2013-14 Preview: Auburn Tigers

Auburn coach Tony Barbee once again has his work cut out for him this season. AP Photo/Dave Martin

Auburn Tigers

2012-13: 9-23 (3-15 SEC)
In-conference offense: 0.92 points per possession (13th)
In-conference defense: 1.06 points allowed per possession (13th)

For two weeks spanning calendar years 2012 and 2013, observers could be forgiven for thinking that maybe Auburn had finally turned the corner. (Seriously.) After a dispiriting loss at home to Winthrop, the Tigers regrouped and staged a furious rally against a top-15 opponent on the road before losing to Illinois 81-79 at the United Center in Chicago.

Then Tony Barbee's team returned home to the scene of the Winthrop debacle, and this time things went much better: Auburn defeated Florida State 78-72. Finally, the Tigers opened SEC play with a win at home over LSU and one on the road against South Carolina. It was Jan. 12, 2013, and Barbee's men were undefeated in conference.

From that point forward, Auburn went 1-16, and the challenge now facing the program perhaps has less to do with basketball and more to do with basic human-resources management. Barbee is entering the fourth season of a rebuilding effort that, like most such undertakings, figured to rise or fall on the coach's first big recruiting class. In Auburn's case that class arrived last season in the form of freshmen Shaq Johnson, Jordan Price and Brian Greene. Even after a disappointing 2012-13, having all of those fairly promising underclassmen on hand projected to be a good thing. As Price himself put it moments after Auburn's season-ending loss to Texas A&M: "Everybody's going to stick around. We've got a bright year as a future next year, we believe, so we're going to stay together and work everything out."

Over the summer Price transferred to La Salle, Greene transferred to Florida Gulf Coast and Barbee kicked Johnson off the team. Since December 2010, no fewer than 12 Auburn players have made early departures from the program by way of transfers, dismissals, point-shaving indictments (search term: "Varez Ward"), or what have you. The revolving door has actually functioned more like a steel gate, one that has locked Auburn in the SEC's basement.