1. Shooting senior
The leading scorer for the Auburn Tigers is starting shooting guard Samir Doughty. The 6’4″ senior from Philadelphia is averaging 16.1 points per contest, to go along with 4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and a team-leading 1.1 steals per game. Playing over 33 minutes on average, Doughty makes this Auburn team go. In Auburn’s first two losses of the season, Doughty had single digit scoring nights both times, shooting a combined 5 for 23 from the field. Against Kentucky, the senior finished with 23 points on 14 of 15 at the free throw line.
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 and avoiding dumb fouls 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 78.3 points per game, which is 14th in the country and third in the conference. Second in the SEC in threes attempted per game, but the Tigers are shooting just 30.1% from deep as a team which is only 12th in the conference. The Tigers went 6 of 23 against Kentucky a few weeks ago.
On top of shooting from deep, Auburn gets to the foul line more than any team in the country, at 27.1 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 67.2% on the season. The problem for Kentucky in the first game against Auburn was that the Cats were sending the Tigers to the line what felt like every single possession. Auburn shot a total of 44 free throws and Kentucky had 29 total fouls. That simply cannot happen again today if Kentucky wants to pull out the W.
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 and the 12.2 offensive rebounds per game are both good for 4th in the nation. Second chance points are always huge and the Tigers are getting an extra 12 possessions per game just off their own missed shots. In the first game against Kentucky, the Tigers racked up 17 offensive rebounds, a number far too high for Kentucky to overcome.
Austin Wiley is one of the best rebounders in the SEC at 9.4 per game, but outside of Wiley, the Tigers get rebounds from all positions. Danjel Purifoy grabs 4.5 per game, followed by Isaac Okoro with 4.6 and Anfernee McLemore at 4.5. Two more players are right at four boards per game. Kentucky will need to box out and rebound from all five positions on the floor. If Kentucky wants a shot today, they can’t be outrebounded anything like last time, which was a 42-28 comparison.
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 10.6 points and 9.4 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 1.6 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. Richards was unable to assert himself in the first round against Auburn, as he finished with 7 points and 7 rebounds to Wiley’s 12 points and 10 boards.
5. What have they been up to?
In the first match up of the season for Kentucky and Auburn, it was the first ranked team that the Tigers had faced all season. Bruce Pearl’s squad passed the test at the time, but have had many more tests to follow since then. In the three games after beating Kentucky at home, Auburn played in three straight overtime games and won all three. A 3-point overtime win at Arkansas, a 1-point overtime win over LSU at home, and a 4-point overtime win over Alabama at home actually made for four overtime games over a five game span for the Tigers.
Following those overtime games, Auburn lost two straight to two very bad teams. A 12-point loss at Missouri and a 10-point loss at Georgia will definitely be starred as bad losses come Selection Sunday. The only consolation for Auburn over those two losses is that they were both without starting forward Isaac Okoro who missed three games due to injury. Okoro returned earlier this week against Ole Miss and should be fully healthy for today’s game. Overall, the Tigers went 5-2 since beating Kentucky and dropped to two games back from first place Kentucky in the SEC standings.
Go Cats. Beat Tigers.