By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer
The Cats outshot Auburn from the field from inside and outside the arc, but their field goal shooting was not enough to offset Auburn’s dominance on the Boards that produced a 6-17 deficit on second chance points. Add the fact that the officials awarded Auburn 44 free throws to Kentucky’s 24 that further dug a hole for the Cats to the tune of a 20-33 scoring deficit from the line. Those two factors produced a scoring deficit of 27-50, and it is quite amazing that the Cats were still in the game with 4 minutes to play and two starters having fouled out.
While the Cats have dropped a second road game in SEC play, at South Carolina and at Auburn, the most recent game trends should be sounding alarms within the Wildcat camp. Against a weak Vanderbilt team, the Cats game ANE at Rupp was only 0.084 ppp, which was the weakest game by the Cats since they fell to Utah in Las Vegas before Christmas. However, against Auburn, the game ANE remained very low, 0.105 ppp.
In contrast, Mississippi State will enter Rupp Arena Tuesday night as one of, if not the hottest team in the SEC. The Bulldogs have won 5 of their last six games, and their low point over the last 3 weeks occurred in the SEC-Big 12 challenge with their 1 point loss at Oklahoma with a game ANE of 0.164 ppp. In their five wins in this run, Mississippi State’s game ANEs have been 0.535 ppp, 0.576 ppp, 0.194 ppp, 0.357 ppp, and 0.338 ppp. The Bulldogs have played better basketball over the course of these six games than this Kentucky team has played in any single game since beating Michigan State in the season opener.
Against this backdrop for Tuesday’s game, this specific game will be the most important game on Mississippi States remaining SEC schedule because a win over the Cats at Rupp in all likelihood will elevate the Bulldogs into the driver’s seat for the 4th two round bye for the SEC Tournament next month. It is critical for the Cats as well, because any home loss in conference play is usually fatal to any opportunity to compete for a regular season SEC championship. IT IS TIME FOR THIS GROUP OF YOUNG CATS TO GROW UP!
Mississippi State’s current ANE is an 0.187 ppp against a schedule strength of 0.063 ppp and a tempo of 66.5 possessions per game. The Cats bring an ANE of 0.199 ppp into this game having played a schedule strength of 0.067 ppp at a tempo of 69.7 possessions per game.
Based on this data for these teams, an ANE analysis indicates this game will have a tempo of 68 possessions with the Cats winning by 5 points, 73-68.