Now is the best time to be an Auburn basketball fan

Published 11:38 pm Saturday, March 7, 2009

For most, any reference to Auburn immediately conjures an image of football.

Jordan-Hare Stadium; 86,000 fans; the Eagle flight and a deafening roar. Given the team’s success in recent years, it’s hard not to have football on the mind.

That may have changed a bit with Auburn’s 5-6 record on the gridiron this season, but the basketball programs have taken up the slack. Both have had a hand in helping Tiger fans forget about Tony Franklin, Tommy Tubberville’s firing/resignation (depending on who you believe) and a 36-0 pasting at the hands of hated rival Alabama.

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The women’s basketball team has experienced their fair share of success in the last decade. Since 1999, Auburn has reached the won a WNIT title, reached the NCAA tournament three times and won at least 20 games on six occasions.

But 2009 has gone above and beyond the status quo expectations. The Tigers pulled off a rare feat in Saturday’s SEC Tournament semifinal win over Tennessee. It was the second time the Lady Vols lost to an SEC foe in the same season. There’s a sentence that hasn’t been mentioned often since Pat Summit took over the reigns. It was also the first time Tennessee lost five SEC games in the same calendar year for the first time since 1997.

That puts Auburn’s season record at 29-2, and the Tigers are currently ranked No. 6 in the nation.

The men’s team is nothing to sneeze at, either. It took Jeff Lebo some time to get it right, but he has the Tigers roaring as March approaches. With a 22-10 record and Saturday’s win over SEC regular season champion LSU, Auburn seems primed for a level of success not seen since the heyday of Chris Porter and the “Cliff Dwellers.”

Will they make the NCAA Tournament? There’s a lot of basketball left before that is determined. It won’t hurt that the odds are better than they’ve been in a decade.

At most schools, Auburn’s 2008-09 success would be enough, but the cherry on top is under construction in the form of a basketball arena any basketball power in the country will be envious of.

The new digs’ $92.5 million price tag seems a bit hefty, but it will have any and every tool necessary for prospect recruitment and player improvement. Adding a venue with 29,000 square feet of student-athlete space, a two-court practice facility, coaches’ offices, the Auburn University athletic ticket office, an AU Team Store, the relocated Lovelace Museum, two food courts and many other amenities does not come cheap.

Though both teams will be active this postseason, the spring talk will no doubt include (if not give way) to Gene Chizik, Gus Malzahn and spring football practice. There may even be a few positive things said, despite a disappointing 2008 season.

The football program can thank the basketball programs for that.