Young Tigers to Face Young Bulldogs

Auburn, Ala.--A pair of young basketball teams and rebuilding programs face off Saturday in Auburn as the Georgia Bulldogs come to town for an SEC battle.

Auburn, Ala.--A pair of young basketball teams and rebuilding programs face off Saturday in Auburn as the Georgia Bulldogs come to town for an SEC battle.

The Tigers (8-8 overall, 0-5 SEC) are in year two of rebuilding under coach Jeff Lebo and are expected to start four freshmen and a senior. The Bulldogs(12-7 overall, 2-4 SEC), in coach Dennis Felton's third season, don't even have a senior who plays regularly.

Lebo notes that the situation in Auburn and Athens are similar in a lot of ways.

"They're better and they've got a little more offensive firepower," he says. "But they're still young. They don't start any freshmen, but they're going to bring some off the bench. It's very similar situations, dealing with things that went on before them that they're digging out of hole. I think it's very similar situations."

Both programs have been dealing with scholarship losses and recruiting restrictions caused by the previous coaching staffs at both schools. While Auburn lost most of last year's undersized team, the Bulldogs return just about everybody from the previous season, but still rely on many sophomores and freshmen.

"Georgia is an improved basketball team from last year and more experienced than last year," Lebo says. "The biggest difference is that they're scoring the ball better, especially from the perimeter, than they did last year.

"They always defend well and they're always pretty tough," he adds. "They're coming off a disappointing performance at LSU where they didn't shoot the ball very well. They're going to shoot better when they come in here on Saturday."

Georgia's Levi Stukes blocks a shot vs. Florida.

Georgia is led in the starting lineup by junior guard Levi Stukes at 11.6 points per game and sophomore guard Sundiata Gaines at 10.8 ppg. They also get a lift off the bench in the backcourt from a pair of highly-touted freshmen guards, Mike Mercer (11 ppg) and Billy Humphrey (9.4 ppg). Starting sophomore guard Channing Toney also averages 9.4 ppg.

Rounding out the starting lineup are a pair of big men, Steve Newman and Dave Bliss, who certainly have the size to play in the SEC but lack the athletic ability to be effective on a regular basis.

With most of the team returning from last season and the addition of a strong recruiting class, Georgia has 10 players who average double figures in minutes and five guards who average more than nine points per contest.

"They're playing a lot of people," Lebo says. "If you look at their numbers they're playing nine or 10 guys with double figure minutes. They're the same guys, but those guys have gotten better. Now they have a little more depth and they're playing some different people. They're playing a little different style, doing a couple of different things, than they did last year because they have a little more firepower in the backcourt."

Auburn will continue to be without forward Emanuel Willis, who has an injured ankle and has been in an air cast. Willis is expected miss action for at least two more weeks.

Emanuel Willis is shown in action prior to his injury.

Guard Rasheem Barrett also continues to be bothered by a nagging back. The freshman guard, who leads the team with 11.8 points, has been missing practice on and off for a couple of weeks, but is expected to play against Georgia.

It is well noted that the Auburn vs. Georgia rivalry in football has been close to even over the years with Auburn holding a 53-48-8 advantage. In basketball it's even closer. Since the teams started playing during the 1907-1908 season the series record is tied at 84-84.

Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. CST and will be televised on JP Sports.

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