AUBURN — After falling to Mississippi State 74-71 in overtime Saturday, Auburn has lost 15 of its past 16 games — the worst single-season stretch in program history — and finished the regular season in last place in the Southeastern Conference.
The Tigers (9-22, 3-15 SEC), who will face No. 11 seed Texas A&M in the opening round of the SEC Tournament in Nashville at 9 p.m. Wednesday, are tied for 247th in the RPI — last among the BCS Conference programs.
The last time Auburn lost 15 of 16 games was the final two games of 1945-46 through the first 14 games (1-13) of the 1946-47 season.
"It's been worse than what the numbers indicate for us, especially when you're used to winning or you want to win so badly," Auburn guard and leading scorer Frankie Sullivan said. "Last place, nobody wants to be in last place, but it is what it is, it's the cards we've been dealt with, now we've got to go into the SEC Tournament and play our hearts out."
It's the first time the Tigers have finished last in the conference under third-year coach Tony Barbee, who is 35-58 overall and 12-38 in SEC play — the worst three-year conference win percentage (.240) in program history.
After Saturday's loss in Starkville, Barbee told reporters with al.com and the Opelika-Auburn News he was "not at all" concerned about his job security.
On Monday, Barbee shed additional light as to why that is, saying he and Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs do not discuss the "state of the program," which is in its worst season by overall win percentage (.290) since 1973 (6-20, .231 win) and worst in conference since going 2-16 in 1989, Sonny Smith's final season.
"We haven't had conversations about that," Barbee said.
So what do Barbee, who earns $1.5 million annually and is under contract through June 2017 with a $750,000 per year buyout for each remaining year of his term, or more than $3 million as of today, and his boss talk about?
"About where the team is right now. How we're going to play against Texas A&M. How do I feel about Texas A&M? What have they got? Those things," Barbee said. "What's next, and that's this game against Texas A&M.
"He hasn't given me his feedback. He's asked me where I think the team is heading into Texas A&M."
Jacobs sent an email to the "Auburn Family" on Feb. 5 pleading for "patience" with the basketball program. The Tigers defeated Alabama the next evening but have lost nine straight since.
An Auburn athletics spokesman said Jacobs will "likely not have a comment on the basketball program until the end of the season."
Both Sullivan and guard Chris Denson, who scored a career-high 24 points in Saturday's loss, spoke about players not "buying in" to Barbee's message, though Barbee felt it was not an issue.
"What coach Barbee did at UTEP is the same thing he brought here, and they won at UTEP, so obviously, his methods work," Sullivan said. "You've just got to buy into it. (Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski) doesn't do it. He doesn't change his approach for his kids. When he brings in kids, they come and they buy into it, you've got to get guys to come into your program and buy what you're trying to sell."
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