Auburn Tigers vs. Kentucky Wildcats Pick
Auburn Tigers (29-9 SU, 21-15-1 ATS) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (30-6 SU, 20-16 ATS)
When: Sunday, March 31, 2019 – 2:20 PM ET
Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.
Point Spread: AUB +4.5/UK -4.5 (Bookmaker)
Total: O/U 142
Last Time Out: Auburn beat North Carolina 97-80; Kentucky edged Houston 62-58.
Scouting the Tigers:
The tournament was a dream for the Tigers until the second half of their win over North Carolina. That was the moment that Chuma Okeke tore his ACL on a travel and saw his season end, putting a damper on Auburn’s rout of the Tar Heels. Now the Tigers have to figure out how to replace him and regroup in time to go up against Kentucky, which beat Auburn twice in the regular season.
What do the Tigers have to do to turn things around? They’ve got to stay hot from behind the arc. The Tigers were playing with fire by taking 37 3-pointers against North Carolina, because that amount usually results in a lot of rebounds, and giving the Tar Heels a bunch of easy rebounds plays right into their hands. But Auburn hit 17 of them, which negated North Carolina’s edge and meant that the Tar Heels couldn’t keep up. The Tigers have to keep hitting when they get open, or they’re in for a repeat of their 27-point loss at Kentucky.
Scouting the Wildcats:
It’s been anything but easy for the Wildcats during this tournament, as they’ve had to overcome the loss of P.J. Washington in the first weekend and survived a stiff challenge from Wofford before they ever made it to Kansas City. But Kentucky got Washington back, and they needed him down the stretch against Houston, as his blocked shot made Tyler Herro’s winning 3-pointer possible. Now they face the challenge that Dean Smith called the hardest thing to do in sports: beating a good team three times in the same season.
Without having his team at full strength, John Calipari has dialed back the speed, and it’s worked out nicely for the Wildcats, as the team has learned to become a complete unit rather than the group of individuals that past Kentucky teams have been. Washington and Reid Travis are the unquestioned leaders, but there’s no doubt that this is the most cohesive unit that Calipari has had, and these Wildcats won’t panic in a tight spot.
Scalpers. North Carolina would have brought a large contingent to the regional finals in Kansas City. Kansas would have taken over the entire arena. Auburn knocked out both teams on its way to the Elite Eight and will do neither, which means that tickets are in abundant supply for this game.
Why does that matter? Kentucky has a national fan base and a large number of fans who are within driving distance of Kansas City. With tickets at $24 and dropping at the time of this writing because of a lack of Auburn fans in the area, it’s likely that a large number of Wildcats fans will justify making the drive to Kansas City and snapping up the tickets from disappointed North Carolina fans. Expect the Wildcat fans to turn the Sprint Center into Rupp Arena West, creating a noticeable homecourt advantage for their heroes. The last time this Auburn team faced a large Kentucky crowd, it didn’t handle the moment terribly well: the Tigers absorbed an 80-53 beating in Lexington.
Auburn will Cover if:
The Tigers can win the last four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half. In both matchups against Kentucky, Auburn has lost the game because Kentucky went on a run at the end of the first half and continued it in the second. In the first game, the run gave the Wildcats the edge they needed to withstand Auburn’s late charge, while in the second, the run finished off the Tigers then and there. Auburn has to step up its play in that eight-minute stretch and at least not lose the game there.
Kentucky will Cover if:
The Wildcats can dominate on the glass. When the teams met in Auburn, Kentucky won the rebounding battle, but not by much. When they met in Lexington, Kentucky destroyed Auburn on the boards and crushed the Tigers on the scoreboard. The Wildcats have the formula that works, and they have the personnel to make it happen again. All they have to do is execute it.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
Auburn is on fire right now, and the Tigers have played fantastic basketball during this 11-game winning streak. But the last team to beat the Tigers was these Wildcats, and Kentucky has its team at full strength. Meanwhile, Auburn is down one of its most important players and has had just one day to adjust its game plan against an opponent that already knows it too well.
The Tigers have had a fantastic run, but with no Okeke and a healthy Washington, it feels like it ends here. Give me the Wildcats.