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March Madness: Elite 8 Picks and Best Bets - Kentucky vs. Auburn

MARCH MADNESS: ELITE 8 – MIDWEST REGION FINAL

NO. 2 Kentucky Wildcats (-2 1/2) VS. NO. 5 Auburn Tigers

The winner of Sunday’s Elite 8 March Madness battle will advance to the Final Four, facing the Virginia Cavaliers.

This All-SEC matchup is going to be the story of the “haves” and the “have-nots”. Kentucky got leading scorer P.J. Washington back after missing two games with a foot injury, while the Tigers lost inside leader Chuma Okeke to a knee injury against North Carolina. This will be the third time the teams have met this season. Kentucky won both previous games – 82-80 Jan. 19 and 80-53 Feb. 23. That second meeting was the last time Auburn lost, winning 11 straight games to reach the Elite 8.

Kentucky Wildcats

The Wildcats got an emotional lift from Washington’s. He came off the bench and only played 26 minutes, but hit six of eight shots, including a critical 3-point play down the stretch to finish with 16 points. Tyler Herro made just one 3-pointer, but it came with 26 seconds left and proved to be the difference – leading all Wildcats with 19 points.

Kentucky was able to win without big offensive contributions (again) from two of their key scoring threats – forward Reid Travis attempted just two shots and guard Keldon Johnson made just 3-of-12 shots from the floor – but the two made their presence felt defensively, pulling down half (18) of Kentucky’s 36 rebounds. Kentucky’s bigs dominated inside, out-rebounding Houston 36-23.

Auburn Tigers

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The loss of Okeke is devastating.

He was having his most dominant game of the tournament (20 points and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes), but what won the game for the Tigers was incredible outside shooting in the second half. For the game, Auburn put up 66 shots – 37 from behind the 3-point line. In the second half, the Tigers shot 64 percent (18-28), including 12-of-18 from long distance to pull away from North Carolina. Six players scored in double figures and everyone was launching bombs.

Auburn will be without Okeke, but they still have guards Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, who have combined to score 93 points in Auburn’s three tournament games. Kentucky won’t give Auburn the open 3-point looks North Carolina did. Each long bomb they throw will be contested, because Kentucky knows what makes Auburn tick from experience.

Kentucky vs. Auburn: By the Numbers

Kentucky (30-6): Against the Spread (19-16-1); Over/Under (12-24, 33.3 percent over, 66.7 percent under); In the Tournament – Against the Spread (3-0); Over/Under (three under); Auburn (29-9): Against the Spread (20-16-1); Over/Under (20-17, 54.1 percent over, 45.9 percent under); In the Tournament – Against the Spread (2-1); Over/Under (three over).

Kentucky vs. Auburn: Pick and Best Bets

At midseason, Kentucky transformed to a defense-first approach and the result has been impressive. Through three tournament games, opponents have scored just 158 points (44-56-58). Auburn has averaged 88 points a game in the tournament, but the third meeting is likely going to prevent the Tigers from bombing 3-pointers at will and the under (144½) is the better play in a close game that the Wildcats should win with Okeke leaving the inside more open for Kentucky’s bigs.


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