Auburn coach Jeff Lebo hasn't had a lot of memorable moments in this transition season for the AU program, but he says that he appreciates and will remember the effort he has received from Quinnel Brown, Nathan Watson, Ian Young and reserve Troy Gaines.
Watson says Auburn's record isn't a big surprise considering the team had four key players, including the only three big men, transfer out of the program last summer after Cliff Ellis was fired. The seriously undersized Tigers are 12-16 overall and 3-12 in the SEC.
"It is kind of understandable," he says. "When we started the season we knew we were going to be young and small. That is kind of a bad combination. We kind of knew it could have happened and knew we were just going to have to come out hard and what happened, happened."
Watson said he wonders what his team's record would have been if big men had stayed at Auburn. "I think about that all of the time," Watson says. "We were faithful to Auburn. We decided to stay here when we went through all of the drama and stuff in the summer time. I look at it like we are laying the foundation for the new crop that is coming into Auburn."
Quinnel Brown goes to the basket in a home victory vs. Tennessee.
Brown, who is averaging a very respectable 12.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game as Auburn's designated big man, says, "We play hard every day and try to win. I think the group that comes in next year is going to be bigger, but they are not going to have the experience. I think next year will probably be another regrouping year, but I am sure it is going to be a little bit better next year."
Commenting on the players who left, Brown says, "We have talked about it before. I guess they did what they thought was best for them and all of us did what we thought was best for us. We can't go back in and change anything now."
Watson, a former walk-on guard from Fort Payne High School, is having his most impressive season with averages of 11.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
Ian Young is second in the SEC in free throw shooting this season at 87.2 percent.
Auburn's other senior starter, Young, is averaging 13.4 points, 4.1 assists and 4.0 rebounds per contest. Young is on pace to finish as the best free throw shooter in AU history with his percentage of 86.2 in his two seasons as a Tiger.
Gaines has averaged only 3.5 minutes per contest, but has won praise from Lebo for being a good practice player and not complaining about a lack of game action.
If those seniors are going to go out as winners in their final home game they will have to snap a five-game losing streak and defeat an Arkansas squad that was an easy 95-59 winner in the first meeting on Jan. 22 in Fayetteville.
The Razorbacks, who are 18-10 overall and 6-9 in the SEC, are led by 6-7, 210 sophomore guard Ronnie Brewer, who is averaging 16.4 points and 4.9 rebounds. He burned the Tigers with 23 points and seven rebounds in the first meeting.
Lebo says that 6-10, 250-pound freshman center Darian Townes, who averages 9.9 points and 4.4 rebounds, will be a matchup problem on Saturday.
Coach Stan Heath is expected to start 6-8, 239 junior forward Rashard Sullivan (2.4 points, 3.3 rebounds), 6-5, 212 sophomore Olu Famutimi (9.5, 4.2 rebounds) and 6-4, 181 junior guard Dontell Jefferson (4.3 points, 2.1 rebounds).
Arkansas used its quality depth to cause the Tigers problems in the first game. Off the bench, 6-1, 203 junior guard Eric Ferguson is averaging 9.0 points and 4.3 assists and 6-9, 243 freshman Charles Jackson is scoring 5.7 per game and adding 2.7 rebounds.
Troy Gaines is averaging 0.9 points this season in limited playing time.
Auburn, a team that counts on its three-point shooting to cause problems for opponents, will face a team that is allowing opponents to make just 29.7 percent of its shots from outside the three-point line, which is the best figure in the SEC going into the last game of the regular season.
In addition to the seniors, the Tigers will start freshman guards Toney Douglas and Frank Tolbert. Douglas is averaging 16.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists and Tolbert is averaging 6.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and one assist.
Freshman Daniel Hayles, a part-time starter, is expected to come off the bench. He averages 6.9 points and 2.8 rebounds.
While Douglas and Tolbert have been able to play their natural guard positions, Young moved from shooting guard to point guard this season, Brown moved from a role as a big guard/small forward to center and shooting guard Watson is playing forward and sometimes matches up against the opposition center.
"They have handled it very well," Lebo says of the position changes. "They are all playing positions that they didn't play the year before.
"Two them are really playing out of position in Watson and Brown. Ian played more two and a little one last year, but more of the two and then he had to move over to the one. It was a transition for them. It is hard. I feel for Nate. I feel for Q. They continually have to battle guys who are so much bigger and stronger than they are. It just wears on you. You wish you could go out there and do something to try to help. It has been difficult for them.
"I can tell Nate that he is going to be the five man, and he will go out there and battle the big guys," Lebo says. "They do whatever you ask them to do--he and Q. They never look at you funny. They never came to me and said, ‘Coach, I don't want to play that position.' They said whatever you need me to do, I will do for the team, and they have that this year."