The 2016-2017 season should be an exciting year for the Golden Hurricane. After losing nine (yes, nine) seniors and four starters to graduation, Golden Hurricane hoops will have a lot of new faces making major contributions. Senior Pat Birt II came along huge in the latter half of last season, averaging nearly 16 points a game. Sophomore Sterling Taplin showed signs of potential in limited minutes last season as the back-up point guard, but I expect him to move into a major role next season. With Taplin’s ease of handling the basketball and Birt’s outside shooting ability, a Taplin/Birt II pick-and-pop could cause problems for opponents next winter. After redshirting last season, junior TK Edogi will be returning to the court. Edogi was a tough force inside during the 2014-2015 season. Junior transfer from Rutgers Junior Etou will have a big role for the Hurricane as a tenacious defender and a forward who can play inside and out. After a torn ACL, senior Corey Haith will return to the court for his first year playing with the Hurricane under his father, Coach Frank Haith. In addition to these five players, TU has a very solid incoming class with a lot of capable players – read more about it here and here. Replacing a senior class with All-Conference players like James Woodard and Shaquille Harrison is no easy task, but I expect Golden Hurricane hoops to surprise – it’s becoming a bit of a habit for Tulsa sports – in the 2016-2017 season.
In addition, there will be tough competition in the AAC. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, who made famous the term “Bracketology”, recently released his way-too-early predictions for next year’s March Madness (http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/bracketology/_/iteration/337), and it included three AAC teams. Lunardi is known for his remarkable accuracy in projecting the teams that will make the field. Last year, his preseason bracket correctly projected Tulsa to be an 11 seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. There are a few notables in his latest projections:
SMU Mustangs (Seed: 6) – After being the last remaining unbeaten team in the 2015-2016 season but being banned from the post-season, we can expect to see the Mustangs back in the Tournament in 2017. Although the Mustangs will be losing back-to-back American Conference Player-of-the-Year Nic Moore as well as forwards Marcus Kennedy and Jordan Tolbert, players such as senior Ben Moore and AAC All-Rookie team sophomore Shake Milton from Owasso, OK, are ready to fill their shoes.
UCONN Huskies (Seed: 7) – In the 2016 NCAA Tournament, the Huskies defeated Colorado 74-67 before falling to the top overall seed Kansas in the second round 73-61. The Huskies will be losing a couple starters, but key players Rodney Purvis and Amida Brimah will be returning for the upcoming season. On top of this, we can expect to see young talent step up for the Huskies, as they currently have the 9th ranked 2016 recruiting class according to ESPN.
Cincinnati Bearcats (Seed: 8) – The Bearcats had a heartbreaking one-point loss in the first round of the 2016 Tournament to Saint Joe’s. For the upcoming season, they will be returning All-Conference First Team guard Troy Caupain as well as Sophomore Jacob Evans, who finished last season strong. The Bearcats are also looking forward to the 2016 incoming class, ranked 40th by ESPN.
In addition to these three teams, there will solid AAC competition across the board. Memphis is returning key players, Temple will be Temple, and so on.
Last year, the Golden Hurricane made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. Next season, we look to make the tournament for back-to-back years for the first time since 2003.