Entering critical season, Tony Barbee brings Ludacris, Mike Epps to Auburn’s Midnight Madness

The last time Auburn hosted a Midnight Madness event two years ago, only about 2,500 fans showed up to celebrate tip-off for the 2011-12 season.

Tigers coach Tony Barbee is hoping two special guests can help drum up more enthusiasm for this year's event.

Auburn has landed rapper Ludacris to perform at its Jungle Jam event on Oct. 4 and comedian Mike Epps to be the celebrity emcee for it. Associate athletic director of sales and marketing Jon Sirico told SportingNews.com that Barbee spearheaded the push to get Ludacris and Epps to Auburn after seeing other schools create a buzz by having big-name performers at their Midnight Madness events.

"We saw those schools doing that and wanted to do something at Auburn," Sirico said. "We're not historically a big basketball program but we're trying to change the culture here, trying to create some buzz for the program to take it to the next level."

Generating more enthusiasm for home games is critical for Barbee next season because his job could be in jeopardy if Auburn doesn't make some strides.

Barbee inherited a sparkling new basketball arena yet he has gone 35-59 in three seasons at Auburn, a stretch that culminated in last season's disastrous 9-23 record and last-place finish in a memorably bad SEC. Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs made it clear the 2013-14 season will be make-or-break for the fourth-year coach, telling reporters in mid-March, "My expectation is for our program to show significant improvement."

Of course, the risk of a star-studded Midnight Madness is the potential embarrassment of Ludacris and Epps performing for a half-empty arena. Auburn basketball is already a tough sell at a football-crazed school, and the Tigers have done nothing to help themselves this offseason, losing three starters to graduation and dismissing highly touted sophomore Shaq Johnson as a result of a marijuana arrest.

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