Lebo: Gators as Good as Last Season

A look at the No. 1 Florida Gators that will play at Auburn at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn played and dismantled what many view as one of the top starting fives in the country with the 81-57 victory over Alabama on Tuesday. However, the Crimson Tide's talent isn't near what the Tigers will play on Saturday when the No. 1 ranked Florida Gators visit Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum on Saturday at 4 p.m. CST.

"You've got to pick your poison with them," says Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo. "You've got to give up something to try to defend one thing. They can score on the outside and they can certainly hurt you on the inside. If anybody has any suggestions give me a holler."

Taurean Green runs the show at the point for the Gators and also has the ability to get to the basket or knock down the three. He leads the team in scoring at 13.5 per game, but the best pure shooter on the team is Lee Humphrey. The senior guard has been on fire in SEC play, making 19-28 from behind the arch as the Gators are off to a 5-0 record in the league.

Billy Donovan's post players are two of the best in the country in Joakim Noah and Al Horford. Noah exploded on the scene last season as a sophomore and was named the Final Four MVP by leading the Gators to wins over George Mason and UCLA for the national championship. He is averaging 12.8 points and 8.5 rebounds this season. Horford is the classic NBA-type power forward with athleticism at 6-10, 245 pounds and is averaging 11.8 points and 8.6 boards.

"They're excellent in transition and they can hurt you in a variety of ways," Lebo explains. "Our transition D is going to be tested. Everyone's transition D is tested when you play Florida. What makes them so unique is their inside players can make decisions, they can put it on the floor at 6-10, 6-11 and they pass the ball so very well.

"Pressure on the passing on the perimeter is going to be big for us in this game," he adds.

The dirty work is done by small forward Corey Brewer, who has been one of the better defenders in the SEC for the last three seasons. At 6-9, 185 pounds he can score inside and out and is one of the better athletes in college basketball.

"He does everything," Lebo says of Brewer. "He scores for them, he's great in transition. I coached his half-brother at (UT) Chattanooga (Jason Rogan) so I've watched Corey grow up. Defensively he gets his hands on balls, he can guard the ball, he can get out on the wing, he gets on top of the press and he can move. He's shooting the ball better from the perimeter. With his athleticism it's like he's 7-foot out there really with his wingspan and his ability to move."

Brewer is a versatile player.

Off the bench Donovan brings in sophomore Walter Hodge, who has made 57.9 percent of his treys this season, and senior bruiser Chris Richard, a career 64.5 percent shooter from the floor.

With a pair of seniors and four juniors as key players for the Gators, Lebo says that their experience and basketball smarts are two reasons why the Gators are playing so well this season.

"They know what to do with it before they catch it, where guys are open, what they can do and how they're being defended before they catch the basketball, not when they catch it. That's one of the things that separates them. We're fairly athletic and we'll try to use that athleticism as much as we can."

Florida is ranked No. 1 in both polls and boasts an 18-2 overall record. Donovan's squad is getting the job done differently this season than it did on way to a national championship in 2005-2006. After losing Anthony Roberson, Matt Walsh and David Lee, the Gators weren't even ranked to start the year and went a good-but-not-great 10-6 in SEC play before putting it all together for the championship run.

Noah, Horford and Brewer had a chance to be lottery picks but all decided to return for their junior campaigns and another title shot.

"I was surprised," Lebo notes, "more from Noah than anyone else because I thought he was going to be a one or two pick. He's in a different situation than a lot of people where financial it's not the most important thing for him. His personality, it seems like he loves college and loves college basketball."

It's been well documented that Noah is the son of former tennis star Yannick Noah. Green's father, Sidney Green, and Horford's father, Tito Horford, also played in the NBA.

With all of the hype surrounding the team, Lebo says it has just made the 18-2 overall record more impressive.

"In a tournament game, one game, there are people that could get them on a particular night, but they're every bit as good as they were last year," Lebo says. "To be able to take the shots they're getting night in and night out and do it is very special. With all of that hype and the media blitz coming off a national championship, they still have the unselfishness. They have five guys in double figures and their leading guy is averaging about 13."

The Tigers also have solid offensive balance with five players averaging in double figures--Quan Prowell (12.4), Rasheem Barrett (12.4), Frank Tolbert (12.2), Korvotney Barber (12) and Josh Dollard (11.6). Tolbert is expected to come off the bench, which he did successfully in scoring 17 points with zero turnovers against Alabama. The other starter is Quantez Robertson, who leads the SEC with 5.6 assists per game.

Freshman guard Kelvin Lewis, who didn't play in the first seven games of the year or the Alabama game because of an injured foot, is questionable against the Gators.

Auburn is 13-8 overall and 3-3 in league play, which is currently leading the West.

"We will not talk about that at all," Lebo notes. "We don't really worry about that."

The game will be televised by Fox Sports Net South, but tickets are still available only in person at the BEMC ticket office.

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