Column: Auburn basketball finally looking up
by Johnathan Bentley
Mar 23, 2014 | 2081 views | 0 0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Even Nick Saban couldn't turn that team around.

I've heard that statement uttered about college and high school football teams for years.

That comment is saying that the (insert school here) football program is in such bad shape that even one of the top coaches in the nation couldn't do a thing with it.

It's a lost cause.

I've said the same thing about the Auburn basketball program.

Instead of Saban, I substitute Duke's famed Coach K.

"Even Krzyzewski couldn't turn Auburn's basketball program around," I would say.

Auburn basketball is a lost cause.

I've felt that way for about a decade.

That all changed on Tuesday morning. At around 11 a.m. my phone beeped.

It was a done deal, Auburn had hired Bruce Pearl as head basketball coach.

I could hardly believe it.

I frankly didn't think he would be interested in a program so accustomed to losing.

The last two times Auburn hired a basketball coach I was on Google within a matter of minutes looking up the name — just who is this Tony Barbee?

This time I actually knew who they were getting — one of the most energetic, charismatic and personable coaches in the game.

Forget the Jeff Lebos and Tony Barbees of the world, this time Auburn has a proven winner. While he is definitely no Krzyzewski, Pearl guided Tennessee to the Sweet 16 twice and the Eilte 8 once during his six-year stay in Knoxville.

Auburn's men's basketball team has been to the dance eight times — ever.

Yes, Pearl had his problems in the past, namely lying to the NCAA.

But when your basketball program has been a laughing stock in one of the worst major basketball conferences in the nation, it's well worth the risk.

How bad is the SEC?

The SEC had just three of its 14 teams make the NCAA Tournament field. The 10-team American conference had more bids (four) while the PAC-12, ACC, Big 10 and Atlantic 10 each had double the number of SEC bids.

Now that I've established that the SEC is not what it once was on the court, consider that Auburn was predicted to finish dead last in the conference in the preseason.

Auburn actually did better than predicted — the Tigers finished 12th — but they were shown up in the SEC Tournament by South Carolina, the 13th-place team.

When Auburn built its new arena in 2010, I said they should make the basketball team play in the antiquated Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum until it proved it was worthy of the new facility.

Had that been the case, that arena would have been empty for the past four seasons.

Barbee amassed a record of 49-75 on the Plains, meaning his name will again be Googled by the fans at his next landing spot — just who is this Tony Barbee?

With Pearl in charge, Barbee's name will be forgotten.

That same arena, which has had the atmosphere of a bus station over the last four years, will be electric with the infusion of Pearl's personality.

In recent years, the student section has consisted of about three guys yelling when the other team has the ball. The arena goes quiet when they catch their breath.

With Pearl courtside, Auburn will have its first home-court advantage since Marquis Daniels led the Tigers to the Sweet 16 in 2002-03.

I don't know how long it will take Pearl to work his magic, but he's had exactly zero losing seasons in his 19 years as a head coach.

A new era is here Auburn fans.

It's been a long wait.

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Johnathan Bentley is the Sports Editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at johnathan.bentley@mountaineagle.com.