AUBURN, Ala. — After his team’s second practice of the day Monday, Jordan Granger uttered perhaps the literal understatement of the season.
“It was a wake-up call,” the freshman swingman conceded. “It really was, because going through that practice as a team, we got back on the same page to let us know we need each other.”
Granger’s “wake-up call” referred to a team practice in high gear before dawn. He was speaking literally and figuratively.
In fact, a tweet unleashed from the leader of Auburn basketball,15 Monday morning. Or, when most people were still sleeping off their Super Bowl hangover.
“6:00 in the morning the early bird gets Auburn Basketball! Big week with Alabama coming into our house on Wed.”, Tony Barbee’s official account read, accompanied by photographic evidence.
Barbee has tried almost everything to shake the doldrums out of the Tigers, and by the end of a Monday afternoon session just as vigorous as the first, he impatiently demanded a quick fix.
“Yeah, I’ve got to do something to change the direction we’re going. And I’ve got to get these guys’ attention,” Barbee said. “(The practice) was a tough one, it was a hard one, and it was bright and early. Because I’m not going to settle for anything less than these guys’ best.
“Right now, each team’s got a hold of the rope, and right now, we’re the team letting go. I’m not going to let us let go.”
It’s true right now, and it’s been true ever since Barbee was tasked with legitimizing the somewhat-dormant Auburn basketball program.
In 40 SEC games since his arrival, the Tigers are just 11-29 — only South Carolina has a worse mark during that span. (See graphic below)
Making matters worse, rival Alabama — Auburn’s foe Wednesday night at Auburn Arena — has the SEC’s third-best conference record (27-13) since New Year’s Day 2011. Only tradition-rich Kentucky and Florida are stronger.
Meanwhile, Auburn has lost six straight games. It’s been competitive in some efforts (Arkansas and Ole Miss), blown out in others (Kentucky and Missouri), and downright lackluster in the rest (Vanderbilt and Georgia).
“I told the guys I’m embarrassed to say I coach this team, and the majority of it is on me. My fault,” Barbee ranted. “I told them, I’m going to do my job to change it, and I need you guys to do your job and change, because it hasn’t been enough.”
Barbee listed “approach to the game, mental toughness, execution, defensive toughness, I mean, a little bit of everything” as chronic concerns.
For all the praise Frankie Sullivan, Rob Chubb and the Auburn seniors had lavished upon them in preseason, Barbee remains indignant with his veterans.
“It was a little bit of fool’s gold, because I thought our leadership was strong enough, having been through it. But they weren’t,” Barbee said. “I’ve been as disappointed in our leadership since I’ve been here, and I’ve said that we haven’t had any since I’ve been here.
“I was fooled into thinking that this senior group, this veteran group had got it. They hadn’t. They slipped right back into their old habits – losing habits. So I’ve got to change them.”
Sullivan, for one, takes Barbee’s barbs as a challenge, not an insult.
“You should demand that from your players,” said Sullivan, a fifth-year senior. “I’m pretty sure that you would be embarrassed too, if you lose six straight and you have a team that has the talent and is one of the best recruiting classes you can put together, and then having seniors that are not producing.
“I’m pretty embarrassed myself.”
Barbee was pleased with the results of Monday’s ‘wake-up call’, in terms of grabbing the Tigers’ attention. But this is a long-term project – even an upset triumph over Auburn’s most bitter rival wouldn’t solve everything, in Barbee’s mind.
“If we were to win, because of the nature of this team, I don’t think it’s the solution,” Barbee said. “Because we could very easily slip back into whatever fog we’ve been in. I’ve got to be more consistent keeping my thumb on these guys.”
WELCOME TO THE BASEMENT
SEC basketball conference records since Tony Barbee’s arrival on the Plains:
School | 2012-13 | 2011-12 | 2010-11 | TOTAL
Kentucky | 6-2 | 16-0 | 10-6 | 32-8
Florida | 8-0 | 10-6 | 13-3 | 31-9
Alabama | 6-2 | 9-7 | 12-4 | 27-13
Ole Miss | 6-2 | 8-8 | 7-9 | 21-19
Tennessee | 3-5 | 10-6 | 8-8 | 21-19
Vanderbilt | 2-6 | 10-6 | 9-7 | 21-19
Mississippi State | 2-6 | 8-8 | 9-7 | 19-21
Georgia | 4-4 | 5-11 | 9-7 | 18-22
Arkansas | 4-4 | 6-10 | 7-9 | 17-23
LSU | 3-5 | 7-9 | 3-13 | 13-27
Auburn | 2-6 | 5-11 | 4-12 | 11-29
South Carolina | 2-6 | 2-14 | 5-11 | 9-31