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Big Blue Looms Large

By on February 14th, 2018 in Basketball 7 Comments »

Auburn has conquered a lot of milestones this season, from the win in Knoxville to finally beating the Vanderbilt Commodores. There are other accomplishments that the Auburn basketball team has stacked up like the SEC wins and sitting alone at the top of the league. 

Kentucky has also met its share of milestones this season. Blue Blue finds itself out of the Top 25 polls and sporting six SEC losses while in the midst of a three-game losing streak. 

Although the coming showdown between Auburn and Alabama, which will likely be a meeting between ranked teams inside of Auburn arena, could be the marquee SEC game of the year, it is tonight’s match-up between Auburn and Kentucky that is the most important game the Tigers have played yet. 

That may sound funny considering the reasons that Kentucky is down. After all, Auburn has won some important games, which has helped elevate them to a Top 10 ranking for the first time in nearly two decades. 

Why would this game be special? Because it’s Kentucky? 

Absolutely. 

Yes, it’s certainly a perception game, but for all the right reasons. Kentucky is still Big Blue Nation. Those five star players and potential NBA talent isn’t going away. There isn’t a sports commentator that follows the SEC that doesn’t think, regardless of what seed, that Kentucky can win the SEC Tournament and do it in style.  Even though the ‘Cats are reeling, there isn’t a team in the nation that could stop the bleeding in one game and go on to win the Big Dance except Kentucky.

The same is not said about Auburn. That’s been the case all season, and Auburn is still considered a Cinderella Story despite the fact that the tournament is only weeks away. Truth be told, it would be shocking if Auburn were to win the SEC tournament, and there aren’t enough superlatives to project a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Still, Auburn plays Kentucky tonight, and perceptions could be drastically changed, at least for the Tigers. 

Perceptions about the Auburn Tigers will be formed based upon what happens down low. This game and this season is going to be decided by just how well Anfernee McLemore and Horace Spencer play. Everyone in the country knows Auburn can shoot the rock. Everyone knows Auburn wants to get steals and run the floor. And, if Auburn does that well, it can beat anyone in the country, including Kentucky. A lot of teams that Auburn has played have tried to slow down the pace, but the ones that have been successful have done so by using their imposing big men, something there isn’t a lot of in the SEC. Texas A&M demolished Auburn on the inside. Alabama did a good job. Both came away with wins against the SEC’s top-ranked team. Each of those teams has talent and a good big man, but there isn’t a team in the SEC with the type of talented big men that litter the Kentucky bench. 

Kentucky’s 6′ 9″ and 6′ 11″ forwards, Kevin Knox and Nick Richards, average 21 points per game combined, with Knox racking up 15 per contest. It’s the 11 rebounds per game and the team’s five blocks per game that will really test Auburn. Keep in mind, those are per-game averages, and Kentucky plays one of the hardest schedules in college basketball. It would be a miracle just to hold those two to their averages, but it should be fully expected that they exceed them. The question is, can McLemore and Spencer keep them from going off tonight and potentially opening the floor for Kentucky’s premier guards?

The good news is that Bryce Brown is expected to play, which should do wonders to holding freshman phenom guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to something around his 13-point average. While it would be terrific for Brown to have a big night shooting, Auburn has continually shown the ability to get points elsewhere when needed. 

It sounds funny to be happy to hold the Kentucky Wildcats to their averages while expecting a win and not just a respectable contest. That’s because Kentucky is averaging 76 points per game and giving up 70. ESPN BPI gives Auburn a 78% chance to win, the Vegas spread is Auburn -8 points, and the over/under is 158 points. Those numbers may seem silly, but for Auburn to win, an even sillier number must come to fruition: four straight losses for Kentucky. That number alone should make every Auburn fan extremely wary. Yes, it’s just a number, just like all the averages listed above, but one that seems impossible. But, if any team can defy odds, it’s the Auburn Tigers. 

Auburn tips off at 8:00 PM CT on ESPN2. Make sure to follow me as I live tweet @Best5Zach.

7 Comments

  1. audad says:

    Very good column, Zach. Have to admit I’m a little surprised that the line is Auburn -8 tonight. I thought it would be more like 5 or 5 1/2. Vegas is apparently getting more impressed by them. I agree with you comment about how there wouldn’t be enough superlatives to describe a deep run in the NCAA tourney. But…..if you listen to the SEC talking heads that come on the SEC Network after every AU game, it would not shock them at all. These guys were sold a few weeks ago and are believing now that “Auburn can compete with any team in America”. Could be a really fun March.

  2. ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

    Thanks Zach!
    I, too, am a little shocked at the -8 line for the game. But, Vegas being what it is, they are simply trying to get as close to an equal number of bets for each side. They then make their money off the vigorish (vig) which is what the bookies charge to allow one the privilege to place a bet.
    But I will certainly take an 8-point Tigers win… Or, more.

    War Eagle!!

  3. ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

    Wow- watching this AU-KY game and still, with the first half coming to an end, no idea how Auburn is going into the break with the lead.
    Guess we will see what the 2nd half brings – I hope a little more consistency from the Tigers. ‘Cats really are not playing well enough to be this close at this point.

  4. ATL_AU_FAN ATL_AU_FAN says:

    To be really frank and honest, Kentucky did enough to win this game, except on the scoreboard and where it counted; the trenches. Auburn 76 – Kentucky 66.
    The Tigers got a 10-point win which proves how special this team really is. Against the Wildcats, I will take a 10-point win all day long. It wasn’t pretty but, then…
    So, Vegas had Auburn as an eight-point favorite and Auburn wins by 10…. Maybe i sold Vegas short?
    In this case, maybe, but overall, Vegas still wins. (As do I since i bet notta on the game…)
    And, I’m okay with that, just as long as Auburn keeps winning.
    BIG game now looming on the horizon as our Tigers travel to Columbia to meet up with South Carolina which is a dangerous team to say the least.
    Well, anyway, Wednesday night wasn’t at all bad for our Tigers but the weekend, as stated above, looms on the horizon…

    War Eagle!!

    • dyingculture dyingculture says:

      My impression of Kentucky is this was a typical Calipari recruiting class of top-20 recruits. The announcers kept making the excuse of how this Kentucky team is the youngest team in world history, but every Kentucky team is like that.

      Anyway, how this team seems to differ from other Calipari teams is that every player seems to be pretty terrible at the fundamentals. A team can get away with having a couple of players like that, but not every player. It’s a young team that is terrible at the fundamentals, and Calipari’s one-and-done recruiting strategy came back to bite him this year. And at this stage of the year, this team just seems to be playing out the string because what does it matter anyway? The majority of the team probably plans to leave in two months.

      So yes, it’s obvious that this Kentucky team has superior talent, superior size, and great athletes. But that doesn’t mean they are a better team than Auburn – they’re not.

  5. Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

    Free throws. Auburn won on Free throws.

  6. […] Pearl knew. And Pearl was ready to do what seemed impossible: extend Kentucky’s losing streak while extending Auburn’s lead in the SEC at the […]