After opening 2-0 in the SEC following a good non-conference victory over FSU and a strong road showing vs. what was a ranked Illinois team at the time, the Tigers lost a double overtime game at Arkansas on January 16th. That started the downward spiral for the Tigers and nothing they tried was able to pull them out of their nose dive.
At the time of the narrow loss to the Razorbacks it is doubtful anyone suspected the team would just win one more game the rest of the season, but that is what happened as the Tigers dropped six consecutive contests before knocking off Alabama. Including an SEC Tournament loss to Texas A&M on Wednesday night in Nashville, the Tigers wrapped up the season on a 10-game losing streak.
After the 71-62 loss to the Aggies, Barbee took the blame for his team's 9-23 record, but for a season to go as poorly as it did for the Tigers there likely had to be multiple reasons and that was the case with Auburn. The Tigers' problems include:
Sullivan's Slump: Guard Frankie Sullivan finished his career as the eighth leading scorer in school history, but for most of the conference season the senior struggled with his shooting.
Sullivan is defended during Auburn's loss to the regular season SEC champion Florida Gators.
Obviously not his old self since having knee surgery, Sullivan didn't have his previous quickness or lateral mobility. That was a real issue and so were his struggles trying to handle the point guard role, something that wasn't natural to Sullivan whose turnovers were as big an issue for the Tigers as his shooting problems.
A Point Guard Short: While undersized senior Josh Wallace did an admirable job in his role at point guard, there wasn't any other player on the roster who could handle the assignment and the Tigers needed more than just Wallace to be successful at the position.
Barbee and his staff had recruited Varez Ward to be the main man at the point, but the transfer from Texas was dismissed from the squad at the end of last season, too late in the recruiting process to find a replacement of similar ability.
The Tigers did sign another guard, Brian Greene, but Barbee did not feel comfortable using the freshman as a point guard and limited his playing time to the two-guard spot.
Powered Down At Power Forward: Going into the season one of the keys to success was how juco transfer Sharief Adamu would perform as a replacement for Kenny Gabriel, a senior for the 2011-12 team. However, the six-foot-eight Adamu was dismissed from the team early in the season. The only other power forward on the roster was true freshman Jordon Granger, a player who could have benefitted from a redshirt season to add much-need size and strength.
Allen Payne, a small forward, was called on to be the starter at power forward, something he was physically challenged to do because of his lack of size. Although the junior played hard, like Sullivan he was playing out of position and it showed.
Allen Payne's assignment was to guard larger players, often much larger ones.
Barbee also used guard Noel Johnson at power forward, hoping to cause a mismatch for opponents because of the senior's outside shooting ability. However, after a good start to the season Johnson went into a shooting slump, too, which helps explain Auburn's offensive struggles in SEC play.
Injured Guards: Foot stress fracture injuries suffered by junior Chris Denson and freshman Jordan Price early in the SEC season also had a major impact on the offensive production. Denson was the second-leading scorer on the team when he was hurt and was playing the best basketball of his career. Price had just tied the SEC record for consecutive three-pointers made with 11.
Although both players returned, they were just getting back into game shape when the season ended in Nashville.
Looking For Points: With the injuries and Sullivan's shooting slump the Tigers struggled to score through much of the SEC schedule.
With seniors Sullivan and Johnson not able to put the ball in the basket consistently, Barbee looked to other veterans such as Payne and center Rob Chubb to pick up the scoring load, but neither player did that on a consistent basis.
Shaquille Johnson shoots for the Tigers.
Freshman Shaquille Johnson has the potential to be a good scorer at the SEC level, but in addition to making the transition to college he was changing his on-the-court role from a high school post player to a college two-guard so he wasn't ready to pick up the slack with the veterans struggling.
There was little scoring help from the other newcomers. Juco transfer Asauhn Dixon-Tatum made progress at center, but is primarly a defensive player. Guard K.T. Harrell, a transfer from the University of Virginia, could only practice and not play in games because of a mandatory redshirt season.
Defensive Inconsistency: Barbee's first two Auburn teams built a reputation for being aggressive, and generally effective, when defending opponents. However, despite having some solid performances the 2012-13 Tigers took a step backwards defensively compared to the 2010-11 and 2011-12 teams. Forwards Kenny Gabriel and Adrian Forbes were strong defensively. Both were missed as was Tony Neysmith, who matched up effectively on defense against big, physical guards.