Feb. 2, 2014
It's too early to proclaim that, because of home wins over Alabama and Georgia, Auburn basketball has turned the corner. But it's also not too late for that to happen.
The Tigers blew out Alabama 74-57 on Thursday and turned around on short rest and never trailed after the opening minute in beating Georgia 74-67. Neither Alabama nor Georgia is an overwhelming force, but for a team that was 0-6 in the SEC just three days ago, the sun is shining a little brighter today.
Tony Barbee's fourth Auburn team seems to have some things his previous three haven't had. These guys have played with great energy and effort from the start. With a bounce here or there, they could easily be in a much better position.
Senior Chris Denson and junior KT Harrell have been terrific offensively for most of the season. No one has really had an answer for them. Freshman point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen has been really good. But the difference in winning the last two SEC games and losing the first six, as much as anything, came on the inside.
Seven-foot senior center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum seems to be getting better with each game. He's a huge, athletic guy who can be quite a force when he plays with a physical mindset. Junior Matthew Atewe also seems to be coming into his own. Neither of them is going to score great numbers of points, but that's not really their mission.
This Auburn team still has and will have holes. There's not a legitimate power forward on the roster. Most of the points the Tigers score in the paint come on drives by the guards. Perimeter defense is good at times, not so good at others. Rebounding is frequently an issue.
With 10 SEC games remaining, the Tigers would have to go 7-3 to break even. That's a tall order, most would say too tall. But it's not beyond the realm of possibility that this team could do enough to move this program forward.
Considering where Auburn basketball has been, that would be an accomplishment worthy of celebration.
One of the more intriguing position races when Auburn starts spring practice will be at left tackle, where Greg Robinson's departure for the NFL left a large hole.
Sophomore Shon Coleman and junior Pat Miller would seem to be the leading candidates, but Avery Young, last season's starter at right tackle, could switch sides. Either way, two of those three are likely to be Auburn's starting tackles when Arkansas comes to town on Aug. 31.
Even with Robinson gone, it's difficult to imagine a better offensive line in the SEC or even in the country than what Auburn will have next season. Center Reese Dismukes and guards Alex Kozan and Chad Slade join Young as returning starters. Miller has plenty of starting experience, too.
From what I'm hearing, offseason football work is going well. In fact, strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell is, if anything, more demanding this year than he was last.
Almost to a man, Auburn players say it was at this time last year that the SEC champions of 2013 came together and began to believe in one another and to believe they could do big things.
On message boards all across college football, grown men (and even women) are obsessing today over the coming decisions of 18-year-olds. What did Jimmy say? What was Joe wearing? Sam told his friends this. Bill's daddy knows my daddy and told him Bill likes the school up the road or down the road or wherever.
It's college football recruiting, 21st-century style. National signing day is three days away.
Recruiting matters. It matters a lot. If you don't have great players, chances are you won't have a great team. It is extremely important to sign a class that contains enough impact players, regardless of their star ratings. But, with very few Cam Newton-like exceptions, no one player is going to make or break a recruiting class and certainly won't make or break a program.
The jets have gone silent now. Coaches and prospects can take deep breaths. Players can sign binding letters-of-intent starting Wednesday morning. By Wednesday afternoon, it will pretty much be over.
And sanity will return.
Until next time ...
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: