1. Shooting senior
The leading scorer for the Auburn Tigers is starting shooting guard Samir Doughty. The 6’4″ senior from Philadelphia is averaging nearly 15 points per contest, to go along with 3.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and a team-leading 1.3 steals per game. Playing over 32 minutes on average, Doughty makes this Auburn team go. In Auburn’s only two losses of the season, Doughty had single digit scoring nights both times, shooting a combined 5 for 23 from the field.
Everyone from Auburn shoots a ton of threes, due to the fast pace of play, and Doughty is no different. He’s the team-leader in shots attempted, three-point shots attempted, and three-point shots made. An average shooter at just around 30% on the season, Doughty is going to take a lot of threes, but is much more efficient if he’s scoring inside the arc. If he’s able to get to the rim easily, that is a major problem for Kentucky. Contested threes are the hope for how to defend Doughty tonight.
2. Lots of shots equals lots of points
As all Auburn teams have been since Bruce Pearl took over as Head Coach, this Tiger team plays extremely fast paced. The mindset for the Tigers is to maximize total shot attempts which will inevitably produce high point totals, that they hope the opposing team can’t keep up with. Auburn scores 79.3 points per game, which is 22nd in the country and third in the conference. Second in the SEC in threes attempted per game, but the Tigers are shooting just 31.4% from deep as a team which is only 7th in the conference.
On top of shooting from deep, Auburn gets to the foul line more than any team in the country, at 25.9 attempts per game. The sheer amount of shots means they get a lot of points from free throws, but as a team they are second to last in the conference hitting just 66.7% on the season. The problem for Kentucky is that we’ve seen multiple times this season that a whistle-happy officiating crew can put the Cats in a bind as players like Nick Richards being out for extended periods of time is a death-wish against a team that can score at the rim effectively.
3. Box outs and two-handed boards
To go along with playing fast paced and launching at the first opportunity, Auburn is also one of the better teams in the country at crashing the boards. The 41.2 total rebounds per game is good for ninth in the country and the 13.4 offensive rebounds per game are 12th in the nation. Second chance points are always huge and the Tigers are getting an extra 13 possessions per game just off their own missed shots.
Austin Wiley is one of the best rebounders in the SEC at 9.1 per game, but outside of Wiley, the Tigers get rebounds from all positions. Danjel Purifoy grabs 5 per game, followed by Isaac Okoro with 4.5 and Anfernee McLemore at 4.4. Two more players are just below four boards per game. Kentucky will need to box out and rebound from all five positions on the floor. Typically, Kentucky has had solid rebounding help from their three main guards, as Hagans, Maxey, and Quickley all sit around 4.3 rebounds per game. A concerted effort to stop Auburn from getting easy second-chance points will be a key to getting out of Auburn with a W.
4. Finally healthy and playing
When Austin Wiley first committed to Auburn back in 2016, hopes would be high that he’d come in and be a dominant force in the paint for the Tigers immediately. Unfortunately for Wiley, he’s had a bit of a tough time staying on the court. Dealing with multiple leg and foot injuries in his career kept him out for almost half of both his freshman and junior seasons, while a suspension amid an investigation into an Auburn assistant coach kept him out for his entire sophomore season. However, now that he’s healthy, Wiley is a load to handle in the paint for Auburn.
Standing at 6’11” and 260 pounds, Wiley is the lone post threat on the roster and averages a near double-double at 10.1 points and 9.2 rebounds, good for second in the Southeastern Conference. Mostly a back to the basket post type player, he hopes for deep position rather than flaring out for mid-range jumpers. He’s one of the better rim protectors in the SEC as well, averaging 1.7 blocks per game. The Nick Richards vs Austin Wiley match up could be huge today, as Richards absolutely has to stay out of foul trouble against he big bodied Wiley.
5. First ranked opponent
Auburn has been hyping up this match up all week, with Bruce Pearl even releasing a video midweek urging students to show up early to College Gameday to get priority entrance to the game later in the afternoon. Kentucky is your Super Bowl, we all know that. But today, that statement rings true even more, as Kentucky is the first ranked team that Auburn has played all season. The poor strength of schedule is why Auburn is ranked just 17th in the country despite having lost just two games on the season.
Winning their first 15 games of the season, Auburn was ranked as high as 5th in the country at one point in the season. However, the Tigers follow those 15 wins with back to back blowout losses, one a 19-point loss at Alabama and the other a 22-point loss at Florida. Earlier this week, Auburn traveled to Ole Miss and barely edged out one of the worst teams in the SEC, squeaking out a one-point win in double-overtime. The Tigers are really solid at home most years, so expect Auburn Arena to be rocking for this huge opportunity for a résumé boosting win.
Go Cats. Beat Tigers.