Season On the Line For The Tigers

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the football and basketball Tigers.

The Southeastern Conference season is not half over, but it's already do or die time for Auburn's basketball team.

At 2-4 in the SEC, the Tigers face a must win Saturday at home against Mississippi State. And Mississippi State isn't the team you want to face in that situation. With a home win over Mississippi State and a road win at Arkansas, Auburn could be at 4-4 at the halfway point and still within striking distance of an NCAA Tournament bid.

There actually were some good signs in the 68-52 loss at Florida. Point guard Lewis Monroe looked closer to full-speed than he has at any time since he returned from a broken foot suffered in preseason practice. The Tigers got the ball inside for some easy shots, but they missed too many of them. From here, that seems to be the biggest problem.

An uncontested layup or a wide-open three-point shot are no different against Florida than against Grambling. For whatever reason, other than in the second half against Arkansas, they haven't fallen in recent games. If they start falling, the Tigers have a chance to still make something good of this season. If they don't, this season will be a major disappointment and the speculation about Cliff Ellis' future as head coach will grow.

Coach Cliff Ellis

O'Connell Center was packed for Saturday's game. When Auburn got within two points past the midway point of the second half, the noise was deafening. It's always interesting to go to games there because, before Billy Donovan arrived in 1996, Florida basketball was much like Auburn basketball is now--some really good teams, some great players, little consistency.

Auburn had an opportunity in 1999 to build on its SEC championship team, but the excitement didn't last. If it is ever going to happen at Auburn, it will take energy and commitment from the administration to the coaches to the fans.

There's no good reason why it can't happen, but history says it probably won't.

In response to some emails I have received…

There were some questions raised about my statements about recruiting in my last column here. To clarify, there certainly are high school players who are obvious future stars before they get to college. It doesn't take much to see that a Bo Jackson or a Herschel Walker is going to do great things, but no recruiting class has many of those. The overall value of a recruiting class can't be determined until the players prove themselves on the field.

As for Auburn's recruiting prospects before the clandestine trip to Louisville, some folks took exception to the idea that Auburn was on the way to having an outstanding year. I don't know if it was or not. I said the coaches thought they were going to have an outstanding recruiting year. And they did think that. We'll never know whether they would have been right or wrong.

Not surprisingly, a lot of concern was expressed about Auburn's basketball program going before the Committee on Infractions. It's going to be quite interesting to see the outcome of that. NCAA rules don't allow enforcement staff members to participate in an investigation of a school where they previously worked, but David Didion did several of the interviews in Auburn's case. Auburn's complaints about that were greeted with shrugs from the enforcement staff.

Wannabe sports agent Mike Walker of McComb, Miss., a convicted felon, started the whole thing. He called Auburn, Kentucky and Alabama with accusations that prospect Jackie Butler had been offered money and that Huntsville AAU coach Mark Komara had been involved. Only Auburn took the bait and started a full-blown investigation. Clara Moore's accusation that she and her son, Huntsville-Lee star Chadd Moore, were offered money and a car came later. There isn't a shred of evidence to back up either claim, but the enforcement staff is determined to go forward. It will be up to the Committee on Infractions to determine whether the accusations have merit.

In a court of law, the case would already have been thrown out. But the NCAA Committee on Infractions is no court of law and the same rules do not apply. What this case really is about is the NCAA's desire to bring down Komara and Didion's desire to bring down Auburn basketball coach Cliff Ellis.

It's as simple as that.

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