This week Tulsa is in Hawaii playing in the Diamond Head Classic. You may know that Tulsa is 5-4 on the season, but you probably don’t know much about the other teams in the field.
This article will give short paragraphs about each team, starting with Tulsa’s first opponent: SFA. Following my synopsis of every team, I will give my tournament predictions.
Stephen F. Austin (4-5)
KenPom has SFA as the 192nd best team in the country. 3 of their 4 wins have come against Division II opponents, and their 4th came against one of the 10 worst teams in division 1. Despite their lack of a quality win, the Lumberjacks looked competitive against Kentucky and Arkansas, losing by 26 to the Wildcats and 18 to the Razorbacks. Tulsa will have to defend two long forwards in this game, TJ Holyfield (#22) and Leon Gilmore III (#3) both stand 6’7″ tall and average 10 points and 7 boards a game. Otherwise, junior guard Ivan Canete (#11) is the leading scorer for this team, averaging 13 points per game and shooting over 50% from the field over 45% from 3, and 80% from the line.
San Diego State (5-4)
If Tulsa wins their first game (which they should) they’ll most likely face the Aztecs and legendary coach Steve Fisher. Despite their record, Kenpom has this team ranked as the 69th team in the nation, and the second best team in this tournament. The Aztecs are reeling a bit coming into this tournament, losers of three of their last four games including road losses to Loyola of Chicago and Grand Canyon, odd for a team that was the preseason choice to win the MWC. The biggest problem for the Aztecs has been offensively, as they rank 267th in shooting %. The Aztecs have a couple of guys that can beat you, but their most prolific scorer is Jeremy Hemsley (#42). Hemsley is shooting an incredible 21-35 (60%) from beyond the arc, and is averaging 17 points per game. The Aztecs are entering this tournament looking for answers, so if Tulsa matches up with them in the second round it would be a nice opportunity to pick up a quality win.
Southern Miss (3-6)
Losers of 5 straight, Kenpom has the Eagles ranked as the 336th best team in the country. The Golden Eagles were picked to finish last in C-USA, and don’t have an emerging leader so far this season. If Tulsa stumbles in round 1, they will certainly beat this sad squad.
San Francisco (8-2)
Moving to the other side of the bracket, we have an interesting team in the Dons. Despite their 8-2 record, Kenpom has SF as the 186th best team in the nation. The Dons have been impressive, winning 7 of their games by double digits, but they have yet to play a team that ranks higher the 200th! Not much was expected out of San Fran, they were picked dead last in the WCC. The Dons have used balanced scoring and an elite shooting % (11th in the nation in FG percentage) to get their 8-2 record, we’ll see how good they are in their first round matchup vs Utah.
Coming in at 65th, the Utes are the highest ranked Kenpom team in the field and the odds on favorites to win the tournament. The Utes are 7-2 on the year, with their only two losses coming to Butler and Xavier, 2 teams ranked in the top 25. The Utes don’t shoot the 3 ball, but they are very effective at getting points inside, lead by 6’9″ forward Kyle Kuzma (#35). Kuzma is averaging a double-double on the season, 16 points and 11 boards per game. The interesting thing about Utah is they only have 5 returning players from last year’s squad, and were picked to finish 8th in the conference. Despite their quality of losses, Utah has yet to tally an impressive win so far, and will be looking to build their resume by winning this tournament.
Illinois State (6-3)
I’ll save my breath a bit, considering the Golden Hurricane has already seen this team. The Redbirds are the 77th ranked team by Kenpom, and therefore the 3rd strongest team in the field. After their loss at Tulsa, ISU has tallied 2 more wins, including an impressive 82-71 win over St. Joe’s. This remains Tulsa’s best win of the season, and their is a good chance TU will see them later in this tournament..
Last year the Rainbow Warriors had a magical 28-5 season, including a first round victory over #4 seed California in the NCAA tournament. This year the ‘Bows only returned 4 players from least year’s team, and were picked to finish 8th out of 9 teams in the Big West. Through 9 games the Warriors have already matched their loss total from last year; however, Hawai’i is the host of the tournament, so don’t be surprised if they pull off the 1st round upset. The “natives” always get pumped for their nationally televised tournament, and it has lead to close games with Oklahoma and Kansas in the past two seasons. The warriors are lead by 6’7″ UCLA transfer Noah Allen, who averages 14 points and 6 rebounds per game at the guard position.
2. San Diego State
5. Illinois State
6. Stephen F. Austin
7. San Francisco
8. Southern Miss
I think Tulsa wins their first, then loses the next two. Part of my predictions are jaded by the fact that I don’t want to play Illinois State again, but I also think that Hawai’i has the huge advantage by playing at home. I’m looking forward to it!