Despite the fact that he still leads the team in scoring, averaging 15.7 points per game, senior guard Frankie Sullivan has fallen into a deep funk since Auburn's double-overtime loss to Arkansas back on Jan. 16. Averaging just 13.1 points in SEC play, Sullivan is shooting a paltry 33.6 percent from the floor and just 29 percent from three-point range in 10 league games.
The frustration for both Barbee and Sullivan came to a head late in the Kentucky game when Sullivan was benched following a hard foul against the Wildcats. Barbee says that's something fans will see more of beginning this Saturday against Arkansas as the Tigers try to get back on the winning track against the Razorbacks.
"He hasn't been playing well, so I've got to do something to get his attention," Barbee says. "He didn't play well in the Kentucky game, made some bad decisions offensively and made some bad decisions defensively, so it's time to look at somebody else at that position.
"He's still part of the team and part of the lineup and all those things, but he hasn't been playing well enough to warrant the minutes or opportunities that he's been getting. So now it's time to give somebody else a look. Chris Denson's been playing the last two games so I'm going to give him a look at that position for extended minutes and see if he can hold on to it."
Teams know his role for our team so they're making the game hard on him. He is trying to take too much on his shoulders instead of using his threat as a scorer to make the game easier for his teammates. He's trying to take it all on himself. He's putting himself in bad position offensively. He's taking bad shots when there are two guys on him. His teammates will be open and he's not finding them.
That has been apparent the last seven games for Sullivan since the loss to Arkansas. In the last seven games Sullivan has made just 25-82 shots (30 percent) and only has 12 combined assists. Barbee says his lack of confidence shooting the ball and not getting more teammates involved means a chance has to be made.
"I've got to do something to capture his attention, to take some of the pressure off him," Barbee notes. "Maybe he's putting too much pressure on himself that he thinks he has to do it by himself. But he's got some good teammates that he's got to trust."
With Sullivan struggling, Denson is the one that Barbee will be turning to in the role of sparkplug for the Tigers. The last time out the left-hander was 7-10 from the field and scored 15 points in just 29 minutes in a loss at Kentucky. Barbee says in addition to his offense the Columbus, Ga. native has added a better defensive mindset to his game.
"He's finally got the confidence back in his foot where he's able to slash and get to the rim and attack," Barbee says of Denson after coming back from a foot injury. "But I think the best part of the game is how he's affected the game defensively, where he's really been active guarding the ball. He's really been alert and aware off the ball. I think Chris has earned the opportunity in that spot right now."
Auburn will face Arkansas Wednesday night at 8 p.m. at the Auburn Arena. The game can be seen on CSS and also on ESPN3.