– With Saturday’s 83-52 loss to Florida – the program’s largest margin of defeat in a home game in 61 years – Auburn will fall to its third straight regular season with a losing record, with nine losses in its past 10 games. Barbee fostered a 66 winning percentage his previous three years at UTEP.
– Auburn has a 12-32 SEC record since 2011. That’s the second-worst mark in the league – only South Carolina, which fired coach Darrin Horn after last season, is worse. Comparatively, Alabama is 30-14 and Georgia 20-24 over the same span.
– The Tigers’ record against opponents ranked in the NCAA’s top 150 RPI is now 13-43. Auburn is currently has the nation’s No. 213 RPI.
– Drawing from his first two recruiting classes, six of the eight high school prospects to sign a national letter of intent to Auburn have departed the program for various reasons. (Only junior starters Chris Denson and Allen Payne are still in uniform.) All three signees from 2011 – Barbee’s first full year to recruit for Auburn – are gone, leaving a vacant sophomore class.
The remainder of this 2012-13 season contains three home games, three road games and the SEC tournament. The final stretch starts Wednesday night against Texas A&M, wrapping up a three-game homestand and marking the first Aggies-Tigers matchup as conference foes.
With only pride left on the table, Barbee fielded the first of big-picture questions regarding the program’s future after the 31-point blowout loss to the Gators.
“This is one of the best leagues in the country. There’s no secret that this was a severe rebuilding job when I took it,” Barbee said. “It’s not an overnight fix. It is what it is. We’ve got to do our job of continuing to build, continuing to grow.
“I think we’ve got some really talented yet inexperienced young guys in this program that we’ve got to get better. Really excited about the group we’ve got coming. So I think the future is bright. It’s just – where we’re starting and where the top of this league is, there’s a big gap, and we’re trying to close that gap.”
Barbee was promptly asked how much patience the fan base – or the athletic department – should have. His response: “That’s not for me to decide.”
In an e-mail sent to Tigers Unlimited members on Feb. 5, Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs pleaded for patience – similar to when university president Jay Gogue released a statement backing football coach Gene Chizik on Oct. 25.
“Coach Barbee recently said we have to change the culture to elevate our program to a new level. History says he is right,” Jacobs wrote, reminding fans Sonny Smith needed seven years to get Auburn to the NCAA tournament (preceding five straight NCAA berths), and Cliff Ellis won 29 games in his fifth campaign.
“Our history says we can be successful in basketball, but it also says we have to be patient.”
Jacobs used words like “electric” and “phenomenal” to describe the atmosphere inside third-year Auburn Arena lately. While Georgia, LSU and Vanderbilt have seen their attendance plummet from last year to now, Auburn has filled its building to 85 percent capacity for SEC games, close to its 2012 average.
“Even as our basketball team has suffered several tough losses recently, the support you have shown has been outstanding,” Jacobs wrote. “They need our continued support with a lot of basketball left to play.”
Barbee is under contract for this and the next four seasons, making a $1.5 million annual salary. In the event Auburn considered making a head coaching change after the season, a buyout would cost roughly $3.25 million.
“Make no mistake about it,” Jacobs wrote, “we are doing everything we can to change the culture and support Coach Barbee’s effort to build our program into one that can win consistently.”