Ultimate Guide to Betting Kentucky-Auburn: Time to Buy-Low on the Cats?

Ultimate Guide to Betting Kentucky-Auburn: Time to Buy-Low on the Cats? article feature image

© Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Valentime To Pick Winners Day! As you sit down to peruse the college hoops betting slate today, we have you covered for every angle of Kentucky’s visit to Auburn (-8.5). For your reference, we cut the preview into the following sections:

  • Setting the stage
  • What’s at stake
  • What the sharps are betting
  • Key trends
  • Situational angles
  • Scheme analysis
  • Statistical matchups
  • Who we like

Kentucky at Auburn (-8.5)

9 p.m. ET

The Setup

By Stuckey

What I’m about to say might read more like an SEC college football Saturday preview, but I promise it is in reference to a basketball game. Unranked Kentucky heads to Auburn to take on a top 10 Tigers squad that sits on top of the SEC standings.

The Tigers come into this game having won six of their past seven, but they did lose their last home game as a 6.5-point favorite to Texas A&M. They will host a Kentucky squad that has lost three straight. That losing streak could easily be four, as it was fortunate to beat Vandy at home in overtime.

This is the first and only regular season meeting between these two teams. Auburn is 1-19 straight-up against Kentucky in the regular season since 2000. However, it did get that lone win the last time UK visited Auburn in January 2016.

The Stakes

By Stuckey

In the Division I men’s basketball committee’s early reveal of the top-16 seeds, Auburn was the highest ranked 2-seed. The Tigers were actually a 1-seed back in 1999, but have not made the NCAA tournament since 2003.

In regards to the Cats, even with a loss on Wednesday, they should still safely navigate their way into the tourney field. However, their seed will continue to plummet if they don’t turn it around soon.

Believe it or not, Kentucky currently sits in a tie for seventh place with Mississippi State in an SEC regular season race that Auburn leads by 1.5 games. Auburn has a realistic shot at winning its first league title since 1999. The Tigers have only won two regular season SEC championships in program history. Kentucky has done so 48 times.

In regards to the SEC tournament, a Wildcats loss could drop them into a tie for eighth place. However, they would still likely finish in the top 10, which would at least give them a first-round bye. An upset win, meanwhile, would give Kentucky an outside chance at a top-four finish to get a double bye, something Auburn essentially has locked up.

Sharp Report

By PJ Walsh

Recreational bettors are thrilled to grab Kentucky as such a large underdog, while sharper players have been confidently laying the points with Auburn so far today. Pinnacle opened the Tigers as 8.5-point favorites and despite receiving only 35% of spread wagers, the line has moved up to Auburn -9.5.

Situational Angle

By Stuckey

This is a prime situational spot to back the Cats, but I’m just not sure Kentucky is playing well enough to take advantage on the road. Similar to last night with Oklahoma (in a game the Sooners probably should have covered), Kentucky should come in with extra desperation after an 0-3 start to February. Meanwhile, Auburn might have less of a chip on its shoulder with a two-game lead in the loss column in the SEC, especially after constantly seeing its name on the 2-seed line over the past few days. Having said that, the Cats will always get every team’s best effort, especially away from Lexington.

Schematically Speaking

By Jordan Majewski

When Auburn Has The Ball

Auburn has the best offense in the SEC and the sixth-most efficient unit in the country. Bruce Pearl is well known for his flex continuity, quick-strike offense that operates out of a secondary fast break. This year’s Tigers have run it phenomenally thanks to the best PG in the league (yes, I’m aware of Collin Sexton and Tremont Waters) and perhaps the most underrated PG in the nation, Jared Harper. While the Tigers are known for their up-tempo pace under Pearl, they’ve actually been far superior operating in the half court than in transition.

Given the outstanding PG play of Harper, it sounds counter-intuitive to suggest that Coach Cal should press Auburn, but I think it’s perhaps his only option. The press could disrupt Auburn’s flex action and utilize Kentucky’s massive height/length advantage in the full court, while providing a spark for the Cats’ listless halfcourt offense.

If it doesn’t press, UK will get picked apart by Harper and a modified flex that features undersized but crafty and athletic bigs, and wings like DeSean Murray, Anfernee McLemore and Mustapha Heron who are constantly cutting to the basket. It also sounds like sharp-shooting off-guard Bryce Brown’s shoulder has healed enough for him to play for the Tigers. Press or get picked apart if you’re Cal.

When Kentucky Has The Ball

To put it bluntly, the Wildcats aren’t good offensively. They currently rank 12th in offensive efficiency in SEC play, and they’ve failed to tally more than 1 point per possession in any of their past three games (all losses). Calipari doesn’t have a single reliable shooter, their spacing in the halfcourt is terrible, and the ball sticks at almost every single position. Essentially the only possessions where the UK offense looks competent in the half court is off 1-4 high ball screens for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

All that said, Auburn isn’t the worst defensive match up for UK. First, the Cats draw contact at a high rate, and Auburn’s aggressive defense tends to put teams on the stripe (Kentucky actually hitting the freebies, though, is something we will touch on shortly). Second, UK is a solid offensive rebounding team. Second-chance points might be its best offense, as Auburn’s overall lack of size has hurt it on the defensive glass. In fact, per Synergy, UK’s putback scoring has been the most efficient aspect of its offense, which is equal parts encouraging and sad. Third (and this has nothing to do with schematics), Cal has been laying on the “woe is us” act pretty thick this week. That typically means he thinks his team can compete.

Statistical Matchups

By Stuckey

If the refs call this game tight, Auburn should have a significant advantage. The Tigers shoot 77.7% from the line, good enough for ninth in the country. Conversely, the Cats shoot just 68.7% from the charity stripe, which puts them 260 spots lower than Auburn at 269th in the country.

Kentucky’s 3-point defense should give Big Blue Nation some hope, as its perimeter length holds teams to just 29.1% from deep (third-best in Division 1). Perimeter defense is key against an Auburn team that strokes it from behind the arc at 39.0%, the 29th best clip in the nation.

Getting Trendy

By Evan Abrams and John Ewing

John Calipari’s squad has lost three straight games for just the ninth time since 2005. In the game following the previous eight instances, Kentucky won five, but only went 2-6 ATS.

Auburn enters this game 10-2 ATS vs. the SEC this season (best in the SEC), while Kentucky is just 3-9 ATS vs. SEC opponents (T-worst in conference).

What’s Your Favorite Bet?

Stuckey: Not sure if I trust these young Cats enough to throw money at them, but this is a great buy-low/sell-high opportunity. Initial Lean UK +8.5

Jordan: A powerhouse offense vs. a very inefficient one. Lean Auburn -8.5

Editor’s note: The opinion on this game is from the individual writers, and is based on their research, analysis and perspective. It is independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.