Tipoff time is 3 p.m. as the Tigers face a Tennessee basketball team that is 3-3 in the conference and 10-6 overall. After back-to-back road losses at Kentucky and Georgia, Auburn will try to improve on its SEC West leading record of 4-2. To do that the Tigers, who are 15-4 overall, will have to deal with Ron Slay, the 6-8, 240-pound forward who leads the conference in scoring at 21.2 points per game.
"This is a very good Tennessee team and we have got to play a great basketball game," says Ellis, who notes that he is particularly impressed with Slay and fellow senior Jon Higgins, a 6-3, 200-pound senior guard.
Slay also leads the Vols in rebounds at 7.7 per game and has come back nicely from a knee injury that cut short his junior season on Jan. 19, 2002 in a game vs. Syracuse. Ellis says that he will likely defend Slay with center Kyle Davis along with Marco Killingsworth and reserve forward Rodney Tucker.
Higgins is averaging 10 points per game, but as a 57 percent three-point shooter, he demands extra attention from opposing defenses.
Ellis says he believes the Volunteers are playing good basketball. UT defeated South Carolina 60-56 on Wednesday after just missing the upset of ninth-ranked Louisville before falling 72-69 last Saturday. "They led Louisville most of the game and I thought they had it," Ellis says. "They have gone to Atlanta and beaten Georgia Tech."
The Vols use a three-guard starting lineup that features 6-2, 165 freshman C.J. Watson, who is averaging 9.7 points, 5.4 assists and 4.8 rebounds. His quickness should test Auburn point guard Lewis Monroe. The other guard is 6-0, 180 senior Thaydeus Holden, who is averaging 6.2 points and 2.3 rebounds.
The starting center is 6-10, 235 sophomore Brandon Crump, who is averaging 10.4 points and 6.1 rebounds. He is also a threat inside as a shotblocker.
"Auburn is having a tremendous year," says UT coach Buzz Peterson, who has a 25-22 career record in his second season in Knoxville. "They just lost two straight on the road so I'm sure they will be hungry for a win, but they have a good ball club and are 10-1 at home. We have our hands full, but are looking forward to the challenge. They have one player, Davis (center Kyle Davis), who has blocked more shots than our whole team has."
Peterson's team leads the SEC in free throw shooting at 74.4 percent and is impressive from three-point range, shooting 41.1 this season. The Vols are averaging 7.4 more rebounds per game than the opposition.
Auburn has a one-game lead in the SEC West over Ole Miss and Mississippi State, which are tied for second at 3-3. Alabama is 2-4 in the conference, Arkansas is 1-4 and LSU brings up the rear of the division at 1-5.
Sophomore forward Brandon Robinson is a big reason the Tigers are the best in the SEC West through six games.
Brandon Robinson, who scored a career-high 25 points in his last outing vs. Georgia, is scheduled to resume his role as a reserve vs. the Volunteers. Robinson says he doesn't care whether he starts or comes off the bench, as long as he plays. "I think he has stepped up every phase of his game," Ellis says. Robinson is averaging 11.7 points per game, which is third on the team behind Daniels at 18.7 and Killingsworth at 15.5. Bird is averaging 10.1 and Davis 6.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.1 blocks.
"This week's practice has had a lot of energy," Robinson says. "We have been getting after each other."
Kyle Davis has stayed healthy this year and that has helped Auburn's defensive play.
Tiger Ticket Extra: With three more blocked shots, Kyle Davis will bypass Mamadou N'diaye as the all-time leading shot blocker in Auburn history. Dou rejected 241 shots from 1996-2000...Charles Barkley, the round mound of rebound, is third all-time with 145...Marquis Daniels is closing in on the all-time steals record for an Auburn career. He is 11 shy of the record set by former NBA player Chris Morris, who had 189 from 1984-88.