When the 2010 Conference USA Coach of the Year was hired to be Auburn’s nineteenth Head Basketball Coach, he came to the job with great expectations.
After all Tony Barbee had gone to the post season in 18 of his 19 years as a player or coach, had been mentored by John Calipari, had averaged 20.5 wins a year as a head coach, and had rebuilt the UTEP Miners into Conference USA Champs.
After two seasons of having to deal with non qualifiers and injuries to key players, Barbee may have Auburn in a position to finally live up to those expectations. While the Tigers never really got over the hump last year, they played well against everybody in the league.
Auburn started the 2012 season losing two talented freshmen right out of the gate when Cedrick McAfee and Bernard Morena went down with preseason injuries. Then Allen Payne suffered a season-ending knee injury and the jewel in the 2011 recruiting class, Josh Langford missed most of the SEC season with complications from a concussion.
Several other players were in and out of the line up all season, as well, due to injuries and suspensions. Most notably shooting guard Varez Ward who nursed a quadricep injury most of the season and finally was removed from the roster after allegations of point shaving.
Despite those setbacks Barbee’s Tigers played every SEC opponent tough and lost four SEC games and one out of conference game by a combined average of 4.7 points. Change just two of those and the Tigers would probably have made the NIT field. Change all five and an NCAA bid might have been in the picture.
While Injuries and discipline are part of the game – the Tigers didn’t seem to have an answer on offense late in the game when it mattered most.
Defense for the most part won 15 games and kept them in 5-6 more. But to get in to the post season Auburn will have to find some shooters this year, especially since “Mr. Do it All” Kenny Gabriel graduated.
Barbee may have found the answer to replacing Gabriel with a bevy of talented newcomers, all of whom come to The Plains with a history of offense. Joining the veterans are 7-foot 230lb. JUCO center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum; Shaquille Johnson, a 6-foot-5 small forward.; Jordon Granger 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward; Jordan Price a 6-foot-5, 218-pound guard Brian Greene, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound combo guard, and 6-foot-8 junior Shareif Adamu.
Barbee is very high on Granger and Johnson. He calls Granger, “A natural scorer,” and says that Shaq Johnson is,
“A human highlight film. I’ve been around some guys in my UTEP days, Memphis days, that every day in practice they do something that doesn’t seem humanly possible, and Shaquille does that. He’s that type of athlete.”
These guys should be able to provide an offensive spark coming off the bench to help veteran seniors: center Rob Chubb, point guard Josh Wallace, guard Chris Denson, shooting guard Frankie Sullivan, forward Noel Johnson, and junior forward Allen Payne.
Denson will not be academically eligible to play till after first semester ends. But the good news is Frankie Sullivan is now healthy for the first time in two years. He proved that he is finally back from knee surgery in the Tigers opening win over IPFW (Indiana Purdue, Ft. Wayne) on Friday night.
For most of the night he matched the Mastodons’ Frank Gaines (last years ninth place scorer in the nation) shot for shot and finished with 26 points for the night. In addition, Barbee thinks that a much bigger and stronger Rob Chubb has improved to the point that he has a chance to make All-SEC.
Finally, Barbee also has said no one has greater expectations for the Auburn program than he does; so if the new talent meshes well with the veterans – this could be the year …
Those great expectations start being fulfilled.
Editor’s note: Auburn begins play in the Charleston Classic Thursday night when the Tigers take on Murray State at 7 p.m. CST. The game will be broadcast by ESPN3. Go Tigers!
Tags: Allen Payne, Asauhn Dixon-Tatum, AubTigerman, Auburn basketball, Auburn blogs, auburn Tigers, Charleston Classic, Frankie Sullivan, IPFW Mastodons, John Calipari, Jordon Grange, Kenny Gabriel, Memphis State, Murray State, Rob Chubb, Shaquille Johnson, Tony Barbee, Track 'em Tigers, Utep miners, Varez Ward