AUBURN, Ala. – Good for Frankie Sullivan and Josh Wallace, showing genuine angst in their faces after another coulda-woulda-shoulda night Wednesday.
Each of Auburn’s senior guards expressed pain after the 82-75 loss to Tennessee, dropping the Tigers to 9-21 overall – the most losses this program has ever suffered in one year – and 3-15 in the SEC, which speaks for itself in the nation’s 8th-rated basketball conference.
They do still feel feelings. It’d be easy to be numb by this point.
How else to react to finding 14 different ways to lose 14 different games in seven weeks? Goodness, if only Alabama’s shooters weren’t blinded by Cam Newton’s second-half spectator presence in Auburn Arena on Feb. 6, we’d be talking an all-time worst losing streak.
Maybe we’d also be talking about a new direction for Auburn men’s basketball. Because never say never, but it’s all quiet on the Jay Jacobs front in terms of evaluating Tony Barbee’s place on the Plains.
Other than an early February e-mail to donors and season-ticket holders pleading for patience, Jacobs hasn’t addressed why calling this program stuck in neutral would be generous.
Is there justice to the patience angle? Maybe. If Barbee can keep his young players on board – and it should be mentioned six of his eight high school recruits from his first three classes are no longer on the team for various reasons – there are some pieces to the long-term puzzle.
Three years, though, is plenty enough for proper evaluation. A dozen high-major coaches were hired before the 2010-11 season; four have made the NCAA tournament, another four have made the NIT.
Barbee’s 35-57 overall mark, and 12-37 in league games, rank 11th out of the 12. Only Oliver Purnell (30-62, 6-47) has been worse … and his DePaul Blue Demons won at Auburn on Nov. 30.
As his third year here winds down, Barbee is now 13-48 against teams with a top-150 RPI. He’s also lost nine times to teams failing to reach that group.
Let’s put this another way: under Tony Barbee’s watch, Auburn has 13 victories ranging from ‘satisfactory’ to ‘very nice’, and nine losses you could reasonably deduce as atrocious.
And then a whole bunch of wins over dregs and losses to capable foes in between.
Of course, the university’s tied up eight figures in payouts to two football staffs, past and present. Fiscally, this might not be the right time to make a move.
But when a man makes the money he does ($1.5 million a year, for seven years), the expectation can’t be needing to outlast Mississippi State on the final regular season weekend just to avoid last place in a less-than-beastly league.
Or maybe it is.
Aaron Brenner, firstname.lastname@example.org