Saturday January 22nd, 2022
Kentucky Wildcats at Auburn Tigers
Time: 12:00PM CT
Network: CBS, Auburn Radio Network
Over the past few years at Auburn Arena, we have seen Auburn win a SEC Regular Season title, knock off a top 5 Tennessee team to deny them a SEC title, hosted College Gameday, just to name a few. But to me, with what’s at stake in this one, they pale into comparison of what we could potentially see at Auburn Arena today.
The top 2 teams in the SEC face off this afternoon as Auburn hosts Kentucky in what will surely be a raucous Auburn Arena. This is the teams only matchup of the regular season (which stinks) and makes today’s game even more important.
In the program’s last 10 matchups, Auburn has won 5 and Kentucky has won 5 dating back to the 2015-2016 season.
Auburn (17-1, 6-0) comes in to today, winners of 14 straight games but certainly didn’t play their best game on Wednesday night against Georgia. They didn’t need to especially building a 52-27 halftime lead but it certainly gave the Tigers something to improve on going into today.
Kentucky (15-3, 5-1) has won 4 in a row since their loss in Baton Rouge on January 4th including an extremely impressive 107 point outing against Tennessee in which they shot 68% from the field and their most recent win, a road win at Texas A&M knocking them the ranks of unbeaten teams in the SEC. After a slow start, the Cats have played much better lately and this would quite the matchup.
As for Auburn, they took care of business 83-60 over Georgia on Wednesday night. Walker Kessler led the way with 15 points, 6 rebounds and 6 blocks against his home-state school. While flying under most radars, Jaylin Williams was terrific off the bench scoring 13 points in 17 minutes. Wendell Green had a double-double earlier this season with points and rebounds but had a second one Wednesday night, this time with assists as he had 12 points and a season-high 11 assists. Jabari Smith had 12 points and 7 rebounds but everyone was excited to see how KD Johnson would play against his former team and he also had 12 points as 6 Tigers were in double figures on Wednesday.
Get to Know Kentucky
After a very disappointing year in Lexington last season, there was little doubt that the Cats would bounce back this season. They were my pick in the preseason to win the conference with the additions they made in the transfer portal as this is a much older and more experienced Kentucky team than we’re used to seeing.
Kentucky is ranked 3rd in KenPom at the moment (Auburn is 6th) and is 4th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. After averaging just 70.4 PPG last season, they are averaging 82.9 PPG this year and are playing with much more tempo as well. They are shooting 35.3% from 3 as a team this season and giving up just 62.8 PPG.
Today’s matchup will feature a monster matchup in the middle as Walker Kessler goes up against Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe (#34) who has put up some incredible numbers on the boards. Tshiebwe, a transfer from West Virginia, leads Kentucky in scoring at 16.1 PPG and an astonishing 14.8 RPG. He has had at least 10 rebounds in all but 2 games this year and his season low for rebounds is 7. On 4 occasions, he has pulled down at least 20 rebounds including a 28-rebound performance against Western Kentucky before Christmas. He leads the team in steals and blocks and shoots 61.6% from the field and 73.3% from the line.
Kentucky of old is known for multiple freshmen making an impact but this season, they have just 1 freshmen in the starting lineup. That would be TyTy Washington (#3), a player Auburn went hard after during the offseason before he landed at Kentucky. Washington is averaging 14.2 PPG, 4.6 APG and 4.2 RPG. He’s shooting 40.4% from 3 as part of a team that shoots the 3 much better this year than last.
Another player who has drastically improved Kentucky’s 3-point shooting is grad transfer Kellan Grady (#31). The Davidson transfer is averaging 11.4 PPG and is shooting 43% (49-114) from 3 this season.
Junior forward Keion Brooks (#12) is averaging 10.4 PPG and 4.3 RPG and is the lone starter on this year’s team that was on the squad last year. Like Wendell Green Jr, Brooks played at La Lumiere High School in Indiana.
For the 3rd consecutive game, KD Johnson will face a familiar face as rounding out the Kentucky starting lineup is junior Point Guard Sahvir Wheeler (#2). The Georgia transfer has thrived in his new home averaging 10.4 PPG and 7.1 APG this season. He’s also the guy you don’t want to foul if necessary in a close game late as he’s an 88% FT shooter.
Coming off the bench for Kentucky is grad student Davion Mintz (#10) who averages 9.1 PPG and shoots 36.9% from 3. Also coming off the bench will be junior forward Jacob Toppin (#0) who is averaging 5.9 PPG this season.
The stage is set for Auburn to show America why they are the best team in the country. These are the kind of games that people will remember for years to come one way or another. Kentucky will not be intimidated by playing in Auburn Arena, it’s just another road game for them. Teams get up to play against Auburn now the way they’ve done for years when they play Kentucky. I think depth will play a factor as Kentucky goes just 7-8 deep mostly while Auburn can go 10 deep.
How the game is officiated will also go a long way into who wins this game. If it’s called tightly in the paint like it was against Florida and Alabama, then Auburn will need guys off the bench to step up as they’ve done time after time this season. I’m excited to see Kessler and Tshiebwe matchup so for everyone involved, let’s hope they let these kids play.
If this game was in Lexington, I would lean Kentucky’s way but it’s in Auburn Arena and I think the Tigers protect homecourt and move up to #1 in the polls on Monday morning.