Aaron Harrison has kept a relatively low profile on star-studded Kentucky, but the freshman shooting guard won’t be able to avoid the spotlight now that SEC play has started. There isn’t a position in the conference where the competition will be tougher, and even the multi-talented Harrison will have his work cut out for him if Kentucky is going to meet its preseason expectations of a league title.
Here’s a look at the most imposing of the SEC’s long list of 2-guard standouts, and how they’ll match up with Kentucky’s 6’6” youngster:
Jordan McRae, Tennessee
The SEC’s most dangerous all-purpose scorer, Jordan McRae is putting up 18.9 points per game on an explosive mix of drives, pull-ups and treys (at .372 accuracy). He also knows how to get the most out of his long-armed, 6’6” frame on defense, blocking shots at the extraordinary rate—for any perimeter player—of 1.1 a night.
The worst thing Harrison can do in this showdown is to get into a shooting contest. Kentucky has more and better scorers around him than the Volunteers have around McRae, and he needs to make sure the shots he takes are smart ones.
Given the similarity in size between these two wing players, Harrison will probably have a tougher time than usual in taking McRae inside. However, if he can drive with an eye towards passing, he might catch Tennessee’s big men out of position and make his impact as a distributor.
Defensively, Harrison can’t afford to get frustrated because McRae is going to get his points. Harrison isn’t skilled or experienced enough to lock down the NBA-bound senior altogether, but he needs to maintain his focus and limit the damage McRae is able to do, counting on his own team’s superior depth to outweigh this one matchup.
Chris Denson, Auburn
Thanks in part to the 28 points he hung on Ole Miss Thursday night, Chris Denson’s scoring average is up to an eye-opening 19.8 points per game, tops in the SEC. In addition to being the Tigers’ leading scorer, he’s also their most productive defender on the perimeter with 1.2 steals per contest.
Denson’s fatal flaw, though, is that he’s a dreadful three-point shooter (8-for-37 this season). Between his own lack of long-range acumen and the threat of Willie Cauley-Stein protecting the rim, Denson will have an awfully tough time getting good looks against the Wildcats—especially if Harrison is smart enough to lay off him and dare him to shoot from deep.
On the other end of the floor, Denson is a competitor, but—at 6’2”, 181 lbs—he’s surrendering four inches and nearly 40 pounds to Harrison. As Denson doesn’t have the luxury of a world-beating shot-blocker behind him, Harrison has every incentive to attack the paint and force his smaller rival to guard him on both the drive and any potential offensive rebound opportunities.
Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss
He’s not going to run away with the SEC scoring title this time around, but Marshall Henderson is still a force to be reckoned with. The senior has unlimited range and improved three-point accuracy (a career-best .384), and he even plays a little defense (1.2 steals a night).
Like Denson, Henderson is giving up significant size against Harrison, so the closer to the basket Harrison can get, the tougher he’ll be to guard. However, this is one instance where less might be more for Kentucky because the best thing Harrison can do for his team is conserve his energy on offense.
Having a physical 6’6” defender to chase Henderson around and contest his three-pointers will be a huge advantage for the ‘Cats. If Henderson doesn’t get on a hot streak with his long-range shooting, the Rebels will have very little hope of taking down Kentucky.