Lebo: Despite Setbacks, Attitude Good

Auburn, Ala.--Despite having a roster depleted by injuries and suspensions, Jeff Lebo says his Tigers will go into Thursday night's SEC opener vs. the Arkansas Razorbacks with a positive outlook.

The Tigers, who are 9-3, will entertain the 11-3 Razorbacks at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. Tipoff is set for shortly after 8 p.m. CST and the game will be televised by ESPN2.

"They have been resilient through everything," Lebo says. "Their attitude has been good, their effort has been good, their work habits have been good.

"I feel for them because most of them are playing out of position and playing too many minutes," Lebo says. "We are outsized, out-experienced, we don't even have subs in practice. It is hard to simulate everything in preparation for the kids because we don't have enough guys to simulate what we are going to see. Once they get into game situations it's tough because they have been practicing against walk-ons and now there is a guy 6-10, 280 who is athletic and can move and everything is different once they get in a game situation.

"It's frustrating for me as a coach to look at the kids to not be able to show them a scout team that is able to simulate anything and our walk-ons do a great job--we wouldn't have a team without those guys--but it is impossible to simulate the size or speed that we are going to see in games. So once we get into a game situation, it is really the first time since our last game that we are going to see it."

Arkansas, which features plenty of size and plenty of depth, looks to be one of the tougher matchups in the SEC for the Tigers, who had high hopes of challenging for the SEC title in the preseason before losing Josh Dollard, Archie Miaway, Boubacar Sylla and Korvotney Barber. They have also played part of the season without Quan Prowell and Lucas Hargrove. Hargrove's recent return from a wrist injury gives Lebo seven scholarship players available for game action.

"We have to try to be as physical as we can and to keep it out of the basket area as much as we can," Lebo says on how the Tigers will have to defend Arkansas. "They have four guys 6-10 or bigger and one 6-8 guy and the strength of their team is the interior and that is going to be an issue. To use a football analogy here, it is like your offensive line going against their defensive line and you are 190 and they are 300. It's an issue we are going to have to deal with and use our undersized guys in there."

Lebo says it will take a group effort to compete against the Razorbacks. "I think Quan Prowell, Frank Tolbert, Rasheem Barrett and everybody is going to have to play well for us," he says. "We are going to have to get something more aggressive and less tentative out of Matt Heramb. He is going to have to get some minutes. We cannot ask our guys to play the amount of minutes they have been playing and be productive out there because we just run out of gas. Our effort is there, but we just run out of gas at the end of games."

Lebo credits his team's co-captains with keeping the team positive this season.

"Quantez Robertson has been a pillar through it all," Lebo says. "Frank Tolbert is a guy who has done everything we have asked of him in his four years and he continues to play completely out of position and bust his tail every single night for us, But when you only have six or seven guys, all of them have to bond together. They understand what position we are in.

"The hardest thing for us is that we had to change the identity of our team a couple of times in a short period of time," the coach adds. "We have guys coming and going. We gear up to get one position a lot of shots and now that position has moved to the center. The identity of our team has had to make changes within the course of the season a couple of times. You can't foresee those things and they are hard to prepare for, but it just takes time. I worry about having another injury."

Senior Frank Tolbert has played everywhere for the Tigers this season.

Commenting on Tolbert, Lebo says, "I was going to play him at the two-guard and now he is playing at the four (power forward). He also plays the three (small forward) and is also my third point guard and my third center. He does it all, he really does. You have to realize, like anything else, when you play point guard and you also play power forward or center it's like being a lineman and also playing quarterback.

"In basketball you do it offensively and defensively, so we have all kind of changes that he has to know. He has to know every position on the court. He has never looked at me funny or said, ‘Coach I can't do it.' He has never made excuses and he just does the best that he can. We all have had to do that. Rasheem Barrett has to do it. He is playing some power forward for us.

"Quan Prowell was going to be a two and going with Dollard and Korvotney Barber and Boubacar Sylla and being big, but now he goes from a two in my plans to a five and playing the majority of the center position," Lebo says. "He is not a center. He is more of a facing player. Quantez Robertson isn't playing much one at all and I would like to slide him in for some one minutes for (Dewayne) Reed, but with our numbers he is playing almost 40 minutes at the two-guard position. It's just been one of those situations where we've had to deal with it and make changes on the fly."

After playing Arkansas on Thursday night, the Tigers will board a plane and fly to Gainesville for their road home, an 11 a.m. CST game on Saturday against defending national champion Florida.

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