Phillip Marshall: Friday Morning Ramblings

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at the NCAA Tournament, Auburn's basketball programs, and Tommy Tuberville.

Duke is gone from the NCAA basketball tournament. Not only is Duke gone, it was bounced by a team from the Southeastern Conference.

You know the Southeastern Conference. That's the league that is down, not on the same level as the Big Ten, the Big East. And, of course, no SEC team is on the level with the mighty Blue Devils.

We all know that.

Don't we?

LSU's victory Thursday night simply underscores again the silliness of the season-long exercise in proclaiming one conference down, another up, one better than another. The computers and all the talking heads said all season that the Big Ten was the strongest conference in the country. The Big Ten didn't have a team make the Sweet 16.

For whatever reason, LSU got very little respect. Despite a gaudy 14-2 SEC record, the Bayou Bengals were barely in the top 25 at the end of the season. Despite handily winning the regular-season SEC championship, they were a No. 4 seed. Tennessee, despite fading down the stretch, was a No. 2 seed. Florida, which plays tonight in the Sweet 16, was a No. 3.

Glen "Big Baby" Davis has led his LSU team to the elite eight in the NCAA Tournament.

The truth is, whatever the sport, all this talk about which conference is better, which is down, which is up, is just that. Talk. It would be a great boost for the SEC if LSU and Florida could both land in the Final Four, but it wouldn't mean the SEC is better than, say, the Big 12. It would mean LSU and Florida navigated their way through the NCAA Tournament.

And there are a lot of factors involved in that other than who is the best team.

Florida, for instance, is in the Sweet 16 because it has won two games over teams (South Alabama and Wisconsin-Milwaukee) that would do well to be competitive if they were in major conferences. …

The final decision is not going to be made as quickly as a lot of people would like, but with every passing day it becomes more likely that Auburn will build a new basketball arena instead of renovating Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum and building a practice facility.

If things fall into place as those involved hope, the decision will be made in the coming weeks to build a state-of-the-art arena seating approximately 8,000, complete with skyboxes and all the amenities of a first-rate facility.

Already, Auburn officials have visited numerous arenas to get ideas about what they would like to do. If enough Auburn folks with resources to make substantial contributions step forward – and it looks like they will – it's going to happen. …

For the time being, Beard-Eaves is already getting something of a facelift. A new floor is being installed that will cover the entire bottom of the arena. That is significant for coaches because it will dramatically increase practice space.

Perhaps more important for the fans is that, when next season starts, there will be a new scoreboard and video screen hanging over the court. And there will be a new shot clock. No more embarrassing delays because of shot clock malfunctions. And you'll actually be able to see the video screen. …

The similarities between the Auburn careers of former football coach Pat Dye and current coach Tommy Tuberville are striking.

In his first seven seasons, Dye won 61 games and two SEC championships. In his first seven seasons, Tuberville won 60 games, one SEC championship and won or shared five division championships. Against both Alabama and Georgia, Auburn's biggest rivals, Dye was 4-3. Tuberville is 5-2 against both.

They even had similar disappointments. Dye's 1984 team was No. 1 in the preseason polls and his 1985 team moved to No. 1 early in the season. The 1984 team went 9-4 and the 1985 team 8-4. Tuberville's 2003 team was No. 6 in the preseason polls and picked by many to win the national championship, only to finish 8-5.

Though their personalities and approaches are very different, Tuberville and Dye are alike in one very important way: Dye got results and Tuberville gets results.

Already, Tuberville has established himself as an outstanding coach. It is the years to come that will determine whether he will be remembered among the all-time greats. …

Speaking of coaches, I expect Tuberville's hiring of Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator will turn out to be viewed the same way as his hiring of offensive coordinator Al Borges.

I'll be surprised if Auburn's defense isn't a far different animal in 2006 than it was under David Gibbs in 2005. …

Amazingly, two years after she was hired, Auburn women's coach Nell Fortner has yet to sign her contract. She is still working under the letter of agreement that she signed when she took the job. …

Until next time …

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