Auburn vs. Kentucky basketball preview: Tigers looking to reset against Wildcats

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

After a loss on the road to the Bayou Bengals, Auburn returns home to face Kentucky.

Unlike last season, Auburn gets only one shot at Kentucky, and they host the Wildcats at Auburn Arena on Wednesday evening.

It's been a while since the Tigers (11-10, 3-7 SEC) have come out on top against the Wildcats. In fact, it has been more than a decade. On Jan. 11, 2000, Cliff Ellis led his team to a three-point victory, 66-63, over Tubby Smith's Wildcats at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum. Tayshaun Prince, currently a 12-year NBA veteran, led Kentucky with 15 points, and in spite of Scott Pohlman (2-of-11 from the field, 1-of-4 from beyond the arc) and Mamadou N'Diaye (only four rebounds) having a relatively quiet night, Auburn still came away with the W. Chris Porter had a then-season-high 22 points (he would put up 25 in Knoxville fourteen days later), hitting 11-of-15 from the field, and adding 13 rebounds and three steals. Doc Robinson had 18 points (8-of-11 FG, 1-of-2 3PT), nine assists, two steals and no personal fouls. Daymeon Fishback added 17 points (7-of-12 FG, 3-of-6 3PT) and four rebounds. 10,500 people were on hand for Auburn's 25th straight home-court win. I'm just going to let you think about that for a minute or two while I pour a very large bourbon.

Based on the few preview articles I have read for this game, it seems to be the same old narrative from every season: Auburn head coach Tony Barbee is set to face his former coach and mentor, Kentucky head coach John Calipari. In spite of a the Tigers' win-loss numbers, Calipari thinks Barbee is doing a fine job, and Barbee is looking forward to the opportunity to go up against the best. Seriously? I have made a promise to myself to not abuse the privilege of writing this column to overload you with my diatribes on the Tony Barbee era, but the lack of an inside game against LSU was, well, it was enraging and disheartening. I will pour another bourbon.

The Wildcats have been, for lack of a better word, interesting this year: 18-5 overall, 8-2 in the SEC. Before league play, Kentucky lost to Michigan State (78-74), Baylor (67-62) and North Carolina (82-77). One could argue that those are respectable losses. In conference action, Calipari's squad has dropped two games on the road to Arkansas (87-85, OT) and LSU (87-82). Again, one could argue those are respectable losses -- I guess, especially since my projected conference winner from Day 1 has been Florida. Take my next few statements with a grain of salt, because I would give my right arm to have a program that hauls in five-stars the way Kentucky does, but this squad seems to be missing something. I cannot put my finger on it. I watched the 'Cats beat Louisville and Tennessee, but I also watched them lose to LSU. I think they will do a fair enough job in the SEC Tournament and will definitely dance, but maybe it is just the youth of the team that gives me reservations. Sometimes a team loaded with the top kids in nation is able to put it all together over the span of a single season, but sometimes the lack of chemistry is evident. UK looks great on paper, but I still think Florida is the best in the league.

That being said, I have this odd feeling that this is the game Barbee manages to win, and in turn, it will convince the powers that be to give him a little more time. Kenpom.com again rains on my homer parade. Auburn, in spite of a loss in its last game, climbs to No. 126 in the rankings, but is expected to fall at home to 15th-ranked Kentucky. The Tigers have a 22 percent chance at a win, and Kenpom expects an 81-72 loss. So much for home court advantage.

Team Numbers at a Glance

Note that I switched from the overall statistics to the conference statistics because it represents what I think are more meaningful numbers.

Auburn Kentucky
Scoring Average 70.6 77.7
Scoring Defense 73.2 67.2
Scoring Margin -2.6 +10.5
Field Goal % .438 .470
Field Goal % Defense .441 .420
3-Point % .335 .329
3-Point % Defense .370 .297
Free Throw % .712 .700
Rebounding Average 31.9 38.3
Rebounding Margin -3.2 +7.2
Turnover Average 13.0 11.2
Turnover Margin +0.3 -0.8

Personnel

Auburn Tigers

The first five on the floor for the Tigers should be:

  • K.T. Harrell. 6'4, 216, junior guard from Montgomery. Harrell is fourth in the SEC in scoring (19.4 ppg) and has put up double figures in the first 21 games (a streak not seen at Auburn since Marquis Daniels in 2002-03).
  • Allen Payne. 6'6, 225, senior forward from Cincinnati. Seventy-one percent of his rebounds have been defensive rebounds (90 of 126), ad his average for D-rpg (4.3) is 9th in the SEC.
  • Asauhn Dixon-Tatum. 7'0, 226, senior center from Anderson, Ind. He averages two blocks per game, fourth in the conference and tied for 66th nationally. ADT has had at least one block in 19 of 21 games this season.
  • Chris Denson. 6'2, 181, senior guard from Columbus, Ga. CD3 is the leading scorer in the league (20.2 ppg) and 25th in the country. He had a career-high 32 points against Alabama earlier this season and has 1,042 career points.
  • Tahj Shamsid-Deen. 5'10, 163, freshman point guard from Decatur, Ga. TSD has started all 21 games, and his 3.0 assists per game is fourth in the league among freshman point guards. He has scored 10-plus points in the seven of the last nine games.

Off the bench for Auburn:

  • Malcolm Canada. 6'3, 224, junior point guard from Austin, Texas. Thirty-five percent of his points scored have been at the free throw line (23-of-31, .742 pct). Eighty percent of his rebounds are on the defensive glass (33-of-41).
  • Alex Thompson. 6'8, 204, freshman forward from Dothan. Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 2A Player of the Year for 2012-13, Thompson had a breakout game against Missouri, scoring eight points on 3-of-4 shooting.
  • Dion Wade. 6'5, 170, freshman guard from Antwerp, Belgium. Seventy-six percent of his points are from beyond the arc (16-of-48).
  • Matthew Atewe. 6'9, 250, freshman from Brampton, Ontario. Atewe has had at least one block in 11 of 15 games. Seventy-two percent (33-of-46) of his rebounds have been defensive rebounds.

Kentucky Wildcats

The expected starters for Kentucky are all freshman. Look for forward Julius Randle (6'9, 250), center Dakari Johnson (7'0, 265), and guards James Young (6'6, 215), Aaron Harrison (6'6, 218) and Andrew Harrison (6'6, 215). Randle leads the Wildcats in scoring (16.0 ppg) and rebounds (9.8 rpg).

Key reserves are forwards Willie Cauley-Stein (7'0, 244) and Alex Poythress (6'8, 239). Expect to also see guard Jarrod Polson (6'2, 182), guard Dominique Hawkins (6'0, 193) and forward Derek Willis (6'9, 205).

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