Rue's Rant on College Sports in Alabama

January 15, 2010 12:58 PM

Hot Seat Getting Hotter For Auburn's Lebo

Jeff Lebo reacts.jpgThe whispers are beginning to grow louder. And in the next few weeks they could reach a crescendo.

"Lebo Must Go!"

I don't necessarily want to hear it, but with Auburn's basketball season heading toward disaster it's understandable that some folks don't want to see head coach Jeff Lebo around next year for a seventh season.

Their reasoning: With Auburn set to open a new $92 million arena next season perhaps the Tigers also should have a new coach.

I think Lebo deserves a chance to coach at least one season in Auburn's new place. After all, last season he did lead the Tigers to 24 wins, the second most in school history.  The Tigers were one of the last teams left out of the 2009 NCAA Tournament and narrowly missed reaching the NIT Final Four.

Plus, Lebo signed an impressive recruiting class during the early-signing period in November. He landed Shawn Kemp, a 6-foot-10, 215-pound center from Canton, Ga.; Heath Houston, a 6-7, 225-pound forward from Powder Springs, Ga.; Jalen Steele, a 6-2, 180-pound guard from Knoxville, Tenn.; Anthony Salter, a 5-11 point guard from Tallahassee, Fla.; Allen Payne, a 6-6, 205-pound forward from Cincinnati, Ohio; and Adrian Forbes, a 6-8, 230-pound power forward from Spanish Town, Jamaica.

The class has been ranked fifth nationally by HoopScoop magazine.

"I think we really helped ourselves in some areas," Lebo said after the signings. "Obviously, we lose a lot of players so this is going to be a big class for us. We lose guys who played a lot for us so we are looking for some immediate impact from this class. We feel really good about our class. They come from winning programs and are used to winning. They are tough kids, and you hope that they come in and contribute right away. That is why you recruit them. This is a big class for us. There is no doubt about it."

Lebo should get a chance to coach his new players because his tenure, which began with the 2004-05 season and the program listing along, has been marred by player injuries (not his fault) and player defections (partly his fault).

This season, despite having three starters returning -  leading scorer DeWayne Reed, leading 3-point shooter Tay Waller and forward Lucas Hargrove - plus valuable reserve guard Frankie Sullivan, little was expected from the Tigers. That's because Korvotney Barber, Rasheem Barrett and Quantez Robertson had graduated. That trio was the main reason Lebo was able to turn Auburn's program around.

Without them the Tigers were picked to finish last in the Southeastern Conference West Division, but no one foresaw some of the bad losses Auburn had during nonconference play. The Tigers lost to Missouri State, Central Florida and Troy and were blown out 107-89 at home by Sam Houston State.

Now, they are 9-8 overall and have gotten off to a 0-2 start in the SEC, falling at home to South Carolina 80-71 with the Gamecocks' Devan Downey dropping 33 points on them and on the road Thursday night at Tennessee 81-55.

Against the Volunteers, the Tigers had a 34-22 in the first half, but Tennessee went on a 16-0 run and led 38-37 at halftime. In the second half, Auburn totally collapsed, getting outscored 43-18. After hitting 10 3-pointers in the first half, the Tigers made only one in the second half. They have to rely on outside shooting because their inside game is nonexistent.

"We got nothing from our inside game, I mean zero," Lebo said after the loss to Tennessee. "We were kind of forced at that point to go out on the perimeter, and we shot the ball so poorly in the second half."

The schedule doesn't get any easier. They play host to second-ranked Kentucky Saturday, then hit the road for games at LSU and Vanderbilt before coming back home to play Ole Miss and Alabama to close January.

Any victory Auburn gets during that stretch will be considered an upset, including at LSU, which also is off to a 0-2 SEC start.

And as the losses mount, the whispers about getting rid Lebo undoubtedly will become a scream.

A Member Of