"It's going to be a hard matchup," Lebo says. "It will be a challenge. It will be good for us in a way because we'll have to play a different style. I don't think we'll see this in our league. It's just not what our league is. It will be a different challenge for us to defend. That's why basketball is unique. You have so many different ways to play and they've found a way to play that is very effective for them. You go from one extreme to the other in basketball, in a day sometimes. We'll have to make those adjustments."
The Bulldogs come into the game with a record of 1-1 on the season and fresh off a victory over East Carolina, but that's not the biggest game they've had this season. In an opening game loss to North Carolina is where they made their mark. On the road at the Dean Smith Center, the Bulldogs lost to defending national champion North Carolina 83-80 on a last-second three pointer. Lebo says when watching that film it's easy to see why this team is very tough to play.
"They really had every opportunity to beat North Carolina," Lebo says. "They play a unique style. They have experienced players, they're quick, play one-on-one, and can shoot the three. That's a scary thing. They start four seniors and a junior and they can all beat you off the dribble. They've got an inside player who can score, an Australian kid, who has great skills. They took 707 threes last year so when they're making them they're going to be tough to beat."
The Bulldogs are led by senior center Simon Conn (6-9, 250), who is averaging 20.5 points per game and is coming off a 25-point outburst against East Carolina. His running mate on the wing is Chris Gash (6-4, 220, Jr.), who scored 21 against the Pirates and is averaging 14 per game this season. Rounding out the big men is 6-6 senior forward Brian Bender and his 11 ppg. average.
In the backcourt the tandem of Tim Jennings (6-3, 190, Sr.) and T.J. McCullough (6-1, 175, Sr.) provide solid leadership and outside shooting for the Bulldogs. Coming off the bench, freshman Ricky McPhee (6-2, 180) scored 20 in the opener against North Carolina and has the ability to heat it up from long range.
Smooth shooting Rasheem Barrett will be a key for the Tigers off the bench.
For the Tigers the game is about the growth process as five newcomers prepare for their second ever game in an Auburn uniform. With just one senior that gets a tangible number of minutes and no junior, Lebo says his team is just focusing on getting better and not worrying about the opponent at the moment.
"I think it's hard," Lebo says of playing so many young players. "We've had a lot of practices and now the games start, which is what they play for. This is a hard, long season and I think the freshmen especially will learn how long the season is. It's just a long, hard thing.
"Being able to play and compete every day and practice and get better and practice and make changes, we're trying to focus on what we do. With a young team that is as much as they can handle. When you start worrying too much about what the other team does we go into overload."
Auburn is led by senior Ronnie LeMelle (6-5, 200), who scored 20 in the season-opening win against Lipscomb. Coming off the bench, freshman Rasheem Barrett (6-5, 220) scored 13 points and had four rebounds in just 13 minutes of action. The only other Tiger player in double figures was sophomore forward Daniel Hayles (6-5, 215), who also came off the bench to score 10 points.
In the starting lineup for the Tigers will be LeMelle, sophomore Frank Tolbert (6-4, 210), and freshman Quantez Robertson (6-3, 190) in the backcourt and freshmen Josh Dollard (6-7, 225) and Joey Cameron (6-8, 240) in the middle. Dollard is perhaps Auburn's most important player coming off an eight-point, 10-rebound effort in the opener. He will have to continue to give the Tigers quality effort in the paint if they hope to come out on top.
Tip-off for the game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday and it will be shown live on CSS with former Auburn coach Sonny Smith and Paul Ellen handling the on-air duties.