The No. 12 Kentucky Wildcats head to Alabama on Saturday to face the red-hot Auburn Tigers. Will the Wildcats be able to stun the Tigers in a hostile environment?
In one of Saturday’s top college basketball games — and perhaps one of the most anticipated matchups of the season, particularly in the conference slate — Kentucky faces Auburn at Auburn Arena.
The Tigers, ranked No. 2 in the latest AP Top 25 as one of the hottest teams in the country, are favorites to win at home.
But here’s why Kentucky basketball will pull off a massive road upset this weekend.
Kentucky basketball: 3 reasons the Wildcats will upset Auburn
1. Interior Presence
Kentucky certainly isn’t the tallest team in the country, but they have a strong interior presence that could be difficult for Auburn to match. Per KenPom, the Wildcats rank 25th in the country in 2-point field goal percentage at 55.7 percent. Nearly 62 percent of their points come inside the 3-point line, which ranks fifth in the country.
But, Kentucky’s competition has been different compared to Auburn. While the Tigers have the 26th most difficult schedule per KenPom, the Wildcats have the 149th most difficult schedule, which is a byproduct of more “buy games” in nonconference play. But Kentucky can show their inside game is legit against their toughest opponent of the season.
Similarly, Kentucky is incredibly strong on the boards. Per KenPom, the Wildcats rank second in offensive rebound percentage at 40 percent and allow opponents to just a 22.3 percent clip. In team rebounding, Kentucky is fifth in the country at 42.4 a game and big man Oscar Tshiebwe leads individual rebounding at nearly 15 a game.
On both offense and defense, Kentucky focuses on crashing the boards but still maintains a fast tempo. According to KenPom, the team averages possessions of just 16.4 seconds, which is the 56th quickest in the country. Also, the team’s adjusted tempo is 102nd best, which is impressive for such a rebound-oriented team.
After consecutive quality wins, Kentucky is riding momentum and should bring lots of swagger and energy to Auburn on Saturday. On Jan. 15, the Wildcats slammed Tennessee by 28 points, a team ranked 22nd in the country at the time. On Jan. 19, they defeated Texas A&M by six points on the road. A&M is 15-3 and expected to be a tournament team come March.
The scary part about those two wins: Tshiebwe scored just 17 combined points when his season average is 16.1.
If Kentucky can control the inside with efficient shots and win the rebounding battle, the Wildcats will pull off an upset on Saturday. They’ll likely find Tshiebwe more involved in the offense, and that could spell trouble for Auburn at home.
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