There’s ancient history and then there’s Auburn being ranked #1 in basketball.
Saturday, John Calipari and his Wildcat squad will travel to Auburn, Alabama to take on the aptly named Auburn Tigers. Kentucky enters the match-up looking to continue a 13-game win streak over the Tigers, who are coached by former John Calipari assistant, Tony Barbee. History says this will be a monumental task for Auburn as Kentucky owns a lifetime record of 86-17 over the Tigers and have taken 27 of the last 28 meetings. On paper, this contest looks to be as lop-sided as its predecessors, but if recent games have taught Kentucky and its young stable of players anything, it’s that they’ll have to be prepared for an opponent no matter how mediocre they appear on paper. As is true in all SEC road contests, students, alumni, and players alike will all be ready to give their all against a “down” Wildcat squad. Regardless of skill level, Auburn possesses a number of players capable of giving the Wildcats fits come Saturday.
Elston Turner’s 40-point performance last Saturday will stand as one of the all-time great performances in Rupp Arena history. Additionally, it’s a performance that will haunt Wildcat fans for some time to come. Turner wasn’t the first player to have a career night against Kentucky and he certainly won’t be the last; but it almost seems as though this happens to Kentucky more so than any other elite basketball program. If you’re a believer in this theory, Auburn’s Frankie Sullivan could be next in “career night against Kentucky” lore.
Sullivan enters the Kentucky game averaging 17.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game, very similar to Elston Turner. In addition to his basic statistics, Sullivan is Auburn’s leader in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (5.5), free throw percentage of players who log significant minutes (77.3%), and leader in shots taken by nearly twice the margin of any other teammate (227). Not only does he put up lofty totals, but he also does so efficiently, accumulating an offensive rating of 103.2 at 28.5% of possessions used (100.0 at 20% is around average for perspective). In terms of offense, he’s the Alpha and Omega of the Tigers. Outside of Sullivan, Rob Chubb (haha, Chubb) is Auburn’s only real offensive threat, averaging 9.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 0.6 assists per game.
As a team, defense is Auburn’s specialty, not that that’s anything to brag about. According to Kenpom.com, they rank 124th nationally in adjusted defense. Compare that to their adjusted offense which is ranked 182nd nationally, and you’ll see why defense is their specialty. Their statistical profile speaks volumes of how average they’ve been on the season; they rank 158th in effective field goal defense, 103rd in turnover percentage, 130th in defensive rebound percentage, and 245th in free throw rate. While Auburn is merely average in the first three categories, they don’t exactly excel in playing defense without fouling. Of their five players who log the most minutes, only one player, Josh Wallace, fouls below 3 times per 40 minutes. Even more unfortunate for Auburn, of those five, the two tallest players are the most foul prone. Rob Chubb (6’10”) and Alan Johnson (6’6”) average 4.8 and 4.1 fouls per-40 minutes respectively and are matching up with Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein who both draw nearly 4 fouls per-40 minutes. Given this, it’d be advantageous for Kentucky to attack these two early and often, clearing the lane for the entire game.
It’s no secret that Saturday’s game is huge; a win is needed to boost Kentucky’s win total and a loss would certainly cause the panic button to be slammed all over the Commonwealth. On paper Kentucky is clearly superior to Auburn, so that should be comforting to Cat fans, but unfortunately, Auburn has a potential ace up their sleeve. While the Tigers are inferior on paper like Texas A&M and Vanderbilt, they’re excellent from beyond the arc like the Aggies and Commodores were. Sure, Kentucky clearly didn’t play to their ability against either of those opponents, but that was due in large part to effective perimeter shooting by the opposition. On the season, Auburn connects on 36.1% of perimeter attempts which places them 69th nationally. Knowing that they shoot at an efficient rate from beyond the arc, have a player poised to break out, and are playing in front of a hostile home crowd, they’ll have a punchers chance on Saturday.
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Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
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