College Basketball Game of the Week: Kentucky vs. Auburn
This Saturday, Feb. 1, the 17th-ranked Auburn Tigers will play host against the 13th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats in an SEC showdown. Both teams seem to be locks to make the NCAA Tournament, but they will both have a chance to improve their tournament résumé with a big conference win over a ranked opponent. Let’s check out both teams.
No. 17 Auburn
Auburn was one of college basketball’s best teams just a few weeks ago. The Tigers were 15-0 and were ranked No. 4 nationally. At this time, they were just one of two undefeated teams remaining in the nation, and it looked like they could easily be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed come tournament time. Unfortunately, the last couple weeks have not been so kind to the Tigers.
Twelve days ago, Auburn visited an 8-7 Alabama team that ended up beating them soundly, 83-64. Since this 15-0 start, the Tigers are 3-2 and are not trending in the right direction as they prepare for a matchup with Kentucky, which is their first ranked opponent this season.
Statistically speaking, Auburn is, well, overrated. The Tigers have an offensive efficiency of 110, which ranks just 48th in the country. On the other side, the defense has an efficiency of 93.5, which ranks 38th. Auburn has not played a big game yet, and in the games that the Tigers have played, they have not played up to the level that they are ranked at.
No. 13 Kentucky
The Wildcats looked poised for a huge year after their opening night win over then-No. 1 Michigan State. But Kentucky has suffered a few bad losses since then, dropping from preseason No. 2 to No. 13 currently.
In just the third game of the season, Kentucky lost a devastating one to Evansville at home, shocking the nation. Shortly after, the Wildcats lost back-to-back games to Utah and Ohio State. Despite those struggles, Kentucky has managed to win seven of its last eight to get back on track.
Kentucky is a similar case to Auburn, as the Wildcats seem to also be overrated based on their statistics. They rank 34th in offensive efficiency and just 45th in defensive efficiency. Despite this, they have managed to win big games over 1 Michigan State, Louisville and, most recently, Texas Tech.
Keys to victory
Both teams in this matchup are very similar. They are both very young teams with just a few couple upper classmen that lead them.
For Kentucky, the key is going to be rebounding. The Wildcats rank just 91st in the country on the boards, as they grab only 38.5 rebounds per game. Another huge key to victory is star freshman Tyrese Maxey. Maxey has shown multiple times this year that he can break out, and he could use a huge game against a tough opponent like Auburn.
When it comes to Auburn, the formula is not complicated. Senior Guard Samir Doughty needs to have a big game. Auburn is 7-0 when he leads the team in scoring. Doughty leads the Tigers in scoring and must step up in their first game against a ranked opponent.
These are similar teams both desperate for a conference win to bolster their résumé. According to Ken Pomeroy’s college basketball ratings, Auburn ranks as the sixth luckiest team in the entire nation. The Tigers are 17-2, but a lot of that has been due to good fortune rather than talent. On Saturday, their luck will run out.
Prediction: Kentucky 81, Auburn 68
Caleb Schweiger is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.