War Eagle Extra has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 4 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Commentary: Despite disappointing season, Barbee offers Auburn basketball hope

My colleague, Seth Emerson, had game story duties today at the SEC tournament. You can read his account here. I wrote a column on the conclusion of Auburn's season instead. Here it is:

(Follow the blog on Twitter and Facebook.)
ATLANTA — There was no comeback, no second-half magic, no late-game rally for the Auburn Tigers on Thursday.

Tony Barbee's first season on the Plains came to a predictable conclusion in a 69-51 SEC tournament loss to Georgia, a much bigger, much better team from top to bottom.

But he didn't dwell on it.

"Can't look back," Barbee said, echoing a season-long sentiment. "We've got to look ahead."

Looking back at the wreckage won't help. The Tigers (11-20) finished with their fewest wins since the 1993-94 season, placing fifth in the SEC West, the fifth time in the last seven years they've been one of the bottom two teams in the division.

But here's where things differ from the Jeff Lebo era. There's hope.

It's a word rarely spoken in Auburn basketball circles. Lebo's teams never made the NCAA tournament, coming close only once while treading water until the life raft of a new arena could push the program to the next level.

Barbee's different. In 20 years as a player or coach, he's missed the postseason only twice. He's been schooled by a noted winner, John Calipari. And in his only previous head coaching gig, he took UTEP from 10th to first place in the Conference USA in four short years.

Why would that pattern change now?

Sure, the numbers are bad this season — historically bad, in fact, if you're talking RPI — but look at what Barbee inherited. The team had no seniors. Its best player missed the season with a knee injury. Its top two recruits failed to qualify academically. Going 0-for-the-SEC was in play.

Still, the Tigers never folded. They scrapped their way to four SEC wins (I'm guessing the over paid off on that one), had a competitive surge late in the season during which no deficit was too large and gave their fan base reason to believe better days are ahead.

"They stayed together as teammates and didn't point, didn't blame," Barbee said. "They knew they had a lot of growing to do because of the inexperience. And I talked about the growing pains from Day 1. And you see how we progressed as a team and got gradually better over the course of the season. And that's what we want to try to do every year."

It won't be an instant fix. Auburn needs size and scoring. The Tigers got mauled on the boards Thursday, allowing 18 offensive rebounds. Their signature offensive play this season was the seven-minute scoring drought.

There's also the matter of making the scholarship numbers work, which will probably require some maneuvering Auburn fans like to think only takes place under Nick Saban's watch.

But it's not as though SEC reclamation projects take a long time. Mark Fox took Georgia from 5-11 in the SEC to the cusp of the NCAA tournament in Year 2. Anthony Grant had a similar turnaround at Alabama, turning a 5-11 SEC team into Western Division champs.

Why can't Auburn, which plays in one of the weakest divisions in Division I basketball and will add injured guard Frankie Sullivan, transfers Varez Ward and Noel Johnson and at least three freshman signees to its current group, make a similar jump?

Barbee refuses to sugarcoat the process — "He doesn’t shoot you no crap," forward Kenny Gabriel said. "He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear." — nor will he slow down to let the stragglers play catchup. Losing isn't in his DNA.

"They've got to commit to improving," Barbee said. "If not, they will get left behind."


easyedwin said...

I listened to the game while working today. Oh well. The juture is bright, however.

easyedwin said...


Anonymous said...

I like Barbee, but I keep hearing that he hasn't signed a contract with AU...working with just a LOI in place. Any truth to that or is it just a rumor?

Andy Bitter said...

I don't think he has signed his contract yet. It's not uncommon. I believe Lebo worked under a letter of agreement for a while. It's still a working agreement between the two parties, however.

MikeP said...

Nell Fortner was well into her second year before a contract was signed. Those things take time.

Speaking of Nell, while there is reason for much optimism in the men's program, the women's side of things is looking rather dismal.

In seven seasons, Nell Fortner has had one year when her team won more SEC games than they lost. We wouldn't find this acceptable in a men's program, so I hope something is done soon on the women's front.

Justin said...

Good stuff, Andy. It's always good to get some of your valuable, unbiased opinion. And this shows us we're not crazy after all when we say better times are on the horizon.

Do us a favor and keep your ear on the ground as to who's going to be encouraged to transfer, etc. With all the new additions and players coming and going, it feels like it's going to be another busy offseason, like last year when there was a coaching change.

Anonymous said...

UGA SPANKED THAT A**!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

And how's Lebo's current team doing? He took an underperforming ECU team and led them to the most conference wins since joining CUSA as well as the first 2 CUSA tournament wins (playing in semi-finals today). Now CUSA is not the SEC, but it is no slouch with 8 teams in the top 100 RPI (like the ACC). Lebo was not the problem with AU basketball and I am still not sold that Barbee is the answer. Hope I am wrong, but too many people are drinking the Barbee cool-aid.

But it's now baseball season :-)

War Eagle!

Anonymous said...

the question was never whether Lebo could coach, he just can't recruit to save his life. This is a huge obstacle in winning. Barbee certainly doesn't have that problem..

CHB said...

Lebo was a joke in recruiting and left this team in shambles. Enough said there.


Some have a feeling that Barbee isn't happy and won't be around very much longer. What is your feeling? Some still say Auburn hasn't shown a commitment to basketball. I don't buy that. They just spent $90mil on a new arena, they went out and got a good coach and gave him a nice salary. That doesn't say no commitment to me. I'm tired of hearing about the Komara crap. The guy is shady and Auburn doesn't want to be associated with him...get over it.

Anonymous said...

Do some research on your paragraph thats starts with "Barbee's different". Actually he is not different than Lebo. Lebo had a fabulous record when he came to Auburn. He was one of the bright young coaches in the game. Many at Auburn said we could never get him to even come to Auburn. Son of a coach, Captain for Dean Smith at UNC, reputation for turning around programs. Point is...whether Auburn people want to smell the roses or not...they don't care about basketball....thats the problem...not the coach. If Barbee is successful in recruiting you have to wonder why? I know why another popular coach was successful in bringing Person and Barkley to Auburn...and it wasn't because of the academics.

MikeP said...

This place has been pleasant because the trolls don't frequent it. Now we've got one saying Sonny Smith did something illegal in recruiting Barkley and Person. That was 25 years ago!

Put up or shut up, prove it or go to bammer-on-line with your foolishness.

Jeff Lebo recruited the type player he could have won with at his previous coaching stops. He didn't recruit SEC type talent.

Barbee will recruit top-notch talent to Auburn and he won't cheat to do it. Of course, bamzos and DullDawgs will say he's buying them because that's what jealous rivals do.