Undefeated Basketball Tigers Face Stern Test

The 5-0 Auburn men's basketball team will hit the road on Friday and face quite a challenge from a Top-25 Virginia team.

Richmond, Va.--Jeff Lebo's Auburn Tigers are off to an unexpected 5-0 start in his first season as head coach in the SEC. However, things are about to get a lot tougher as the Tigers head to the Seigel Center in Richmond to take on the 24th-ranked and 5-0 Virginia Cavaliers at 6 p.m. CST Friday.

The series between Auburn and Virginia is even at 2-2 with the Cavaliers, who were ranked seventh in the country at the time, winning the only meeting between the two teams in the past 73 years by a 77-72 score in the 2001 Arby's Hardwood Classic in Birmingham.

When the Tigers tip-off against the Cavaliers, Lebo's team will, for the first time this season, face a team with both a large size advantage in the paint and the ability to play fast and aggressive on the perimeter.

"This is one of the better Virginia teams that I have seen in the past couple of years," Lebo explains. "They have a terrific freshman point guard in (Sean) Singletary, and they have athleticism and three senior starters who are experienced and tough.

"They can shoot the basketball and are a very good passing team," the coach notes. "They have been playing a lot more zone than they have been playing in the past and it has been bothering people."

The Cavs, who return four starters and nine players who played in 19 or more games from a team that went 18-13 last season and advanced to the second round of the NIT, are led in scoring by senior Elton Brown. A 6-9, 255-pound center, Brown is averaging 15.8 points per game and pulling down 10.6 rebounds.

Along with Brown, Virginia will go with 6-8 senior forward Jason Clark and 6-5 senior forward Devin Smith inside. Clark is scoring 7.2 points per game while shooting 65 percent from the floor and grabbing six rebounds. Smith averages 14.4 points a game and 5.8 boards.

Outside the Cavs are a bit younger with the 6-0 freshman Singletary getting the nod at point guard and 6-3 sophomore J.R. Reynolds starting at shooting guard. Singletary is averaging 9.6 points and 4.6 assists per game, while Reynolds, who started 18 games last season, is scoring 10.4 points per contest.

Along with a strong starting lineup, Virginia has some young talent coming off the bench as well. A string of sophomores who saw plenty of action last season will bolster the depth for Pete Gillen's team.

Five-foot-eleven guard T.J. Bannister played in 31 games last season and is averaging four points a game of the bench as this season. Along with Bannister, Virginia will go to 6-6 forward Gary Forbes, who is scoring 7.8 points a game, 6-8 forward Donte Minter and 6-10 forward Jason Cain for depth.

The Tigers, who feature three seniors and two freshmen in their starting five, are led by senior point guard Ian Young, who is averaging 20 points per game and 4.3 assists. One of those freshmen, Toney Douglas is the Tigers' second leading scorer and leading rebounder averaging 19 points and eight boards per game.

Ian Young has led the Tigers in scoring so far this season.

Inside the Tigers will look to 6-6 senior forward Quinnel Brown, 6-5 freshman forward Daniel Hayles, 6-5 senior guard Ronny LeMelle, who is back in the lineup after missing the first three games of the season with a knee injury, and 6-10 freshman Ryan Daniel to do the work against the much larger Cavaliers frontline.

Brown is scoring 15.3 points a game and pulling down 5.3 boards while Hayles is averaging 8.3 points and 3.5 rebounds. LeMelle scored five points in his first game back and Daniel has seen limited playing time in the Tigers' first five contests.

Despite the size and depth disadvantage Auburn will face on Friday, Lebo, who will be facing Virginia's Gillen for the first time, says that his team does have one thing going for it right now. "They are confident right now, obviously, with the start that we have had," the coach notes. "We have won a couple of close games. That is half the battle with a lot of teams to have some confidence. We are a team that has confidence, but we'll have to play our best game we've played all year up there in Richmond."

Heading into the game the Tigers will have a bit of an edge offensively averaging 83 points per game, while the Cavs are only scoring 75.2 points per game. However, on the defensive end of the floor is where Auburn will likely be at quite a disadvantage.

Virginia is only allowing opponents to score 55.4 point per game, while Auburn has given up 74.6 points a contest. Also through five games, which includes a 78-60 win over 10th-ranked Arizona, the Cavs have not allowed an opposing team to score more than 60 points.

The Tigers will also have to make up ground on the boards as well. Virginia is pulling down 38.4 rebounds per game and only allowing opponents 31.6 for a rebounding margin of +6.8. The Tigers, on the other hand, grab 35.6 rebounds per game, but allow their opponents 40.2 for a rebounding margin of -4.6.

Both teams shoot the ball pretty well with Virginia having the edge from the field and the Tigers holding the advantage from the perimeter. Virginia averages 48.2 percent from the floor with Auburn shooting 45.2 percent, while the Tigers average 39.6 percent from behind the arc and the Cavaliers shoot 30.8.

With Auburn just coming off a stretch of playing six games in 12 days and facing a team that has them out-manned and outsized, Lebo says the he knows his team is facing quite a challenge. "We will have to play exceptionally well to have a chance there," the coach explains. "We haven't really played a team that has been good on the perimeter and also inside.

"We are getting ready to see a team can play on the perimeter and is great in transition," Lebo adds. "They match up well with us because they can play small. They have speed and quickness and an inside game also."

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