Friday, March 7, 2008

Auburn hitting wall; fans seem to be, too

Perhaps my voice-of-reason tendencies are talking here, but why have some Auburn fans turned on Jeff Lebo in the last week?

Yes, Auburn lost to Georgia and South Carolina in consecutive games. Yes, Georgia and South Carolina were two of the more beatable SEC opponents on Auburn's schedule.

Auburn played both teams at home, and their SEC records were on a par with Auburn's.

That said, South Carolina and Georgia were more beatable simply because the odds were more even. The Auburn team as constituted for most of this season is superior to neither Georgia nor South Carolina, just closer to even with both.

"Closer to even" does not necessarily equal "even."

South Carolina is small like Auburn, a four-guard-one-forward team. Still, the Gamecocks have more scholarship players available; Auburn has had seven for weeks.

The South Carolina game was March 1. That's well past time for an SEC team that essentially plays six players to go leg-dead, and that's what happened. A team with fresh legs doesn't miss jump shots that badly.

Georgia, like Auburn, has personnel issues. The Bulldogs have lost two to injuries and two to discipline, and another quit the team this season.

By my count, Georgia lost five players. Auburn lost seven for all or part of the season (I'll give a rundown shortly).

Georgia also plays a extremely physical game. For all of their years under Dennis Felton, the Bulldogs have made it their business to make opponents play ugly.

The game was played on March 5. Elbows, bumps and bangs weigh more on a leg-dead team.

It's not so amazing to me that Auburn lost both games. It's more amazing that Auburn waited until early March to crash.

It all leaves Auburn in an all-too-familiar place. With a likely loss at Arkansas on Saturday, Auburn will once again finish 4-12 in the SEC.

Four years seems like long enough for any coach to make more progress, but Lebo inherited NCAA sanctions. He has dealt with yearly transfers ... many for reasons not of his making ... and injuries.

Auburn has had personnel setbacks above normal attrition every year under Lebo.

This year's setbacks were the worst since Marco Killingsworth, Lewis Monroe, DeWayne Curtis and Brandon Robinson departed shortly after Auburn's 2004 coaching change. For those who forget what happened in the last year, a refresher course:

-- Promising sophomore guard Kelvin Lewis transferred after last season because his dad got a coaching gig at Houston.

-- Guard Archie Miaway didn't get it done in the classroom and did not play this season.

-- Signee Tyrell Lynch, a 6-9 forward, did not qualify.

-- An undisclosed medical issue prompted forward Josh Dollard, Auburn's leading scorer and rebounder, to take a medical redshirt before the season started.

-- A broken hand on Dec. 29 claimed forward Korvotney Barber for the season. He was leading the nation in shooting percentage.

-- Freshman center Boubacar Sylla sustained a stress reaction while trying to dunk in the home opener against Kennesaw State. He was lost for the season.

-- Guard Lucas Hargrove missed part of the season with a broken hand.

It's easy to forget all that's happened, especially when much of Auburn's fan base pays only passing or spotty attention to basketball.

Also, personnel losses Lebo faced this season didn't lose significance merely because some who paid attention grew tired of hearing about them. Those losses grew more significant as the season wore on, which is why Auburn hit the wall lately.

Again, more amazing to me is that it didn't happen sooner.

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