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Joe Boozell | NCAA.com | January 18, 2019

Kentucky vs. Auburn prediction: 3 stats tell us who will win this Top-15 matchup

Andy Katz breaks down Kentucky vs Auburn matchup

No. 12 Kentucky takes on No. 14 Auburn on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN. The game will be played in Auburn, where the Tigers have yet to lose this season.

Here are three stats that will determine who wins this crucial SEC matchup.

Kentucky-Auburn: Prediction, 3 keys

Can Kentucky take care of the ball?

Auburn is taking the ball away from opponents like it's Press Virginia in its prime. The Tigers force turnovers on 27.8 percent of possessions, which leads the country.

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Jared Harper and Bryce Brown are absolute menaces in the backcourt, and the Tigers are loaded with tough, feisty guards and wings who are good at playing the passing lanes. Auburn ranks 35th in defense overall, per KenPom; if you can get a shot up against the Tigers, there's a good chance it's going in. But that's a big if.

Watch Bruce Pearl tell two Auburn walk-ons they were put on scholarship

And ball security isn't Kentucky's strength. The Wildcats cough it up on 19.2 percent of their possessions, which ranks 190th.

But they've been better lately. Kentucky is a different team with Ashton Hagans running the show. Hagans scored 23 points and turned the ball over only once in UK's last win against Georgia, and if he plays like that, the Wildcats will win.

If the Tigers pull it out, look at Hagans' final turnover number. Chances are, it'll be higher than three.

But Kentucky can dominate Auburn on the glass

There's a downside to playing so aggressively: you often leave yourself naked on the glass. Auburn ranks 303rd in defensive rebounding rate, and outside of Austin Wiley, it doesn't play a true big. Getting a shot up is half the battle against the Tigers. Because even if you miss the first one, there's a good chance you'll get more opportunities.

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And this is an area where Kentucky thrives. The Wildcats always have big, mobile bodies, and this year is no different; P.J. Washington, Reid Travis, Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery are all active on the offensive boards. The Wildcats retrieve 38 percent of their own clanks, which ranks ninth. A smaller Tiger is bound to be guarding either Washington or Travis to start the game. That player will need to do some serious damage.

This feels like a place where Kentucky can exploit Auburn.

No. 12 Auburn beats Georgia, 93-78

Brown and Harper combine to average 31.3 points per game

Auburn has one of the best two-way backcourts in the sport. Brown and Harper are awesome on both ends, and Hagans should be able to stick one of them. But the other spot could be a problem.

Kentucky starts Tyler Herro at shooting guard. Herro does good things for Kentucky's offense when he's hitting shots, but he's not an ace defender. Brown and Harper both have a significant speed advantage against him, and Kentucky coach John Calipari might be forced to yank him earlier than he'd like to get more perimeter defense on the floor.

Georgia falls 69-49 to No. 12 Kentucky

Or, Keldon Johnson could slot down a position, but cross-matching is always tricky. Plus, you'd rather let Johnson expend most of his energy on offense. The Wildcats' defense has improved since nonconference play, but it's still vulnerable in ball screens. Look for Auburn to run a bunch of those.

Auburn shoots it better at home than it does on the road. Get one of these two (or both) going, and the Tigers will be sitting pretty. Keep an eye on Kentucky's defensive assignments from the opening tip.

Prediction: Auburn 72, Kentucky 70

Home court prevails, in the end, though this could easily go the other way. Auburn's perimeter players could present some real problems for Kentucky, though if the Wildcats are able to play volleyball on the offensive glass, that would swing it.

How we're doing with these predictions

We're 5-4 so far. Not bad, not great.

Virginia Tech vs. Virginia (Jan. 15)

  • Our pick: Virginia Tech
  • Result: Loss

Ohio State vs. Michigan State (Jan. 5)

  • Our pick: Michigan State
  • Result: Win

Virginia vs. Florida State (Jan. 5)

  • Our pick: Virginia
  • Result: Win

Kentucky vs. North Carolina (Dec. 22)

  • Our pick: North Carolina
  • Result: Loss

Gonzaga vs. North Carolina (Dec. 15)

  • Our pick: North Carolina
  • Result: Win

Kansas vs. Villanova (Dec. 15)

  • Our pick: Kansas
  • Result: Win

Gonzaga vs. Tennessee (Dec. 9)

  • Our pick: Gonzaga
  • Result: Loss

North Carolina vs. Michigan (Nov. 28)

  • Our pick: North Carolina
  • Result: Loss

Duke vs. Auburn (Nov. 20)

  • Our pick: Duke
  • Result: Win

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