"We'll treat it like a road game," says Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo.
Auburn lost a true road game in Athens 86-79 on Feb. 17 in a game that featured 60 fouls and 70 free throws. Dennis Felton's teams are known for turning basketball games into wrestling matches, and the Tigers are hoping they don't get caught in that style again.
"We need to find a mismatch somewhere and try to play as much team ball as possible," Auburn forward Quan Prowell notes. "They beat us the first time and I think we had a lot of fouls in that game, if I remember correctly. We've got to learn how to play tough and not foul--that'll be a big key."
"They present a lot of problems for us, one, because of their size and two, because they can shoot the ball from the perimeter," Lebo says. "I think everybody they've got at the perimeter is shooting at a pretty good percentage from three and then inside they've got (Takais) Brown, who can flat-out score the ball in there. He's big, strong and physical and can rebound."
Brown had 14 points and five boards against Auburn and is the team's leading scorer averaging 14 ppg. Mike Mercer was scoring 13.6 ppg before a season-ending knee injury against South Carolina on Feb. 10. The Bulldogs won the next two games without him, but lost three of four to close the regular season.
"They've struggled a little bit coming down the stretch playing consistently without Mercer," Lebo says. "That's hurt them."
The NIT dropped to a 32-team field and gives automatic bids to regular season conference champions that don't make it to the NCAA Tournament. With a thin line between an NCAA bid and no postseason bid at all, Lebo says the Tigers probably need to win two games in Atlanta to make it to postseason. The winner of Auburn vs. Georgia will play Florida at the same time on Friday.
Most experts project that the only SEC teams that make the big dance will be Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Tennessee, but Lebo says the league was way too tough to not get more into the 65-team field.
"They may take Alabama and Arkansas over Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn," he explains. "If you look at non-conference wins between those three you don't see a whole lot of them that stand out. If we only get four in it will be disgraceful if we're the No. 1 RPI league in the country. They're penalizing us for being so good. If it happened today I think we only get four in."