Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. CST at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum for a game that will be televised by ESPN2.
Auburn, 9-3, comes into the game following an 80-57 loss to one of the nation's hottest teams, the Xavier Musketeers. The Razorbacks, 11-3, are coming off an 85-78 win over Baylor in which they shot a season-high 60 percent from the three-point line.
Auburn has won five of its last six games, but is still battling to overcome injuries to center Boubacar Sylla and forwards Korvotney Barber and Lucas Hargrove. Sylla and Barber are sidelined indefinitely while Hargrove is trying to get back in shape for extended playing time. With the Razorbacks featuring one of the tallest and most experienced lineups in the SEC, the opener would be a tough test for the Tigers, even if they had their full lineup available for action.
Arkansas returns most of its squad from last season's group that finished 21-14 overall including a first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Southern Cal. The Razorbacks, however, don't return their head coach. Pelphrey was hired away from South Alabama to take over for Stan Heath. Pelphrey was a former assistant of Billy Donovan at Florida, but this will be his first SEC game as a head coach.
One of the key returnees for the Razorbacks is pre-season All-SEC pick Patrick Beverly, a 6-1, 180 sophomore guard who was also on the preseason watch list for the Wooden and Naismith awards. He is averaging 12.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.
However, of bigger concern to Lebo is the Arkansas frontline that features 7-0, 245-pound center Steven Hill (4.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.9 blocks), 6-10 Darian Townes (12.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.6 blocks) and 6-9 Charles Thomas (10.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists). All three are seniors.
Auburn has been limited by the injuries and has been forced to play zone defense in many situations when Lebo would prefer to be in man-to-man. This makes it difficult to defend teams that shoot three-pointers well, as evidenced in Auburn's game against Xavier in which the Musketeers made 16-26 from behind the arc. This season, Auburn's opponents are shooting 35 percent from three-point range and 43 percent overall. However, in Auburn's losses to Xavier and West Virginia (47 percent), its opponents shot a much higher three-point percentage.
This season, Arkansas has struggled at shooting threes. Going into their final pre-SEC game vs. Baylor, the Razorbacks were making only 29 percent behind the arc. Before beating Baylor, Arkansas had only shot better than 30 percent in one other game, a 90-59 win over Northwestern State. Limiting the Razorbacks percentage on threes is likely to be a top priority for Lebo's Tigers.
For Auburn to win the game Thursday night, it may try to use the same formula that it used when the teams met for the second time last season. The Tigers held the Razorbacks to 17 percent shooting from three-point range and more than held their own on the boards, surprisingly out-rebounding the Razorbacks 43-31.
Basketball Notes: The Tigers and Razorbacks have not played a common opponent this season...Arkansas is 6-10 all-time in games played at Auburn, but has a 14-2 edge vs. the Tigers in games played in Fayetteville...Auburn has won four of its last five games vs. Arkansas at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum...This is just the third time the Tigers and Razorbacks have squared off in an SEC opener with Arkansas winning both of those games...In its first 10 games, Arkansas turned the ball over an average of 18.2 per contest. In the past four games that number has dropped to 15.0 while forcing 20.3 opponent turnovers...Steven Hill is sixth in SEC history in blocked shots with 271. The record of 412 was set by Shaquille O'Neal at LSU. Kyle Davis of Auburn is No. 2 with 360 blocks.