Last season brought an end to the Jeff Lebo era, which saw the Tigers go 96-93 over the past six seasons, 35-61 in conference play and no NCAA tournament appearances. Lebo’s exit paved the way for Barbee, who left his head coaching job at the University of Texas El Paso to put a jolt back into Auburn basketball.
“The excitement level is at an all-time high,” Barbee said. “The expectations to go along with that are very high.”
After four seasons with the Miners, Barbee coached his team to a Conference USA Championship, NCAA tournament appearance and was named Conference USA coach of the year.
The Barbee era will begin in the new state-of-the-art Auburn Arena. The $92.5 million arena has a capacity of 9,600 and is a much needed face-lift for the Tigers, who played in Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum for the past 40 seasons.
Barbee, a disciple of Kentucky head coach John Calipari, will display the highly successful, but different dribble-drive motion offense. The new offense will be at a much faster pace and should be more enjoyable for fans to watch, but a nightmare for opposing teams to defend.
“It’s a system where you get five guys on the floor at any one time using their talents individually for the collective unit of the team,” Barbee said.
This is the same offense Calipari brought with him to Kentucky and got the Wildcats a 35-3 record. While Auburn might not have five first-round draft picks like Kentucky, the new offense should bring success for the Tigers in the SEC.
“(The offense) puts a lot of pressure on defenses,” Barbee said. “And it gets you to the foul line as a team a lot. That’s what I like about it.”
Unfortunately, Barbee will not have a lot of experience on this year’s team. Auburn’s lone returning starter, Frankie Sullivan, underwent knee surgery Tuesday.
“I feel for Frankie,” Barbee said in a release by the University. “We were all looking forward to him having a big year."
The only other players who received significant minutes last season were sophomores Andre Malone, Josh Wallace and Earnest Ross, who along with Kenny Gabriel, averaged a combined 9.85 minutes per game.
Barbee, who was named the third best recruiter in the country by rivals.com while he was an assistant at Memphis, secured a solid recruiting class to help with the inexperience of his team.
This recruiting class is headlined by 6-foot-8, four-star prospect Luke Cothran, who turned down offers from Alabama, N.C. State and Connecticut to sign with the Tigers. Joining Cothran will be Josh Langford, the reigning Alabama Mr. Basketball.
“(Langford) can play anywhere along the perimeter or along the front line with his skill set,” Barbee said.
Also, the addition of Shawn Kemp Jr., former Alabama commit and son of former NBA star Shawn Kemp, will give Auburn the good size it has lacked in the past.
“Size-wise with Luke Cothran and Shawn Kemp along the front line will bring us some depth and size that we don’t necessarily have,” Barbee said.
Auburn also signed Allen Payne, a versatile 6-foot-7 player who can play inside or outside, along with guard Chris Denson and forward Adrian Forbes.
In addition to the always tough SEC schedule, the Tigers will play a taxing non-conference schedule, but Barbee is confident in his team.
“There is not a game on the schedule that I look at and say we can’t win this game, and that’s the approach I want my team to take,” Barbee said.