By Jon Rothstein
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Tony Barbee needed depth.
He saw it practice, it was reiterated in games, and when Barbee and his staff sat in meetings, the number one thing they discussed was putting together an SEC-caliber roster so they could be in position to compete with the top half of the teams in their conference.
After two seasons of coaching a depleted team, Barbee finally has his wish — and that’s why Auburn has a chance to look vastly different than they’ve looked during the past two seasons.
“For the first time since I’ve been here, we’re two deep at every position,” Barbee said. “That should allow me to coach the way I want to coach. We’ll be able to press, trap, and speed the game up. I like the combination we have now. We’ve got six veterans returning and we’re bringing in the best recruiting class we’ve had since I’ve been here. We also return our leading scorer in Frankie Sullivan as well as our starting center in Rob Chubb. It’s taken some time but we’ve got some pieces now.”
A six-man recruiting class should allow Barbee and Auburn to have the necessary depth and athleticism needed to compete in the SEC on a nightly basis. Freshmen guards Jordan Price and Shaq Johnson were both consensus Top 100 recruits by most recruiting services and Barbee feels that 6-3 point guard Brian Greene will have a significant role in his first season of college basketball.
“All of our freshmen are expected to have an impact,” Barbee said. “Jordan Price has a unique skill set. His natural feel is at point guard but he’ll play multiple positions on the floor. He’s the most talented player we’ve had since I got here. Shaq Johnson is an all-world athlete but he’s still evolving as a basketball player. He’s far from a finished product but he’s the type of guy we could put at the front of a press, and Brian Greene is another exceptional athlete whose physically mature already at 6-3, 205 pounds.”
Those three along with freshman forward Jordon Granger and JUCO transfers Sharief Adamu and Assauhn Tatum are the six newcomers Barbee is counting on to make Auburn relevant in the SEC.
The 6-8 Adamu began his career at Alabama State and helped the Hornets win the SWAC and advance to the NCAA Tournament.
Tatum, meanwhile is an intriguing prospect because of history and background. Originally a perimeter player at 6-6, Tatum grew to 7-feet tall while still maintaining guard like skills.
“He’s a difference making talent,” Barbee said of Tatum, who had eight triple-doubles last season in junior college. “He has qualities you can’t teach. He has a chance to give us a bigger defensive presence.”
In addition to their six newcomers, Auburn has several veterans that should be primed to be better than they were a year ago.
Sullivan and Chubb should be the Tigers known commodities in their starting lineup and Chris Denson and Josh Wallace are two back court pieces that played about 20 minutes a game last season. Barbee is also hopeful that Noel Johnson finally finds the shooting form that was envisioned when he transferred from Clemson.
“I think Noel has set up himself to have a great senior year,” Barbee said. “He’s had a great summer.”
Johnson’s ability to make outside shots could be a vital component for Auburn. The Tigers best outside shooter last season was Denson at just under 35% and making shots at a regular clip will be paramount if this team is to have a chance to have a winning season.
The non-conference schedule provide plenty of opportunities for this team to make statements on the national level. Auburn is in the Charleston Classic and will face Murray State in their first-round game. St. John’s, Baylor, and Colorado are also in the bracket. The Tigers also host Florida State and DePaul while traveling to Illinois.
There’s no questioning that Barbee has upgraded the talent level in this program. Take one look at Auburn’s roster and you can see the Tigers are positioned to be significantly better in the next few years. Barbee thinks the world of Price’s long term potential and Virginia transfer KT Harrell will have an immediate impact after he sits out this year and becomes eligible for the 2013-14 season.
No one knows where Auburn will finish in the SEC this season but here’s one thing that’s certain — they have a chance.
“The top of the SEC is still very strong and those teams aren’t going anywhere,” Barbee said. “But the teams that were in the middle of the league have come back a little bit and the teams at the bottom have all gotten better. We think we’re in that group of teams that have a chance to make a jump.”
Your prediction for Auburn? Let Jon know in the comments below!