College Basketball: Preview of Kentucky Wildcats' Matchup with Auburn Tigers

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College Basketball: Preview of Kentucky Wildcats' Matchup with Auburn Tigers
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The No. 14 Kentucky Wildcats seemingly have an easy challenge ahead of them in the Auburn Tigers, a team that's 11-10 and has no RPI top-50 wins, according to ESPN's RPI metrics

UK head coach John Calipari actually coached the Tigers' head coach, Tony Barbee, while at UMass early in his coaching career from 1989-93.

From there, Barbee would eventually become one of Calipari's top assistant coaches while at Memphis, and in 2010, he became the head coach at Auburn.

Since then, Barbee has never had a victory against Calipari, and he'll be looking to do so Wednesday night while also giving himself some more job security.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Having compiled a 46-68 overall record in four years with no appearances in any postseason tournaments, Barbee's future at Auburn is certainly in doubt. A win over a Top 15 opponent would definitely boost his chances of staying employed for at least one more season. 

Auburn won't be entering this game with much momentum after losing 87-80 last Saturday at LSU.

According to Brandon Marcello of al.com, Auburn has lost 29 of its last 30 games against Kentucky, including its last 15.

What UK needs to avoid is looking ahead to its next opponent in the No. 3 Florida Gators. It will be the Cats' first crack at the current leaders atop the SEC standing at 11-0, but UK needs to take care of business vs. Auburn to keep pace with Florida, as UK currently sits at 8-2 in conference play. 

It is worth pointing out that Auburn lost at home by just seven points to that very Florida team three weeks ago, so the Tigers have shown the ability to play close games against elite competition. 

The Cats need to stay focused and keep their recent winning streak going. They've won three straight and six of their last seven games after losing two early conference games to LSU and Arkansas. 

The Tigers live and die by their guard play, as their top three scorers are guards. The best one is Chris Denson, who leads the team in scoring (20.2 PPG) and even grabs 4.5 rebounds per game.

Junior guard K.T. Harrell averages 19.4 points per game, while freshman point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen has been a nice surprise for the Tigers this year while chipping in 9.4 PPG and a team-high 3.0 assists per game. 

The Tigers' big men won't pose much of a threat against UK's size. Center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (7'0") is the only Tiger big man measuring over 6'7" who gets 20-plus minutes per game, according to the school's official athletics website

Auburn likes to play with smaller lineups that leave their interior defense weakened, and their two-point defense ranks 89th in the nation, and their overall defense ranks 127th, according to TeamRankings.com.

UK freshman forward Julius Randle needs to have a big game, and over the past three games, the big man is averaging 15.33 PPG to go with seven rebounds per contest.

He is one of the best forwards in the country, and according to ESPN insider Jeff Goodman (Subscription Required), Randle ranks third among the best freshmen in college basketball, ahead of players like Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins from Kansas.

He'll need help from his fellow big men, and sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein is averaging 13 PPG and has hit 11 of his past 12 field goals over his past two games.

Sophomore forward Alex Poythress got off to a slow start this season, but his numbers have jumped to 9.7 PPG and 4.8 rebounds per game in SEC play.

The Cats should win Wednesday night, but they'll be in for a battle if they don't come ready to play and could have to sweat this one out to the very end if they let Auburn hang around too long.

 

Jason Marcum is a student in the B/R advanced sports media program. You can find more of his work at Stripe Hype and follow him on Twitter @UK_Fans

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