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ESPN College GameDay is returning to Rupp Arena

ESPN College GameDay is headed back to Rupp Arena for the third straight year.

This morning, the GameDay crew announced they would be headed to Lexington to see Kentucky take on Kansas on January 26.

Reece Davis, Jay Bilas, Jay Williams and Seth Greenberg will be in town to preview the two winningest teams in college basketball history, with Bulas, Dan Shulman and Maria Taylor calling the game.

As always, admission will be free and fans are encouraged to attend. Seats will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, with the gates opening at 9:00 a.m. and the live show starting at 11:00 a.m.

Signs will also be permitted at the show, though they are subject to screening for the telecast.

Students interested in attending ESPN College GameDay and/or the Kentucky-Kansas game are allowed to start lining up at the student gate no earlier than 5:00 a.m. Students attending both GameDay and the game itself will receive a numbered wristband and will be required to return to the student gate by 3:00 p.m., where they will be places in numbered order to get in when the gates open at 4:30 p.m.

We’ll see you there, BBN.

Calipari on withstanding Auburn’s three-point attack

Auburn is a team that can light it up from the outside, ranking fifth in the country in threes made per game (10.9) and 24th in threes attempted per game (30.5). With Kentucky’s perimeter defense still one of the worst in the country (8.1 threes allowed per game on 22.4 attempts), John Calipari knows the Tigers will come out firing tomorrow. 

“They’re going to shoot 35 [threes] and if you really guard them and really guard the three, they’re going to shoot 35 of them. They do it off the bounce, they do it off the catch, they do it in transition, they do it on the pick and rolls.”

The Cats have made strides with their three-point defense recently, but Calipari quipped that simply led to easy inside baskets for Georgia on Tuesday.

“Yeah, but then the team dunked the first five shots. We guarded the three well and then they dunked every ball on us. This is a work in progress.”

Kentucky’s been able to overcome slow starts for the most part, but with the competition only getting stronger, Calipari warned his players that’s a luxury they can no longer afford.

When you’re playing really good teams and they get you down, they’re not letting you back in. Then you’ll make your run and you’re exhausted. And they make a run and it’s back to where it was. The start of the game is important. The first five minutes of each half are important.”

Translation: don’t let Bryce Brown (37.8% 3PT FG) and Jared Harper (40.2% 3PT FG) get going while also defending Austin Wiley in the post. That’s a pretty tall task in what will be a wild Auburn Arena.

“This is a team that’s shooting 35 threes and if they make 20, what’s the next game? They’re shooting whether you’re on them, hanging on them. They’re shooting them. Long rebounds matter in this game. I like to press a pressing team. I like to drive a driving team. I’m not so apt to shoot the three with a three-point shooting team, we don’t play that way, but I guess that would be the other side. We’ll shoot more threes than they do.”

Paging Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson.

An Opposing Coach Gives a Scouting Report on How to Beat Auburn

© Justin Ford | USATSI

While it’s probably a bit too early to say that the Kentucky Wildcats have “turned a corner,” there have been a lot of positive signs during their current three-game win streak. The Wildcats have ramped it up on defense allowing just 48 points per game over the last two, and Ashton Hagans is quickly emerging into the “next great John Calipari point guard.” It’s only mid-January and Kentucky is far from a complete team. But again, there are plenty of signs this group is headed in the right direction.

Still, we’ll find out just how far Kentucky has to go over the next eight days, with a brutal three-game stretch which includes three ranked teams. Kentucky will travel to Auburn this weekend, before facing Mississippi State and Kansas at home next week. There is no “magic number” on what their record needs to be over that stretch. But if they’re to be taken seriously as a team that can make a run to the Final Four, they probably need to win two out of three to feel good. If they win all three, it’s inarguable that Kentucky has arrived as a legit contender.

Ultimately though you can’t win all three unless you win the first one, which makes this weekend’s game at Auburn so crucial. To beat a Top 15 team on the road gives the Wildcats a resume boosting win they can carry all season. Add it in with wins that Kentucky already has at Louisville and against North Carolina on a neutral court and all of a sudden you’re talking about a nice little resume for the Wildcats.

So with that said, what will it take to beat the Tigers? Well, I’m glad you asked, as I decided to reach out to a coach who has faced Auburn this season to get a scouting report on them. Remember, I did this before the North Carolina game and, I hate to brag, but it seems pretty obvious that the Wildcats staff read my article. You know, since they dominated the Tar Heels from start to finish after all.

Can I go 2-for-2 and take Kentucky’s season to another level (Yes, I’m kidding)? We’ll find out, as here is what one anonymous coach who has faced Auburn this season said about the Tigers.

Ashton Hagans and Keldon Johnson will play a massive role on Saturday – but it will come on the defensive end

Hagans had a breakout game offensively in his return to Georgia Tuesday (where I’m not sure if you heard, but the home fans booed him) and Johnson is the team’s best long-term NBA prospect.

But while each has the ability to light up the opponent defensively, the key for Kentucky might be what Hagans and Johnson do on the other end of the court. Slowing down Auburn’s guards is key to success against the Tigers.

“What they really do, especially at home is they make so many transition three’s,” the coach said.
“They start hitting those transition threes and it ramps up their defensive energy and they just go on these runs, man. You’ll be in the game with them and then you’ll be down 20 because they went on a 12-0 run and made four threes. It’s amazing.”

While it’s impossible to know just how many of Auburn’s threes have come in transition, what is indisputable is that the Tigers are one of the best shooting teams in college basketball. Auburn is making just under 11 three-pointers per game, which is sixth most in the country and are doing it while shooting 36 percent as a team. Although that percentage isn’t through the roof, it’s pretty darn good when you realize just how many three’s they’ve actually attempted. Overall, five different players have hit at least 17 three’s this season for Auburn (in comparison, Kentucky has just two guys who have hit that mark, Johnson and Tyler Herro) with Bryce Brown and Jared Harper combining for 92.

For what Auburn does, the coach believes Harper is the best point guard in the country (“If I’m taking any point guard in the country, I’m taking him,” the coach said) and therefore it’s key that Hagans picks him up just as soon as he touches the ball.

Equally important is who picks up Brown, and where. That responsibility will likely fall on Johnson at least to start the game.

“To me, you’ve almost got to designate someone to find Bryce Brown in transition,” he said. “You’ve got to find Brown because if you watch the film, he’s so good at running and catching hit aheads in space.  And his range is unlimited.”

But it’s not just the guards who hit threes

While Brown and Harper key the offensive attack, what makes Auburn so deadly is that – depending on the lineup – just about anyone on the court can beat you with the deep ball.

The Tigers are the rare team that has big guys that can run the floor and hit three’s, meaning that picking up the big guys in transition isn’t just about the guards – but the post players as well.

“[Anfernee] McLemore can step out and hit threes,” the coach said. “Obviously [Chuma] Okeke can step out and hit threes. Horace Spencer isn’t a great shooter but he can step out and make some.”

The numbers back up the coach.

On the season, Okeke, a 6’8 forward has tallied 17 made three-pointers and McLemore – who is battling back from a season-ending injury from last year – has made seven. He made 18 last season while shooting 39 percent from behind the arc.

So Okeke and McLemore are the big guys who can really hurt Kentucky. Which is also why they better pray…