The fine folks over at College and Magnolia thought it would be a good idea to take a break from all this football 'crootin talk to discuss the upcoming hard court version of the Iron Bowl. Honestly, who could blame them for wanting to change the subject after the week Auburn just had, amiright?
Let's start with the softball Barbee pitched us recently, when he said, "I told the guys I’m embarrassed to say I coach this team." I realize that he also claimed that it was his fault, but does the comment bother you? Do you believe it will help to right the ship, or has he taken a step closer to losing this team altogether?
I'm fine with the comment because Barbee needs to do something that will light a fire under his players' asses. In addition to essentially calling his team garbage, he recently held a 6 a.m. practice in an attempt to change things up. So far, Frankie Sullivan, who is without a doubt Auburn's leader on the court, has said all the right things and supported Barbee's statements, but we'll just have to wait and see how the rest of the team responds. Against Missouri, body language and expressions on faces sent off signals of a team dangerously close to giving up.
We're only midway through SEC play, but Auburn has only won two conference games, and only one (maybe two) of the six losses can even be considered close. In your opinion, what has caused the drastic drop in performance this season?
Two of Auburn's losses in SEC play (an 88-80 double-overtime defeat at Arkansas and a 63-61 home loss to Ole Miss) easily could have been wins, so the Tigers are really a couple of made shots away from a 4-4 record in SEC play. While that isn't great, it's certainly better than 2-6 and a six-game losing streak.
Some of Auburn's struggles can be attributed to simply playing better competition. When the Tigers were 2-0, they had wins over LSU and South Carolina, not exactly the cream of the SEC crop. Since the losing streak began, Auburn has played Kentucky, Ole Miss and Missouri and a road game at Vanderbilt. We always knew there would be a decent chance Barbee's team could lose all those games. The Vanderbilt game sucked, and road losses at Arkansas and especially Georgia were frustrating, too.
The main differences between 2-0 Auburn and 2-6 Auburn are a lack of an inside game and poor shooting. In recent weeks, centers Rob Chubb and Asauhn Dixon-Tatum haven't done nearly enough on the offensive end in the paint. Instead of getting to the basket and either scoring or drawing fouls, they're settling for jump shots that neither should be taking. And if you take a look at Auburn's shooting percentages, the results aren't surprising. The Tigers shot 51.5 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from three in their two SEC wins, but in the six conference losses, they've shot 38.1 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from behind the arc.
Is Tony Barbee the long-term answer for Auburn basketball? Grade his performance thus far at Auburn, and this season.
Eh, it's becoming increasingly hard to tell. When Barbee took over, he inherited not just a dumpster fire, but more of a garbage barge fire. He's had to build the program from the ground up, and we all knew that would take some time. Even though the results weren't great, Auburn showed solid improvement in the first two years of the Barbee era, and I'd probably give him a solid B for that.
However, this season has been a major disappointment. I didn't expect Auburn to make the NCAA Tournament, but in my mind, taking another step in the right direction would have been an NIT berth. Barring a stunning finish to the season, that isn't going to happen. Auburn's play out of conference was frustrating, as the Tigers managed to come up with losses against such powers as Dayton, Boston College, Rhode Island and Winthrop, but they closed out non-conference play strong with a two-point loss against then-No. 12 Illinois in Chicago and a home win over Florida State. Those games, combined with two straight wins to start SEC play, gave fans hope that maybe the team was finally clicking and a postseason appearance was attainable. But since then, Auburn has lost six straight, and even worse, we've seen real regression from some players.
I wouldn't say this is a make-or-break year for Barbee, but it's shaping up to make next season his potential last stand. (Of course, I said the same thing about Gene Chizik in mid-October.) Right now, I'd grade his performance for this season as a D+. That will probably rise or fall by season's end.
Grade the Auburn coaching staff as a whole. Which assistants are invaluable, and which would you rather see at, say, Alabama?
Overall, I'd say the coaching staff gets a grade of "meh." They've done a decent job of player development, as evidenced by the improvement of Chubb, who looked like he had never played basketball when he fist stepped on campus. But obviously, they aren't winning any awards with the results over the last two and a half years. Ryan Miller, who jumped to Auburn after a two-month stint at Missouri in the off-season, is definitely the star, as he has really improved Auburn's ability to recruit. As far as the rest of the staff goes, no one has really stood out and looked too good or too bad.
Auburn has lost 6 in a row. Your last NCAA tournament appearance was in 2003. So, setting this season aside for a moment, what does Auburn have to do in order to improve the program? Upgrade arena? Upgrade facilities? Does Jay Jacobs need to go?
Well, Auburn is in its third season in a state-of-the-art arena, so facilities definitely aren't the problem. And if you ask most Auburn fans for the solution to any problem in the athletic department, they'd likely tell you firing Jacobs is the solution. I think Auburn's basketball issues are pretty simple: The Tigers simply need more talent. This is easily the most talented Auburn team we've seen in years, but it is still out-manned by most opponents. Auburn has a few good players, and Sullivan shows signs of greatness, but until the roster is filled out with more ability, the Tigers will struggle to consistently win.
This one could be painful for us, but what are some of your favorite memories in the history of this rivalry?
Unfortunately for us, it's been a while since Auburn has had a good memory against Alabama. I certainly enjoyed that stretch from 2007-10 when the Tigers won six of seven, but the best game in (relatively) recent memory has to be the 2001 contest in Auburn. Reggie Sharp from 35 feet at the buzzer to upset the No. 15 Tide in OT was awesome.
Who have been the biggest disappointments for Auburn this season?
Most of Auburn's players have had up-and-down years so far, and I could go in a number of directions with this, but I'll say Rob Chubb. He was having a really solid season up until a few weeks ago and still has nice averages of 9.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, but as I mentioned earlier, he has become far too timid in the paint. Chubb isn't the biggest guy playing in the post, but he still has pretty good size. He just hasn't been making much of an effort to get to the rim recently, settling for jumpers and his infamous hook shot. When that hook is falling, it's a thing of beauty, but when it isn't, yikes. Lately, Chubb's hook has looked more like a baseball throw into the backboard.
What do you expect to see Wednesday night? Who wins this game? What's the score?
I think it will be low-scoring and probably pretty ugly. The fact that Alabama doesn't have a ton of inside presence gives me optimism, and maybe Chubb can rediscover the solid play he was providing earlier in the season. But Alabama's ability to knock down shots from long range terrifies me. Auburn has been awful at covering the perimeter all year, and unless the Tide has an off night shooting, they should be able to hit a few from behind the arc. If Alabama's defense limits the amount of shots Auburn gets, and the Tigers continue their cold streak, it could be over quickly.
Since it's a rivalry game and it's at home, I think we'll see the Auburn team that played against Ole Miss, as opposed to the one that played against Georgia and Missouri. But even though the Tigers will keep it close, I just don't think they'll be able to do enough against Alabama's hounding defense to win. The Tide will ice it late with free throws and win, 65-57.
How do y'all feel about the Foster flip? Is this on a TJ Yeldon/Cyrus Kouandjio type level or is it more easily digested due to the coaching change/off season melodrama?
I'm sure I'll get made fun of for this answer, but I'm really not too worried about Foster. Yes he's supremely talented, and yes, I'd love to have his talent in orange and blue. But considering how bizarre his recruitment has been, I think he may be more trouble than he's worth. I feel like he may be more of a Brent Calloway than a Yeldon/Kouandjio. (I'm still butthurt about both of them, by the way.)
h/t to Sam Pennington over at SouthernGameday.com for helping us out with a few of the questions. He's a damn good twitter follow as well (@TheSportsPenn)