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FRIDAY, JANUARY 5, 2007
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At 10 wins, work ahead for AU Tigers
Lebo hopes troops better
last season's league mark

By Bradley Handwerger
bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com ∑ 340-2462

The good news for Jeff Lebo heading into Southeastern Conference play is that in his third year, the team has compiled more non-conference wins with 10 than in any of his previous years.

The bad news?

Well, that would be that his Tigers (10-5) are still trying to build back to upper echelon status when many consider the SEC to be the deepest it has been in years.

On Saturday, when the Tigers host Vanderbilt (10-4) at 5:30 p.m. in Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum, Lebo's team will try to best its previous two conference efforts, which ended 4-12.

Of course, it doesn't help that Auburn is coming off the largest home defeat in BEMC history, a 29-point loss to Texas A&M on Dec 22 and a surprising 56-54 loss at Southern Mississippi on Tuesday.

Auburn did defeat Charleston Southern in between those two losses 69-53.

Still, like in years past, shooting is a problem heading in conference play.

"We're not a confident shooting team now," Lebo said. "We've missed some shots. Had a hard time getting easy buckets. We're still not big by any stretch of the imagination."

In the past three games, Auburn is making 39 percent of its shots.

Its best game came in its most recent loss when the Tigers shot 43.5 percent against USM, making 20 of 46 baskets

"We've got to be able to put them down," Lebo said. "Making them is contagious. So is missing them."

And while every other team in the league has figured out a rotation to use in regards to who starts and who plays
with whom, Auburn isn't there.

Quan Prowell and Josh Dollard both were suspended to begin the season, and talented freshman guard Kelvin Lewis broke a bone in his foot, keeping him out of early season games.

While they're all back, Lebo has had all of his players only for five games, not enough time to establish a rapport with each other.

"I'm trying to figure out a rotation right now," Lebo said. "We're still at this point in conference time, trying to figure out who we can count on."

For the time being, Lebo has several second-year players he knows he can count on.

Forward Korvotney Barber is the most improved player on the team as well as the conference.

He's 13.5 points and 7.1 rebounds a game to go along with his team-leading 38 blocks.

Guard Quantez Robertson is coming up assists at a better than 2-to-1 ratio. Through games played as of Jan. 1, he was tied for 34th in the NCAA at 5.5 assists per game.

In all, five players are averaging double-digit points for Lebo. But that didn't help Auburn beat Texas A&M or Southern Miss.

"We got to knock down more outside shots," Robertson
said.

"First half of the last game, we were o-for-something. We've got to start knocking down the open 3's."

Yet, as of Thursday afternoon, Lebo still thinks his third team is on the right path.

"We're a better basketball team," Lebo said.

"We had a much harder schedule. The record of those we have lost to is 68-6 right now. We've had good days and bad days."

5 things to watch out for in Auburn

  • The Tigers are still a hot-and-cold shooting team. When theyíre hitting their outside shots, they have the ability to play with anyone. Ask Pittsburgh. But when theyíre missing, the games arenít close. See the Texas A&M game.

  • Korvotney Barber is much improved. From the floor, that is. He still canít shoot free throws and opponents know this. Conference opponents might be more willing to get into foul trouble against Auburn if it means sending Barber to the foul line.

  • Quan Prowell is the best addition to the Tigers in the off-season. Now that heís eligible, Auburn has a decent inside duo with Prowell and Barber. Prowell will take some of the heat off Barber, opening up the inside more.

  • Auburn is still young, so look for the Tigers to go cold for an extended period. That also means you can chalk up several league losses to poor shot selections and ball handling near the end of games.

  • Barber isnít alone in being bad at the free throw line. Auburn is 57.6 percent from the foul line. If the Tigers can figure out how to make the free baskets, they could equal their conference wins from the past two season combined.

    - Bradley Handwerger
    Daily Sports Writer

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