Tigers Don't Deserve Spot In NIT

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the Auburn basketball team's less than impressive exit from the SEC Tournament.

If we learned anything from Auburn's basketball team Thursday, it is that talk is cheap.

From the time it became obvious they would have a losing conference record, the Tigers talked about being ready for the SEC Tournament. They talked about being better than their record because of injuries to Lewis Monroe and Brandon Robinson. They talked about being ready to go all-out in the SEC Tournament.

Talk. That's all it was.

When Georgia players came out playing with energy and determination Thursday, Auburn players had no answer. The Bulldogs played better. They played with more confidence. And they played harder.

The result was an embarrassing 73-59 loss. Georgia scored the first 11 points of the game and led by 20 at the half. Auburn never made a serious run in the second half. This one was over five minutes into the game.

The Tigers went home Thursday night to wait for word on whether they will be invited to the NIT. I don't know why they'd want to go. This team had 28 games to make a statement. The only statement it made was that it's not very good. It would be a shame, really, for some lower level team that had a memorable season to sit home so this team can go play a game or two.

Marco Killingsworth scored 19 for the Tigers at the Georgia Dome on Thursday.

In the preseason, the Tigers were picked to finish second in the West. In retrospect, even if they'd been healthy, they didn't have what it takes to finish that high. The leadership provided last season by Marquis Daniels and Derrick Bird was missed as much as their play on the court. And let's not forget, even with those two, the Tigers were just 8-8 in the SEC before their run to the Sweet 16.

The debate will begin now on the future of Coach Cliff Ellis. No one in the Auburn administration has publicly addressed his future one way or the other. That might not change until after word comes from the NCAA Committee on Infractions.

The Tigers have a decent chance to be an NCAA Tournament team next season. They'll have every significant player back except center Kyle Davis, and for whatever reason, he was little more than a bit player down the stretch. They signed two potential stars in guards Tony Douglas and Frank Tolbert.

But the future beyond next season must be addressed. Auburn will never be Duke or Kentucky, but all it takes to get into the NCAA Tournament is to finish in the top half of the SEC. There is no reason Auburn can't do that on a consistent basis.

Ellis makes a good case for himself when he points out that the Tigers have been to three NCAA Tournaments and two Sweet 16s since 1999. His detractors point out that he has had winning SEC records just twice in 10 seasons.

There's no question Ellis can coach. He won Clemson's only ACC championship. He won the first SEC championship in 40 years at Auburn. He won a Sun Belt championship at South Alabama. Though it's easy and comfortable to blame the coach, bad playing is not always caused by bad coaching.

There is no good reason for what happened at the Georgia Dome on Thursday. Georgia is no overwhelming force. The Bulldogs are a good, solid team without much depth. They were one of Auburn's five regular-season SEC victims. There was no homecourt advantage. Georgia had no significant crowd advantage. What Georgia had was a passion advantage.

It's one thing to lose. It's quite another to be challenged and not answer. And Auburn didn't answer.


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