With ESPN College Gameday in town and an Elite Eight rematch on deck, it should be a crazy day of basketball.
The Auburn Tigers and Kentucky Wildcats will meet in potentially the most anticipated SEC match-up of the season. But how well do these two teams stack up against one another? And what should Big Blue Nation watch for during the game?
Scouting reports and stat sheets can only tell you so much. Thankfully, Will McLaughlin from College and Magnolia has offered us some insight into what we can expect from the Tigers down in Auburn tomorrow.
1. We’ve been used to Auburn being a high-tempo, three-point barrage type of team. Tell us about this year’s team and if that’s still their style of if they’ve changed.
Will McLaughlin (WM): It’s a much different team than last year, especially considering the number of 3-pointers lost from last year with Harper, Brown and Okeke no longer here. Auburn has been much more reliant on getting the ball into the paint. Even the guards, Samir Doughty and J’Von McCormick get into the paint much more than guards of recent Auburn history. Auburn runs their offense much more through Austin Wiley this year, along with Anfernee McLemore who will split duties at center and both play about 20 minutes each. Despite playing the 5 primarily, McLemore is much more of a 3-point shooter and is an excellent shot blocker. Wiley is your classic Center but at times, he struggles when he gets the ball in the paint. J’Von McCormick has done a solid job taking over for Jared Harper at Point Guard and Samir Doughty has taken on a much bigger role this year taking over the Starting 2 role. But as far as the team goes as a whole, they don’t shoot the 3 as often or as well as previous Auburn teams. It’s also worth noting that Auburn plays much better at home (as most teams do) than they do on the road.
2. Auburn is a very balanced team with four players averaging double figures. Tell us about the guys UK fans need to watch out for on Saturday.
WM: I’m going to go with Doughty, Auburn’s leading scorer. His scoring numbers have gone down in SEC play as he’s been in a shooting slump, but he’s starting to come out of it in the last couple of games, so we will see if that trend continues. McLemore would be another guy, even though he doesn’t average double figures, because he’s played well against Kentucky in the past and is coming off a game where he tied his career high with 19 points, including 5 3-pointers. Auburn has no chance to win that game Tuesday against Ole Miss without him.
3. Talk about Isaac Okoro, Auburn’s best NBA prospect and a potential first-round pick this year.
WM: Isaac really should have been a McDonald’s All-American and the fact he came to Auburn may have had an impact on that. That said, there are not many freshman in America I would like to have on my team more than Okoro. While his numbers aren’t the flashiest, the guy is an outstanding defender as he primarily takes on the task of guarding opponents leading scorers. He is super efficient as Auburn doesn’t go to him so much to be a leading scorer but he has that ability. He can get to double figures in scoring pretty easily, while having a low number of shot attempts. He has made big shots in big situations, including the game winners at both South Alabama and at Ole Miss. If there’s one knock I would have on him, it’s his 3-point shooting ability. He’s also very unselfish and doesn’t take a lot of bad shots. Okoro needs the ball more to be honest for Auburn to be successful down the stretch. He definitely has a chance to be a lottery pick in the draft this year with the way he has played.
4. What is Auburn’s biggest strength and weakness?
WM: Strength - Drawing Fouls as they are 7th in the country in free throw attempts per field goal attempts. A lot of that has to do with Austin Wiley drawing fouls in the paint on a frequent basis.
Weakness - Free Throw Shooting, I will say this has gotten better as the year has gone along but the Tigers have had their struggles at the Charity Stripe this season.
5. How has the NCAA investigation been going? Is Auburn in the clear or could they still face some punishment?
WM: Well, Will Wade is still coaching at LSU.
That said, there hasn’t been any news about it in months. But unlike most schools, Auburn was very proactive in their punishment when the news came out. Wiley missed a whole year and Danjel Purifoy missed a year and 9 additional games last year. I feel like that at this point, we can move on from that.
6. What about UK scares you the most for Auburn on Saturday?
WM: Size, especially Nick Richards in the paint. Wiley has struggled playing against some of the best big guys in the league so far this year. Also, Auburn has done well keying in on opposing top scorers but with Kentucky having 4 guys averaging 13+ a game, that could be a challenge for this Auburn team. Based on that, it wouldn’t surprise me if an unsung hero has a big game for Kentucky. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a guy like Quickley have a big game.
7. How do you see Saturday playing out, with a score prediction?
WM: This is a huge game for Auburn, it’s the first time College Gameday has come to campus and to be honest, Auburn needs this win more than Kentucky for national perception, and the fact that the game is in Auburn. Auburn has beaten some good teams but they don’t have a win against a great team. A win over Kentucky could silence a few critics. I’m going to go with 71-67 Auburn.
Thanks again to Will for helping us get more information about what Auburn will be bringing to the court tomorrow. Tip-off will be at 6 p.m. on ESPN. Make sure to stay tuned here to A Sea of Blue for all of the latest news and updates about Kentucky athletics.