Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. as Jeff Lebo's short but surprising Tigers look to improve their record to 5-0. Colorado State out of the Mountain West Conference brings a 3-1 record to Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum along with lots of tall people.
Auburn had no trouble beating the Rams last year, but the Tigers are a very different-looking team this season with their four-guard and five-guard lineups.
"They are a team that is really a half-court oriented team," Lebo says of the Rams. "They try to pound it inside. They have great size and strength. I think they have three seven-footers and one 6-10 player.
"Their guard play has not been good to date, but inside they are a factor around the basket when shots go up they are so big," Lebo adds. "It is hard to simulate that in practice because they make Ryan Daniel look small."
Matt Nelson, a 7-1, 265 senior center, could be the toughest matchup problem for the Tigers. He averages 11.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest. Pro scouts from eight NBA teams came to last year's Auburn vs. Colorado State game to check out Nelson, who scored 12 points and added four rebounds, but was outplayed by the Auburn big men.
Nelson has a career 61.4 field goal percentage, which is the best in school history, and is fourth in blocked shots with 127. He is ninth in school history in points with 1,256.
The leading scorer for the Rams this season is 6-6, 215 senior forward Matt Williams, who averages 14.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest.
The other player in double figures as a scorer is 6-3, 210 junior guard Michael Morris, the son of former Tiger star and NBA player Chris Morris. Morris, who is one of five CSU starters from the state of Texas, is averaging 11 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
Stuart Creason, a 7-0, 260 redshirt freshman, is averaging 5.3 points and 2.5 rebounds per game and is scheduled to start. Reserve Jason Smith, a 7-0, 225 freshman, is averaging 8.5 points and 3.3 rebounds off the bench. The other big man, 6-10, 245 sophomore Stephen Verwers, is averaging 2.5 points and one rebound per game and also has a reserve role.
Coach Jeff Lebo
"We will have to continue to pressure the basketball and make people put it on the floor," Lebo says of his Tigers, who will again go with their starting lineup that features no player taller than six-foot-six Quinnel Brown.
"We have to get up and pressure people," Lebo adds. "If we sag back off the perimeter and let them look inside it could be disastrous for us. We will have a tendency to foul a little more than I would like, but what happens is we are so different--so odd to guard--for big guys on the defensive end it is a hard matchup. Plus, we get extra points for that perimeter shot so we will continue to put those up from the outside against Colorado State to bring their big guys out."
Lebo's Tigers are hitting a very impressive 43.5 percent of their three-point shots. Of the 229 field goals the Tigers have taken this season, slightly more than half (115) have been three-pointers.
That has helped overcome a deficit of 4.8 rebounds per game as well as a deficit of just over two turnovers per outing.
Senior Ian Young is leading the Tigers in scoring at 20 points per game while adding 4.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds. Young has been playing point guard and has also seen duty at the two guard spot.
Freshman guard Toney Douglas is averaging 19 points and a team-leading eight rebounds per game.
Senior forward Brown is averaging 15.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per contest. He has been doing the extra heavy lifting as the man assigned to guard the opposition's biggest big man.
Auburn's fourth player averaging in double figures, reserve freshman guard Frank Tolbert, is hitting for 10.8 points per contest plus 3.0 rebounds.
Ronny LeMelle made his 2004-2005 debut in Auburn's last outing, a 79-67 victory over Louisiana Tech on Saturday. He scored five points in 17 minutes of court time after watching from the sideline since injuring his knee in preseason. Lebo says he is encouraged by what he saw from the senior.
Colorado State lost on Saturday, falling 77-67 in Indianapolis to IUPUI. Victories have come against Regis (78-49), Northern Colorado (70-68) and Nebraska-Omaha (88-64).
Tiger Ticket Extra: Chris Morris has another son who will be following his brother Michael to Colorado State. Sean Morris has signed a letter of intent to play for the Rams next season...Like his father at Auburn, Michael Morris is an excellent shot blocker. He is currently seventh on the school's all-time list with 87...Colorado State's homecourt, Moby Arena, was used in the 1976 movie One On One starring Robby Benson, Annette O'Toole and Melanie Griffith...Freshman forward Ryan Daniel saw his first significant action in Saturday's game. He was on the floor for five minutes vs. Louisiana Tech and grabbed one rebound, but did not score. Lebo says he hopes to see his tallest player (6-11) earn more playing time as the season progresses.