Marshall: Lebo Schools The Hall of Famer

After watching with some amazement as Auburn ran away and hid from Temple on Sunday afternoon, I sought out an expert at halftime to tell me what had happened.

Who better than Daymeon Fishback, a stalwart on Auburn's 1999 Southeastern Conference championship team and now color commentator on radio broadcasts.

Temple, Fishback said, didn't know what to do against Auburn's changing defenses. He said the Owls tried to run plays, the plays didn't work and they had no answers.

In short, he said that the young coach on the Auburn bench was outcoaching the Hall of Famer on the Temple bench and outcoaching him badly for the second consecutive season.

In his first Auburn game, Lebo took an undersized team to Philadelphia and knocked off Temple in an 80-78 stunner last season.

The Tigers went on Sunday to win in a 73-42 laugher. It was probably the most impressive win yet for second-year coach Jeff Lebo. Temple's John Chaney, he of 729 victories, sat stoically on the bench, unable to do anything about what was unfolding in front of him.

Let us not forget that this same Temple team, playing at home, beat Alabama 68-58 on Dec. 10 after leading by as many as 20 points. The loss knocked Alabama, ranked No. 19 at the time, reeling out of the national rankings.

Cheney's matchup zone and slow-paced offense have been tormenting Temple's opponents for a quarter of a century. Those things didn't torment Auburn. From the time Frank Tolbert slammed home a dunk off an alley-oop from Quantez Robertson on Auburn's first possession, it was obvious where this one was headed.

Freshmen like point guard Quantez Robertson have added athleticism to the AU basketball team.

You don't have to be a basketball expert to see that Auburn has a special coach in charge of its basketball program. You don't need a crystal ball to see that Auburn will be good again in basketball and that it won't be long.

The Tigers play very hard and with great passion. They have some very talented players, though many of them are still teen-agers with much to learn about the dog-eat-dog of SEC basketball. But when you play hard and you have talent, you have a chance.

Even this season, with five freshmen and a sophomore transfer in the playing rotation, the Tigers will be a threat against anybody that visits Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. That includes Kentucky, Alabama, LSU, all of them.

The road is another matter. Winning consistently on the road is sometimes the last step a program takes on its way to becoming a contender. When you are playing five freshmen, it's a tall order. But the time will come when Korvotney Barber, Robertson, Josh Dollard, Joey Cameron and Rasheem Barrett are no longer freshmen.

Last season, with by far the shortest team playing in any big-time conference, Lebo won more and accomplished more than anyone could have imagined. Now he's confounding the experts with his band of freshmen.

Hal Baird, the man who ran the Auburn athletic department for a year after athletics director David Housel announced his resignation, is responsible for bringing Lebo to Auburn from UT-Chattanooga.

Baird made a heck of a call. If Lebo gets the support he needs and deserves, he'll be Auburn's basketball coach for a long, long time and will win a lot of games.

If he doesn't get that support, who could blame him if he left for the first good opportunity that presented itself? And if that were to happen, if Auburn couldn't keep the coach who may well be as good as any it ever had, Auburn basketball will be doomed to mediocrity or worse.

Lebo and his family love Auburn. They believe, as do others, that it is a terrific place to raise a family. He believes Auburn can win basketball championships with the kinds of young men that make people proud.

It was something to watch Sunday as the Tigers, playing with gut-busting effort on both ends, dismantled a veteran and talented Temple team.

Auburn basketball is on the fast track back to the upper division of the SEC. With Lebo at the helm, it's matter of time until the Tigers are contending again for postseason play.

Based on what happened Sunday, it might happen sooner than you think.

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