I don’t see any real need in breaking down today’s matchups by position, seeing how Kentucky is light years better than Auburn at every possible place on the floor. In the paint, from the perimeter, on the sideline, you name it–Kentucky is the superior team. With that said, here are some things to watch for in today’s game:
– Eric Bledsoe: The story everyone’s jumping on is the return of Eric Bledsoe–who’s coming off a career-high 25 points against Florida–to his home state of Alabama. Bledsoe says he’ll be playing with a chip on his shoulder against his old team because they didn’t recruit him; Auburn coach Jeff Lebo says he tried but was told Bledsoe had no interest in the Tigers. Who’s telling the truth? To be honest, no one really cares. It’s unlikely Bledsoe would’ve gone to Auburn had Lebo offered him a scholarship anyways, so it’s really a moot point.
But, with Bledsoe coming off the biggest night of his career and this game having some personal significance, people are piling on that storyline like flies on shit. Everyone expects Bledsoe to come out with a vengeance tonight, score 25 points, flip off the Auburn brass, give a bunch of quotes afterwards how ‘this wasn’t just any other game,’ and listen to Jeff Lebo talk about how he made the biggest mistake of his life by not recruiting him.
I expect little to none of that. Actually, I’ll be surprised if Bledsoe has a big game at all. I expect a more modest performance from him after Tuesday night’s exhibition in Gainesville, something to the tune of 13 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. John Wall’s due for another big game.
UK Bigs: Cousins, Patterson, and Orton all have the potential for a field day today; Auburn’s got nothing inside. In their last game against Tennessee, the Tigers were outscored 48-12 in the paint.
Cousins is also from Alabama, but unlike Bledsoe, he doesn’t seem to hold any grudges against the Tigers; he grew up an Alabama fan, anyways. Still, regardless of motivation, Cousins should have a huge game today. Auburn’s weak inside and Cousins feasts on such frailty in the paint. Same goes for Patterson. It’s hard to keep writing stuff about a guy who’s so remarkably consistent. He’s done it for three years now, so there’s no reason to expect anything else. Orton’s case is slightly different. He’s had some trouble getting his offensive footing of late, and his struggles have really started to show through in his expressions and body language. Tonight would be a good night to get some confidence back.
Miller v. Liggins – Round 2: There’s not nearly the hype surrounding the starting 3-spot as there was heading into the matchup versus Florida, but you can believe the chatter will return next game if Miller stinks it up and Liggins shows sings of life. Their last matchup was a landslide victory for Miller: 9 points, 4 rebounds, and zero turnovers in 26 minutes of action, while Liggins managed to turn it over twice and score none in five self-defeating minutes spent on the floor. I can’t help but wonder if Liggins came out with a little extra pressure on himself last game. I’m sure he’d heard the chatter about him as a potential starter in the days leading up to the Florida contest, which would explain why he may have been trying to do too much. He saw it as an opportunity, and sometimes knowing such things work to your advantage and sometimes it doesn’t. Look for Liggins to bounce back tonight and look for Miller to stay aggressive against a weak Auburn squad.
Auburn from 3: The Tigers are a guard-heavy squad, and they play accordingly, firing up lots of shots from deep. They hit their 3’s at a respectable clip (32%), but their opponents hit it at an even better one (37%). As is almost always the story with the Cats, if Auburn can get hot from behind the 3-point line, they have a chance. Lots of sub-par teams have shown that, if you can exploit Kentucky’s perimeter defense, you can hang with them.