Auburn visits the Liacouras Center tonight to kick off the men’s basketball season, and the Owls said they need to play big since the Tigers, who have just one player taller than 6-foot-6, can’t.
“It’s going to feel different having guys running around your ankles rather than up in your face,” said junior forward Antywane Robinson, who stands 6-foot-8.
That means the Tigers need to spark fastbreaks and hit three-pointers in order to score, because they cannot expect to break coach John Chaney’s infamous matchup zone in the half court. Auburn is defined by its ability to run and Temple is defined by its stifling defense, but neither style worked very effectively last season as the teams finished at or near .500.
There is evidence of improvement for the Owls, however, while the Tigers might have just as much trouble this season as they did in 2003-04.
The Owls bolstered their inside presence over the summer by getting sophomore forward Wayne Marshall eligible, and addressed the glaring absence of an outside shooter with the arrival of freshman guard Mark Tyndale. The Tigers, meanwhile, watched their leading scorer transfer to Indiana and failed to procure another big player to help freshman center Ryan Daniel in the paint.
Coach Jeff Lebo, beginning his first year with Auburn after a stint at Tennessee-Chattanooga, will start four guards tonight. With 6-foot-5 Quinnel Brown as the tallest starter, the coach said the Tigers need to shoot a high percentage because they can’t contend with the Owls on the boards.
“When we go out, we may stand one on top of another’s shoulders so that we may have a chance occasionally to get a rebound,” said Lebo, who hails from Carlisle, Pa.
Should junior center Keith Butler and sophomore forward Wayne Marshall play well, the Owls could cruise to victory. The key matchup will be between point guards Mardy Collins of Temple and Ian Young of Auburn. Both are their teams’ leading returning scorers.
The Owls said they expect the Tigers to run them ragged. Even so, getting out on the floor for a real game will be a welcome change from the early-morning grind of preseason practice.
“We’re excited,” senior guard Wilbur Allen said. “We’re looking forward to this season because we’ve brought in a lot of new guys to go with the old group. And even though the regular season and our schedule is hard, we’re just looking forward to getting this season started, because practice is tough.”
The Owls are hoping to benefit from an apparent shift of power within the Atlantic Ten Conference. Last year’s regular-season champs, Saint Joseph’s and Dayton, lost significant contributors to the NBA draft or graduation. Tournament champion Xavier lost three starters.
So with designs on the A-10 title, this season opener is all the more important for the Owls to build momentum for their difficult non-conference schedule. The Owls started 0-3 last year.
“It’s very important, because last season we kind of struggled after losing to Villanova in the first game,” Robinson said.
Benjamin Watanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.