Improvements should have fans impressed with Barbee

Changes in the Auburn basketball program are coming sooner rather than later.

The Tigers haven't been too successful since falling to eventual national champion Syracuse in the Sweet 16 in 2003. With only one postseason tournament appearance in the following years, coming in the 2008-09 season, fans have recently forgotten the team's past success.

But the hiring of coach Tony Barbee was like being brought out of the Dark Ages. Putting his record at Auburn aside, everything he's done since arriving on the Plains has shown how bright the program's future is going to be.

Last year was rough--there's no denying that.

However, the team played with as much heart as any in the country, and that shows effective coaching.

Now that the 2011-12 season is here, this team is going to impress doubters.

Looking at the two exhibition games, Auburn is an offensive machine. The Tigers scored 86 and 83 points in those games, which is more than every game last season but one.

Sophomore guard Chris Denson is one of the reasons Auburn is scoring so many points. After showing improvements toward the end of last season, Denson is currently a starter. He has led the team with 21 and 16 points scored in the two exhibition games.

Every Auburn fan is glad to see junior guard Frankie Sullivan back on the court.

Sullivan played in only six games last season after tearing and re-injuring his ACL. Because of his lack of time on the court, he was given a medical hardship waiver, which allows for an extra year of eligibility.

Sullivan's presence on the court will play a huge role in Auburn's success this year. In the four games in which he started last season, all four were Auburn victories.

With Sullivan sidelined last year, senior forward Kenny Gabriel became the face of Auburn basketball.

There aren't many players who have ventured into Auburn Arena that are more fun to watch. Not to mention, Gabriel is also the leading scorer and rebounder returning from last year.

Gabriel has the ability to lead the team in most offensive categories.

He had two dunks last season that are probably still being shown somewhere. And when the lane to the hoop is blocked, Gabriel has the ability to knock down a three.

Putting those three players on the court is a nice combination, but there is just as much excitement for a new point guard. Junior Josh Wallace has always been a great defensive player, but has struggled to shoot well. That's why sophomore Varez Ward will bring something new to the team: a shooting point guard.

Then, there's arguably the most popular player on the team: junior center Rob Chubb.

Basketball is undeniably a team sport, and despite others making contributions on the court, Chubb will be the key factor for the team's success as long as he's a starter.

That's not meant to be taken in a positive way, though.

Chubb doesn't fully understand the concept of passing the ball. It doesn't matter if there are three men on him\0xAD\0xAD--nine times out of 10 he's going to shoot. The other time, the ball will be stolen.

If Chubb can learn ball movement, the offense will prosper substantially.

Ultimately, this may be one of the biggest factors toward Auburn's success in SEC play.

The indefinite suspension of sophomore guard Josh Langford is only affecting the team in negative ways.

Not only does it keep the 2010 No. 1 high school player in Alabama off the court, it always makes depth a possible issue.

Barbee will turn the program around. It will be sooner than later.

No one is expecting to compete for a conference title come March, but Auburn was picked to finish 10th in the conference this year. It's a stepping stone.

As Auburn tips off tomorrow night against McNeese State, who made the NIT last year, fans should be prepared for a show. This year's team definitely has the potential to surprise a few people.

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