Now the challenge moves to a forward as the Tigers face the all-around talents of ACC Player of the Year Josh Howard from Wake Forest Sunday at 3:30 p.m. CST (game time has been switched three times by CBS).
A 6-6, 203-pound senior forward, who was named a first-team All-American by the National Association of Basketball Coaches, Howard was the main reason why a team chosen as the sixth best in the ACC coming into the season was able to win the overall league title. Averaging 19.7 points and 8.3 rebounds, he has the capabilities and talents to take over a game. In 30 games this season he has led the Demon Deacons in scoring 25 times, something that is hard to fathom for a good basketball team like Wake Forest.
Josh Howard is the star player for Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser.
"I can't think of anyone he reminds me of," Auburn's Marquis Daniels said. "He's just a great, well-rounded player. He goes to the boards hard, he can shoot it if you leave him open as well as find his other teammates and he plays defense. He's a well-rounded player."
While the job of defending Howard will likely go to Auburn's defensive stopper Derrick Bird, it won't stop the comparisons from being made and the one-on-one showdown talk between Howard and Daniels. Starting three players 6-8 or taller, Wake Forest will present a challenging matchup for the Tigers and force Daniels to likely guard Jamaal Levy (6-9, 180, So.). That will leave Bird to deal with Howard on the defensive end.
When Auburn has the ball is when the show may take place. His best defender, Prosser said Howard would probably see a lot of time on Daniels in Sunday's game. While Daniels didn't know who Howard reminded him of, Prosser didn't have to think very long when making that same comparison of Daniels.
"He reminds me a lot of Josh Howard," Prosser said. "He takes big shots and he makes big shots. He's a senior that revels in being in that type of situation. He has a bit of Josh in him in that he does a lot of things, he's not one-dimensional. He drives the basketball well and last night of course he shot the three well when St. Joe's went into a zone. That's what I see."
Derrick Bird talks about Wake Forest on Saturday.
With a record of 25-5 overall and finishing 13-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Wake Forest had the type of season few expected before the year began. Comprised of mostly freshmen and sophomores, with only one upperclassman seeing any playing time other than Howard, the Demon Deacons ran roughshod over the conference with their only losses coming at Duke, Virginia and Maryland.
In the loss to Maryland they were dominated on the glass, something that didn't happen often this season. Leading the nation in rebounding margin at 9.3 per contest, Wake Forest will challenge an Auburn front line that can be dominating at times, but also disappear for long stretches. Prosser said he's concerned about Sunday's game because of the physical style that Auburn plays with in the paint.
"They remind me of Maryland," Prosser said. "Sometimes as a coach you watch somebody and try to figure out, ‘Who does this team remind me of that perhaps I'm more familiar with?' They remind me of Maryland. A senior like Daniels reminds me a little bit of Nicholas (Maryland small forward Drew Nicholas). They have good post guys. They certainly played that way last night.
"Killingsworth, Robinson and Davis remind me of the Maryland post guys. They are very athletic and very strong. They can score in a variety of ways. They can make a jump shot, they can go to the offensive boards and they can score on the blocks. We're going to have to play well against their post guys. They are very good at ducking in and being strong to the basket."
Surviving a struggle to make it to the second round after winning 76-73 over East Tennessee State, Wake Forest may look like a team ripe for the picking Sunday in Tampa, but Bird sees it differently. An explosive team that rose from the ashes to the top, similar to Auburn's run to the NCAA Tournament, Wake Forest will give the Tigers all they want and Auburn will need to respond with a strong effort. Just ask the senior guard.
"We know they are a great team," Bird said. "They are the ACC Champs and that says a lot. They bring a lot of physical play to the team. They rebound well and they get down the floor in transition. That's kind of what we've seen so far. We know that we are going to have to go out and play hard for 40 minutes and defend and rebound well. Those are the keys for this game."