Tony Barbee Heading to the Plains of AuburnPosted by rtmsf on March 24th, 2010
And thus ends those ridiculous rumors of Tubby Smith bolting Minnesota for the basketball backwater of the Plains of Alabama.
UTEP’s Tony Barbee will be the next contestant attempting to navigate the football-obsessed geography of the SEC West. He brings a solid resume to the job, having rebuilt the UTEP program in his four years emphasizing pressure defense with a host of athletic guards and forwards. Barbee’s record of 82-51 and 39-25 in Conference USA included one conference regular season championship this year in addition to an NCAA appearance last week (the Miners lost to Butler). What you like if you’re Auburn brass is that his program improved in every one of his four seasons from a losing record in 2006-07 to the point of reaching the Big Dance this year. He brings a Calipari commitment to defense (as both player from 1987-91 and assistant coach from 1999-2006) and a knack for recruiting to the job — his acceptance of and ability to get former Louisville headache Derrick Caracter to play hard was amazing.
Still, even with Barbee’s pedigree and a new arena to sell on recruits, getting Auburn to the level of a serious player in the SEC West is no easy task. If you created a list of BCS basketball mediocrity, the War Eagles would undoubtedly rise to the top that list very quickly. Only four times in the last seventeen years has Auburn won more than 20 games, and yet they’ve never won fewer than 12 in that period. A typical Tiger season is around 16 total wins, a 6-10 SEC record and a borderline NIT/CBI type of team. Good enough to pull one upset against the likes of Tennessee?Vandy and the SEC West team du jour in a given season, but never consistent enough to do much more than that. Part of the reason for this is an almost universal apathy for the basketball program in eastern Alabama — you’d be hard pressed to find a BCS program that cares less about the ‘other’ sport that pays the bills. We’ve heard anecdotes that many Auburn alumni were angry that the school planned on building a new basketball arena in the first place, instead preferring that the money be spent on upgrading the football program’s facilities. Furthermore, the level of coaching talent in the SEC West has improved significantly in just the past two years. Instead of mediocre coaches such as John Brady or Mark Gottfried running the show at LSU and Alabama, respectively, you have up-and-comers Trent Johnson and Anthony Grant at those places. Rick Stansbury is solid at Mississippi State and Andy Kennedy is steadily improving the Ole Miss program. The only truly weak link at this point appears to be John Pelphrey at Arkansas. We’re sure that Barbee will be paid handsomely in his new position at Auburn, but we’re just not sure how successful he can be there.