded with a trip to the Final Four.
Auburn has looked borderline unstoppable for the last two games. After barely beating New Mexico State in the opening round, they have absolutely obliterated both Kansas and North Carolina. In those two games, they have made 30 three-pointers and shot nearly 45% from deep as a team. You would think a team like that would be impossible to beat, and it has certainly looked that way.
Their leading scorer during the tournament has been Bryce Brown with just over 16 points per game, but their best player has probably been Chuma Okeke. He has put up 15 points and almost seven rebounds per game, making 47% of his shots from behind the arc.
However, Okeke went down late in the Sweet 16 game against North Carolina with what appeared to be a severe knee injury. He will receive an MRI on Saturday, but the prognosis at this point is not very good.
Not only does it look like the Tigers will be without one of their better players, but they were also an emotional wreck after Friday’s win due to seeing their brother go down.
Will his injury change the chemistry of this offensive machine we have seen the last few weeks? Will his injury be too much for them to handle emotionally? Or will it be the inspiration they need to put them over the edge?
Kentucky, on the other hand, has been winning with defense. Whereas the Tigers have averaged 88 points per game during the tournament, the Wildcats have only put up 67.6. However, Kentucky has held their opponents to an impressive 52.6 points per game with suffocating team defense.
The Wildcats have had a balanced scoring attack with Reid Travis scoring 12.7 points per game, Keldon Johnson scoring 13.7, and Tyler Herro leading the way with 14. However, PJ Washington’s 16 points against Houston were potentially Kentucky’s most important points of the season.
This will be the third match-up between these two teams. Kentucky has won both of the previous outings, 82-80 at Auburn and a 80-53 blowout in Lexington. However, both of these teams are very different now. Auburn seems to be clicking on all cylinders right now.
Yet, Kentucky did not have Reid Travis in the last game. What will Chuma Okeke’s absence mean for this match-up?
This could be one for the ages, folks.
Keys to the Game
Defend the Three
I realize this is a key to every game for Kentucky, but due to the poor three-point defense earlier in the season this continues to be a focus. Now that they are up against an Auburn team that has hit 45% of their shots from deep on the season, perimeter defense is even more prudent.
In the previous matchups, Auburn lived and died by the three against Kentucky. At Auburn, the Tigers hit 13 of 30 three-points to keep it close. However, the Wildcats were still able to win. At Rupp Arena, Kentucky held the Tigers to just 8-27 shooting and cruised to an easy victory.
However, Auburn has hit 12+ threes in eight-straight games, as there’s no one hotter from deep in the nation than the Tigers, who’ve arguably been the best three-point shooting team this season when you consider they’ve done their damage in an elite conference, then against teams like Kansas and North Carolina in the Big Dance.
But Kentucky has allowed teams to hit just 20/70 three-balls in the NCAA Tournament.
This statistical category will likely determine the winner on Sunday. But with Kentucky holding Wofford to under 30% from deep and keeping Houston in check before the last five minutes, you have to feel good about their three-point defense right now.
Pound the Paint
Especially if Okeke is out, Kentucky has a huge advantage in the paint. Just like against Houston, the Wildcats would be wise to work the offense through the post. I doubt that Auburn would be as quick to throw double teams at Kentucky, so the bigs should be able to go to work.
In Kentucky’s first match-up, Travis and Washington combined for 30 points and 14 rebounds. The second time around, Washington got whatever he wanted and put up 24 points. In that game, EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards combined for 10 points, 10 boards, and six blocks. Kentucky should live in the paint on Sunday.
Old Ashton Hagans
Yes, he played great defense on Houston’s final drive to tie the game. Aside from the Hagans hurt the Wildcats much more on Friday than he helped them. He only had one assist, coughed up four turnovers, and gave up several open looks from three. That cannot happen on Sunday if Kentucky wants to win.
At times, Hagans has carried the Wildcats with his disruptive defense and his ability to get to the basket. Kentucky overcame his poor play on Friday, but they need the old Ashton Hagans to advance to the Final Four.
Players to Watch
When he is hitting, he is one of the best guards in the SEC. While he has only hit 36% of his three’s during tournament play, he showed what he can do against Kansas in hitting 7 of 11 from deep. If he is hitting, he is a problem.
In the previous matchups, it’s been two completely different stories. He hit 6 of 7 in the first game and scored 28 points, but only scored six points in the second game. Tyler Herro will likely draw this match-up, and based on his recent play I would say he’s up to the challenge.
More consistent than Brown, Harper averages just over 15 points per game on the season. He isn’t quite the shooter that Brown is, he is dangerous off the dribble in both his ability to score and his ability to distribute. Ashton Hagans MUST have a strong game against Brown or this Auburn offense will be hard to stop.
With Okeke sidelined, it’s tough to pick another Auburn player that might step up. They really are a three-headed monster. But Dunbar had his best game of the tournament against UNC with 13 points and four rebounds. Since North Carolina is the closest match-up to Kentucky, it makes sense that he could make an impact on Sunday.
The senior guard does not do any one thing particularly well, but he is a solid player that does not make a lot of mistakes. He could sneak up and contribute in ways that do not show up on the stat sheet, so he has to be a part of the game plan.