Auburn finished 15-16 overall last season with just five wins in SEC play. Barbee is counting on a trio of seniors to lead his team--shooting guard Frankie Sullivan, center Rob Chubb and point guard Josh Wallace.
Frankie Sullivan is back as a fifth-year senior for the Tigers and should be one of the team's top players.
"Obviously, the effect since these guys have been with me for two-plus years, they know the system," Barbee said. "They know my expectations. They know now what I expect from them in terms not just of their own production within the program, but how I expect them to lead the young kids and groom them as they come into the door.
"That is when you start to build a program and not just a team, and that is where we are starting to get to in year three," added the coach, who has been able to put his team through practices going back to summer semester with new rules in place for men's college teams allowing a much earlier start to formal, full squad practices that previously began in October.
Chubb said the veterans on the team are taking their roles as leaders seriously and have spent a lot of time working with the four freshmen signees who arrived on campus in June as well as the two junior college transfers who enrolled for classes in August.
"Coach Barbee has given us some pointers," Chubb said. "He will say, ‘You should teach them this or help them out with that.' Going into the season, I think this team is much further along than we were my sophomore and junior years.
"I feel like we have momentum now," he added, noting that a new NCAA rule that allows two hours of coach-directed practices each week in the summer has helped the Tigers develop as a team.
"We have got the battle-hardened guys out there ready to play," Chubb said. "It helps out a lot that Josh Wallace is here and it helps out a lot that Frankie is here because they bring that extra year of experience and leadership," Chubb said of the fifth-year seniors.
"I see this team coming together," the 6-10, 251 center added. "We all get along well so I believe it is going to be a good year."
When the Tigers open the regular season on Nov. 9th at the Auburn Arena vs. IPFW from Fort Wayne, Ind., fans will see a different looking team.
The newcomers group includes a pair of highly-regarded six-foot-five freshmen from the Atlanta area--two guard Jordan Price from Southwest DeKalb High and small forward Shaq Johnson from Milton High. Point guard Brian Greene Jr. out of IMG Academy in Florida and forward Jordon Granger from the St. Louis area are the other freshmen scholarship players.
Barbee said he is expecting Price to develop into a big scorer. Johnson, who won a national slam dunk contest prior to his senior season and led his team to a state championship last season, wasn't a big scorer in high school like Price, but has a game that should adapt well to the athletic SEC. Greene is expected to play early and often and Granger, who led his team to a Missouri state title as a senior, is off to a solid start in practice.
Greene is a physical six-foot-three player who should challenge for a starting spot with Wallace being undersized at a liberally-listed 5-10, 170 pounds.
A key at the guard position will be for senior Sullivan to be his old self. Barbee noted that Sullivan was about 85 percent of full speed last year coming off knee surgery, but still led the Tigers in scoring at 12.9 points per game.
Barbee said that Sullivan is looking like his old self physically as the Tigers prepare for the guard's senior season.
The Tigers are also hoping that another guard, Noel Johnson, will develop into a key scorer. He was injured most of last season and averaged just 2.1 points per outing in limited playing time.
Chubb, a player who has improved each season, will be expected to improve on his averages of 8.1 points and 5.1 rebounds.
The key losses from last year's team were forward Kenny Gabriel, who averaged 12.2 points and 7.3 rebounds, guard Varez Ward (9.0 points, 3.8 rebounds) and forward Josh Langford (5.2 points, 2.1 rebounds).
Early playing time is available for seven-foot center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum and 6-8 forward Shareif Adamu. Both played juco ball last season in Georgia.
"I am excited about the veteran guys coming back coupled with the signing class and the increase in the level of talent that we have brought in," Barbee said.
"It helped to have the summer practices this year to work with some of the incoming guys," the coach pointed out. "For us it was really important because we have four freshmen and two transfers that we expect to play and contribute. To be able to introduce the break, terminology, the offense and the defensive concepts was really helpful.
"Plus, the guys that I have returning have bought into the culture that we need to be successful," he added. "We're really looking forward to getting started."
The Tigers will start their regular practice schedule on Friday evening. Auburn plays an exhibition game against Victory University on Oct. 30.