In or Out? Proud, Perturbed Lebo Speaks Out

Auburn's head basketball has strong opinions on his Tigers.

Tampa, Fla.--In or out?

That's the big question for Coach Jeff Lebo and his Auburn basketball team as they are now at the mercy of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Selection Committee on whether or not the Tigers will be back in the big dance for the first time since 2003 when the Tigers made a run into the Sweet 16.

After his team's 94-85 loss to Tennessee at the St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday, Lebo made it clear he has strong feelings about his Tigers and that his team should make the NCAA field of 65.

"We split with them this year," the Auburn coach said. of playing the Vols "They're a team that was preseason picked to win our league, and they're playing awfully well right now. And I couldn't be prouder.

"These guys really hurt--especially my seniors," Lebo said. "It was hard to be in that locker room, but they've taken us on a tremendous ride. And I think certainly one that should get us, in my opinion, into the NCAA Tournament."

Lebo then turned sarcastic about the lack of respect his team and the league have received nationally during their strong late season run.

"Well, I mean, the SEC, as much as it has been bashed, I'm not so sure we're even going to get the automatic qualifier, they may even take that from us this year. I mean, my lord, we are down, but to say that we haven't disappeared. That's what gets frustrating. It's been since 1996, I think, that we've had five in (the NCAA Tournament). We've been the hottest team coming down the stretch. Not just hot for a week or hot for two weeks.

"We've won 11 SEC games. We beat the top two teams in the league. They talk about the West being weaker than the East. I don't see that. You look at the numbers. When is the last time that a team has won 11 SEC games and not get in and they just bash the SEC this year. It's just, to me, it's just not fair.

"We're a young league," Lebo added. "We didn't have a lot early because of our youth. Our team in particular, we had some injuries. We didn't have Rasheem Barrett really healthy until January. You look at his numbers when he was healthy and we had some losses without him being healthy. We're a different basketball team, obviously, with him in there.

. "I just feel really strongly that we deserve to be in. I think there's four teams that certainly deserve to get in. Mississippi State's one that obviously could get in tomorrow if we keep the automatic bid. I'm not sure if they're going to keep that or not for this league. We may have lost it. I'm not sure."

The Tigers are 22-11 overall and finished the regular season with a 10-6 SEC mark and then added a win over Florida in the SEC Tournament before playing Tennessee on Saturday.

Lebo said since the Tigers got Barrett healthy during the conference season they have played strong basketball week after week. "So we had some losses early," he said. "What we did coming down the stretch in the league, you can't take that away from these kids.

"My opinion, you know, I've watched a lot of basketball, and this league, while we're not going to get seven (teams in the NCAA Tournament), four or five is where we should be, I think."

The Tigers will meet at their coach's house on Sunday to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show. If they don't go to the NCAA tourney, an NIT bid is expected.

Barrett and the other seniors have yet to go to a postseason tournament. Barrett said he would be happy with any more games. "It won't be hard to be excited about being in the NIT. It's another ball game. We're all here to play basketball, what we love to do."

However, he added, that the NCAA Tournament is where he believves his Tigers should be playing.

"We feel we deserve a bid for the NCAA," said Barrett, who scored 18 points vs. UT.

If the Tigers have to settle for the NIT, Barrett said, "We're going to go in with our best foot forward. We're going to practice hard. I'm sure Coach is going to prepare us well, and we're going to do our best."

The senior added that he has enjoyed being a part of Lebo's team the past four years. "It's a wonderful experience. I can't take anything away from the four years. To end it like this, having me and Quantez and Vot as seniors, we enjoyed our ride. To put us in position, like Coach said, at the end of your senior year, something you've never had before, postseason play, it's just wonderful. NIT, NCAA, we never experienced it, and we worked as hard as we could."

Asked if his team will be disappointed if that happens, Lebo said, "I don't think it will be enthusiastic to start. I'm not going to lie. I don't think. I think it's going to be hurting, and they should be."

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