Meanwhile, even farther from home, Auburn's other new head basketball coach, Nell Fortner, makes her regular season debut in Vermont as her AU women's team takes on the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in a tournament on the campus of the University of Vermont. Tipoff scheduled to start at the same time as the men's game.
The AU women are coming off an NCAA Tournament season, but lost all of their key inside players from last year other than 6-5 center Marita Payne, who is expected to break into the starting lineup this year as a junior.
John Chaney, who is beginning his 23rd season as head coach of the Owls, returns four starters from a team that was 15-14 last year. His squad will enjoy a huge height advantage over the Tigers, who have one of the smallest teams in modern Auburn history.
"We don't have one guy as big as their smallest guys," Lebo says. "They also come off the bench with 6-5 and 6-8 so we'll have quite a challenge there playing on the road. Temple has a great basketball tradition. I think they've been to the postseason 21 consecutive years."
The front line for the home team goes 7-1, 250 (Keith Butler), 6-11, 285 (Wayne Marshall) and 6-8, 210 (Antywane Robinson) while guards Mark Tyndale and Mardy Collins check in at six-foot-five and six-foot-six.
Collins, a preseason All-Atlantic 10 performer at the point guard position, will be about the same size as Quinnel Brown, Auburn's tallest starter. Collins is the leading returning scorer for the Owls. He averaged 15.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game last season.
Auburn's leading returning scorer is senior point guard Ian Young, who averaged 10 points, 2.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds last yearwith most of his time spent at the two guard position. However, with Lewis Monroe transferring to Indiana after Coach Cliff Ellis was fired, Lebo moved Young to the point guard spot to have a veteran player at the position along with talented 6-1 freshman Toney Douglas, who can also play the two guard spot.
Auburn's Nathan Watson dribbles in last year's SEC Tournament in Atlanta.
"Temple has a very good all-conference player in Collins who plays the point guard at 6-6 who's very talented, and a young man who's a very good shot blocker inside (Butler)," Lebo says. "They play differently. They play all zone. With their size this year, and with their length and athleticism it's tough to get shots against them."
Temple's 2-3 zone caused Auburn major problems when the teams last meet in November of 1997 with Temple defeating the Tigers 68-42 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Owls lead the series 2-0
"We've worked a lot on zone offense and hopefully we'll be able to put some balls in the basket, and we'll have to do that early," Lebo says.
The key to Auburn's success, and all season, is to play up-tempo basketball and score in transition and from behind the three-point line. All five of Auburn's project starters and the top reserves have the green light to shoot the three-ball.
"We have a lot of guys who can shoot the three," Lebo says. "The question is how many have we got who are going to make them consistently?"
In addition to Young, the Tigers are expected to start 6-3 senior Nathan Watson, 6-1 senior Troy Gaines and 6-5, 215 freshman Daniel Hayles while bringing Douglas and 6-3 freshman Frank Tolbert off the bench. Transfer Brett Howell, a 6-1 sophomore, will also play in a reserve role.
Brown averaged 7.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists as a junior. He will be called on to guard the Temple post players as will Watson, who averaged 7.5 points and 2.7 rebounds as a junior.
The Auburn women will tip off the season in Burlington, Vermont at the Patrick gymnasium vs. Wisconsin-Green Bay in the Banknorth Classic. Fortner, just the fifth women's hoop coach in Auburn history, replaces Joe Ciampi, who retired after 25 seasons in charge of the Tiger program.
Coach Nell Fortner
Fortner will put three returning starters on the floor to face the Phoenix. Senior guards Natsha Brackett and Nicole Louden along with junior forward Louise Emeagi are expected to provide solid leadership for Fortner's first team.
Brackett averaged 12.4 points and 3.7 rebounds last season and is a preseason All-SEC pick. Louden, a point guard, scored 7.4 points and pulled down 1.5 boards per game. She led the Tigers with 133 assists last year.
Emeagi should be a strong presence inside. She averaged 6.3 point and 3.3 boards as a sophomore, but has been playing better in preseason practices. She got off to a strong start in the Tigers' first exhibition game when she dropped in 25 points and grabbed 16 rebounds at the power forward position.
The Tigers went 2-0 in exhibition games, easily defeating Athletes In Action and EA Sports. Auburn has historically been strong in opening game performances as the Tigers are 26-7 overall with their only opening game loss since 1980 coming last season at the hands of 15th-ranked Notre Dame by a 77-64 score.
Center Marita Payne has a good inside scoring touch for the Tigers.
Wisconsin-Green Bay, which will be playing the Tigers for the first time ever, also opened its preseason 2-0. The Phoenix took a 96-64 win over the Chicago Challengers and a 73-67 win over Wisconsin AAU. Phoenix head coach Kevin Borseth, who is in his seventh year at Green Bay, has a team that is coming off of a 23-8 season and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. His team is picked to win the Horizon league in 2004-2005 and he has a 134-45 record at the school.
The Phoenix are led by Preseason Horizon League Player of the year, senior guard Abby Scharlow. She averaged 16.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists as a junior. Along with Scharlow, Green Bay also returns its other starters from 2003-2004 and five other major contributors.
Senior Tricia Grassell, who averaged 7.7 points and dished out 58 assists, will get the nod at point guard. Senior guard Mary Kulenkamp also started all 31 games for the Phoenix last season and averaged 9.8 points and 4.2 rebounds. Green Bay's other likely starters will be 6-0 junior forward Amy Fieck, who averaged 2.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, and 6-2 sophomore forward Nicole Soulis, who averaged 14.1 points per game as a freshman.
The winner of the Auburn vs. Green Bay game will play at 4 p.m. CST Saturday in the tournament championship against the winner of the Vermont and Louisville game. The consolation game is set for 2 p.m. Saturday.
"The biggest concern is that they have all of their returners back, including Tiffany Mor, who was injured," Fortner says. "They are very experienced. They run a good motion offense and they are excellent three-point shooters so we worry about their tremendous experience.
"With their system, offensively and defensively, they have no learning curve, whereas our players have just learned entirely new systems so our learning curve is very large. They are basically starting out where they ended last season and that is as an NCAA Tournament team.
Commenting on her Tigers, Fortner says, "The good thing about this team is that they are very experienced with five seniors and three juniors so you do have eight players that have done this for the last few years."