Here’s a metaphor: During halftime of the Tennessee-Auburn basketball game last Thursday eight nebbish college kids, one of which, a lanky blond guy, I recognized from a conversation a couple months back at Moe’s (“The line is moving slow tonight.” “It really is.”), gathered at halfcourt, four dressed in orange, four in navy, to compete in a contest sponsored by Geico. The Geico representative told the crowd the two teams were to spell out a word on the floor using teamwork and their bodies. “Refs” were on hand to judge letter acceptability. The prize, from what I understood, was $1,000 worth of gas split four ways.
“And the word for tonight’s contest is . . . Geico.” I made a noise indicating incredulity, a noise which I hoped would help me catch the eye of another detached viewer so we could share a moment of ironic disbelief. “Can you believe how earnest they’re being about all this nonsense?” our eyes would say. But everyone around me was too busy texting or making sure the girls two rows down didn’t steal their Tony Barbee bobbleheads or playing football player bingo. (My winning combo: Michael Dyer, Bart Eddins, Neil Caudle, Mike McNeil, Shaun Kitchens.)
After a period of controlled chaos, uncool excitability, and surprising flexibility, the orange team was declared the winner. They jumped and awkwardly hugged each other and the anthropomorphic gecko wearing referee stripes as the Geico rep both congratulated and ushered the whole procession off the court in one motion. A couple claps could be heard above the general drone of apathy while a group of girls on the front row giggled while glancing at Michael Dyer.
Last Thursday’s Tennessee loss is the only Auburn men’s basketball game I’ve watched this season. My first-hand experience is lacking and I’ve only given the other games a cursory following, but I feel I can say with resolute resoluteness that the 2010-2011 version of Auburn will, we can only hope, be remembered as a 2011-2012 and onward anecdote.
“Tony Barbee and Auburn have really turned it around this year after a challenging first year,” Mark Gottfried will say during a Thursday night game on ESPN 2 next season. “The return of Sullivan and a strong recruiting class has helped Barbee’s second team improve dramatically. I’m telling you, the man can coach and recruit. Watch out for the University of Auburn [sic] in the next couple of years.”
This team feels like so many of those Lebo teams — undermanned, undersized, and uncoordinated. Which makes sense, as Lebo recruited most of these players, almost all of which are tweeners — not particularly good at any one aspect of the game but tall and athletic and able to play two or three positions. They play hard; they hustle; they catch hot on occasion. But it’s like watching . . . well . . . it’s like watching eight inactive-looking college kids in orange and navy spell Geico with their bodies while the crowd yawns and hopes their section is selected for free Chick-fil-A.
Tennessee was playing without its best player, Scotty Hopson, who didn’t make the trip because of an ankle injury, and its coach, Bruce Pearl, who was still serving a suspension for hosting an illegal barbecue at his house and then straight-up lying about said barbecue to the NCAA. The guy I was sitting with, Patrick, loudly reminded Steven Pearl about his dad’s barbecue miscue. “Steven, barbecue at my house! How do you like your steaks, Steven? Steven, ask Brian if he wants to come to the barbecue!” It helped temper the monotony of Auburn ineptitude.
And yet, even without Hopson and Pearl, it was obvious Tennessee was the superior team. The Vols had more and better players, and Auburn didn’t have a great day shooting from 3-point range (2-13) and got out rebounded 38 to 24. (Full stats.) The rebound difference can (maybe?) be blamed by the absence of Rob Chubb, lady’s man and folk hero. Chubb, who had to play the South Carolina game, in which he scored a career-high 18 points, in borrowed shoes because he forgot his own pair, has been indefinitely suspended after he was arrested the afternoon after Auburn’s improbable victory against South Carolina for drunk and disorderly conduct and attempting to elude an officer, which, I’m going to guess, could best be described as “awkward” and “terrifying” as he is 6-foot-10 and was apparently very drunk. Maybe it’s too late to start my all-male “Chubb Chaser” group.
Before the South Carolina win, Auburn going winless in the SEC was a real fear. That embarrassing hurdle has been cleared, and we can now all begin the countdown to another Auburn-less March Madness and A-Day.
(This column brought to you by Geico. Drive your car and stuff. Geckos. Cavemen. Confident voices and puns.)
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