Auburn: “Worst Team Ever in a Major Conference”

Yet to be fitted for my college basketball-watching shoes this season, but after listening to College Basketball RPI guru Jerry Palm today on Finebaum (mp3), I’m fixin’ to pull out the shoehorn.

Auburn Basketball

(war DAYUM eagle)

When asked by Finebaum to analyze the SEC West, Palm, who has tracked back to antiquity the NCAA hoops RPI ranking system so critical to the Big Dance, struck as significant - and historic! - chord as I’ve heard this season.

Palm to Finebaum:

“When you look at the (SEC) West, that’s an unmitigated disaster. There isn’t one good team in the West … Mississippi is remotely competent, but if that division was a league unto itself it would rank below the Ivy League in the College RPI rankings.”

Ranked below the Ivy League? Hard to imagine it can get any worse than that.

Unless you’re Auburn, that is.

Palm:

“Auburn might be the worst team ever in a major conference. Or at least in the last generation in a major conference, not just the SEC.”

When discussing Alabama’s remote chances of snagging an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, Finbaum asked Palm, “so when you beat a team like Auburn, even on the road, does it do you any good or are you better off not even playing?

Palm:

“You can’t help it because they’re in your league. As good as Auburn is in football, the team is that bad in basketball. They’re the worst major conference team in a generation. This is my 19th year that I’ve been tracking the RPI and when you look at the big six conferences, Auburn has a chance to be the worst team in the RPI probably by 40 or 50 spots over the last 20 years from a major conference. That’s how bad they are. They are dreadful. The numbers don’t lie.” 

Palm went on to say that if the NCAA tournament began today, five SEC East teams would make March Madness while exactly zero SEC West teams would be so privileged.

South Carolina is the only team in the SEC East according to Palm that might not be invited to the Big Dance. Though Palm said of the Gamecocks, “they might be good enough to win the SEC West but the problem is they’re the sixth best team in the (SEC) East.

So when Palm talks about Auburn vying for the title of worst college basketball team in major conference history, who are the Tigers up against?

One team: the vaunted 2007-08 Oregon State Beavers.

That season, the Beavers finished with a 6-25 record and an RPI ranking of 269. (Out of 341 teams.) That ranking had the Beavers a mere 25 spots down from Utah Valley State, 15 places short of Savannah State and just nine spots shy of Texas A&M … Corpus Christi that is. The Beavers completed the season 0-18 in Pac-10 play, the only team in modern conference history to complete such a feat.

And let’s not forget some of the more notable OSU moments.  Like the 79-62 home loss to Tennessee Tech and the completion of what has to be the worst week in Pac-10 basketball history: The Beavers lost 97-59 to Washington at home on 2/16/08, four days later were swamped 84-49 at UCLA and then followed that up with a 83-51 defeat at USC.

Astonishing? Not to Auburn.

The Tigers current stand 7-12 overall and 0-5 in the SEC. Auburn is currently ranked #310 in the RPI out of 345 teams, in the rear of something called Florida Gulf Coast, SIU … @ Edwardsville and USC … @ Upstate.

Like Oregon State, Auburn has already enjoyed an historic three-game skein this season, losing to UNC-Asheville, Samford and Campbell in a row to start the season. Lest we forget the Tigers being completely outclassed by Jacksonville University and Presbyterian shortly thereafter.

But, at least for me, Auburn’s performance against Mississippi State on Jan. 16 was the season’s le pièce de résistance

Playing against the 185th RPI-ranked Bulldogs, Auburn exploded out of the gate down 22-3 before rallying for a 85-66 loss.

Now, some may think that because Auburn is a football school AU Coach Tony Barbee may have more time to turn the program around than at most institutions - and there may be some truth to that. At least if Barbee’s job status comes down to satisfying Auburn’s number-one hoops booster.

That person would be Milton McGregor, the Alabama bingo parlor magnate whose million-dollar donation made the Tigers’ new basketball arena possible.

Milton McGregor

(#1 Auburn hoops fan’s Victoryland: Where hello means goodbye)

If that is indeed the case, Coach Barbee is looking at approximately 285 years to get things headed in the right direction. (Less time served.)

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