McNeese enters the contest with an 88-46 victory over Loyola (New Orleans) and a 76-69 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette. The defending Southland Conference Champions return four seniors and a junior to a team that finished last season with a 22-9 record and earned an NIT bid. Leading the Cowboys in scoring is junior Jason Coleman (6-4, 180). Averaging 18 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, the Brooklyn, N.Y., native uses his quickness and strength to get off shots in a variety of ways both inside and on the perimeter.
Inside Fred Gentry (6-7, 225, Sr.) averages 12 points, five rebounds, and three blocks per game as the Cowboys' top inside presence. Rounding out the starting lineup are guard Chauncey Bryant (5-9, 167), who averages seven points per game, Ben Perkins (6-7, 210), who averages four points and 4.5 rebounds and Raynell Brewer (7-1, 210), who scores seven points and pulls down 4.5 rebounds per game.
"McNeese State is a team a lot of people aren't going to be familiar with the name," Auburn coach Cliff Ellis says. "It's a game that we think is going to be a tough game. McNeese won 22 games a year ago and they have a lot of people back. They went to the NIT just like we did and when you've got some people back you look to go from the NIT to the NCAA and that's what McNeese is looking to do. I like their team."
Coming off a game in which it shot just 37.5 percent from the floor, 50 percent from the free throw line and committed 25 turnovers, Ellis says his young team got a chance to experience a style of play similar to what it can expect when SEC play begins. After a physically draining game like the one the Tigers played at Rutgers, he says the experience can do nothing but help his team.
"I think the Rutgers game was good," he notes. "It was a physical game just like a conference game. They had a great crowd, a hostile enviroment and the crowd was into it on top of it. We got that feeling. I think that the experience will be good for us. We had our own opportunities to win. It didn't happen but I think we learned a lot from that, especially our new guys who got to see what physical type basketball is about. That's the way that game was played and that's the way our league will be."
Look for Auburn to start the same lineup on Tuesday as it has done all year with the lone exception being a possible move to Brandon Robinson at power forward instead of Marco Killingsworth. Coming off a solid game at Rutgers when he scored a team-high 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting and had seven rebounds in just 20 minutes, Robinson may supplant Killingsworth at power forward after the Montgomery native struggled in his first road start with just six points and three rebounds.
Filling out the rest of the starting lineup will be the normal rotation of Dwayne Mitchell (4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists) and Derrick Bird (10 points, 4 rebounds) at the guards, Kyle Davis (7.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.7 blocks) at center and leading scorer Marquis Daniels (13.7 points, 5 rebounds) at small forward. With the depth to play at least 10 players in every game, Ellis says that is the plan for the remainder of the pre-conference schedule as he tries to get his young players as much experience as possible.
"We're just going to play with a lot of people," Ellis says. "I think it's starting to come together. We're playing a lot of people but I'm liking the way we're coming as a team. Our young players just need to get some time. They just need to keep coming."
One player that has yet to bring his "A" game to the table this season is junior guard Adam Harrington. Supplanted in the starting lineup by Bird, Harrington is averaging just five points per game in 15 minutes of action and has made just 38.5 percent of his shots this season. Down over 10 points from his scoring average last season, an improved Harrington could make a big difference to this young team as the Tigers get closer to conference play.
"We look for him to pick up his scoring more," Ellis notes about the play of Harrington. "I think defensively and rebounding he's improved, but we need him to pick up his scoring."
This game begins a three-game road swing for the Cowboys as they travel to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama on Thursday night before playing at Louisiana-Monroe Saturday night. This is the first of a three-game homestand for the Tigers before their anticipated showdown with Top 10 Virginia in the Arby's Hardwood Classic in Birmingham on Saturday, Dec. 8.
The Tigers return to action Friday night when they take on Florida International. Tip-off for the game is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. Auburn then is host to Louisiana Tech Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. for the final game in the homestand.