The Southeastern Conference has one primary athletic focus: football. Its secondary focus is football. Its tertiary focus is football. Yes, even the Kentucky Wildcats are eager for football season each year — if only because it means that basketball practice is just around the corner — but they’re still eager for football nonetheless. The Florida Gators landed a phenomenal coach in Billy Donovan and the university managed to find time in between spring football practices to watch the Gators win back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007. None of the schools outside of Lexington — and maybe Gainesville, but let’s not kid ourselves — really care about basketball, and that adds insult to injury for the Auburn Tigers, who seem to be the worst team in the conference again this season.
Coach Tony Barbee has gone 39-61 in three seasons at Auburn, and it seems like he spends as much time on building his personal website as he does coaching. According to his site, he builds his team around a tough, active defense. That defense allowed 111 points to the Northwestern State Demons (!) two weeks ago, including 72 second-half points. Tonight, the Tigers faced an admittedly tough situation against the No. 15 Iowa State Cyclones in the bustling metropolis of Ames, Iowa, where the Cyclones had won 36 of their last 39 games. However, Barbee’s team completely failed to show up in a 99-70 loss that wasn’t close for the last 25 minutes. The Tigers shot a pitiful 26 percent (6-23) from the three-point line and were often completely over-matched on defense. Iowa State had 28 assists on 33 field goals, which shows that Auburn was almost always either out of place or just fundamentally weak on defense, if not both. Overall, Barbee’s defense is allowing opponents to shoot 40 percent on three pointers through six games, which is awful. Something needs to change.
Auburn’s athletic director told reporters before the season that he expected this season’s team to be vastly superior to last season’s 9-23 outfit. So far, the results aren’t there despite a 4-2 start. The four wins have come against mid-majors, and even those games have been close — see last week’s 78-73 win over an 0-8 team — so it looks like Auburn will occupy the SEC cellar again this year.
Chris Denson and KT Harrell are talented scorers, but the team doesn’t seem like it will be able to compete in the feeble SEC because of its weak defense and poor outside shooting. Furthermore, Denson is a senior and Harrell is a junior, so they aren’t program building blocks. 5-foot-10 freshman point-guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen was rated as the No. 91 recruit for the Class of 2013 and is averaging just under nine points per game, but overall this team lacks depth and skill. Barbee has had three years to recruit and develop players, yet he hasn’t been able to work his way out of the basement in possibly the worst basketball conference among the “Power Five” Conferences.
Barbee needs to go. The only questions are when Auburn will fire him and whether the Tigers will be able to hire a coach that can make Auburn basketball respectable. The good news for the Auburn athletic director is that he isn’t going to feel much pressure to make a move, since most people affiliated with the school probably don’t even know who coaches the basketball team. Saturday’s win in the Iron Bowl will help ease the chronic pain of the basketball program, too, but it won’t help the team in the long run and neither will Tony Barbee.