As of writing this piece, this fine Christmas Eve eve evening (I’m clever, I know…), Tulsa has one game left before beginning American Athletic Conference play. Tulsa sits at 6-5, with a clear upward trajectory shining golden through the early season murkiness. Improvements across the board, clear from both the box score and the eye test, make this an encouraging season for this Hurricane team that’s as new as what’s under your tree this year. Although we have briefly covered the new players here, and talked about the tournament TU is in the midst of right now here, we have only just gotten full swing—or full shot, perhaps—into basketball season. Tulsa is the reigning Miami Beach Bowl champion, and now it is time to finally shift our eyes from the gridiron to the hardwood.
Hunter said I’m not allowed to open presents until I finish this article, so let’s get crackin’.
In descending order of the standings according to theamerican.org.
Cincinnati, KenPom #20
Troy Caupain is still on this team. No, I’m not joking, that guy is still on the team. He’s Cincinnati’s JJ Redick: just after you thought you were done having to face the guy, he’s back for another year. The Bearcats are 10-2, with losses to a sneaky good Rhode Island team on a neutral court and to a good Butler team on the road.
Cincinnati is a dangerous team, picked by many to win the conference, and have gotten off to a good start thus far. Cincinnati always seems to be a long team, which gives opponents fits on the glass. Only 5 of their 14 players are under 6’5! They are led by senior guard Troy Caupain, but are dangerous at many positions.
When they play Tulsa, expect a physical team that will definitely destroy us on the boards if we don’t box out consistently. They are long, experienced, and will feature a calm coach Mick Cronin, unless it is a close game; if so, Coach Cronin is prone to exploding and picking up a technical. Not necessarily a jab at Cronin, he is just intense and his team is, too. Tulsa will struggle to score against their length and defensive ability, but then again, the Bearcats are the favorites to win the AAC for a reason.
Houston, KenPom #52
Coached by Kelvin Sampson, the 9-3 Cougars are better than I gave them credit for in a recent podcast. As of right now, they are a likely NCAA tournament team; they have a nice win against Rhode Island, but have dropped games to Arkansas, LSU, and Harvard. The road loss to the Razorbacks isn’t the end of the world, but a team with its eyes on March Madness would hope to beat the Tigers and Crimson.
Sampson’s squad is led by Rob Gray Jr. with his 20.5 points per game. At 9-3, they seem impressive, but their strength of schedule is ranked 296th, so they may slow down as conference play begins. They are ranked 25th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, however, which is a fancy stat person way of saying they are good at putting the inflated round orange thing inside the elevated orange-er ring.
Tulsa needs to figure out its defense, especially its communication on that end, before playing the Cougars, or TU could see a number greater than 80 on the wrong side of the scoreboard; TU has scored 80+ just once, in an exhibition game against DII Northeastern State, while Houston has put up over 80 seven times in twelve games.
SMU, KenPom #34
Sitting at 10-3 in the first season post-Larry Brown and pre-more NCAA sanctions that I’m sure are coming (is my disdain for the Mustangs showing already? Good. I despise them), SMU is a good basketball team and I hate that I have to say that. Actually, let me have a second before finishing this section
(I hate SMU.
It makes me happy every time I remember that SMU became the first school to “achieve” 10 major NCAA infractions. The first! Before any other school! Go Mustangs!
I enjoy when Emmanuel Sanders drops the ball on TV because I know he attended SMU.
I had a friend visit SMU during a 90 degree day and he said he was the only guy on campus not wearing khaki pants.
Every time I drive down 75 into Dallas, I hold my breath when I pass by campus.
*Puts down stress ball*)
It somewhat pains me that fellow RCS members Hunter Hart and Brett Stewart have a friend from Owasso who is a basketball player who plays for the Mustangs. It pains me that he’s pretty good. It pains me even more that he is a big reason why they are successful, and it pains me the most that he will likely singlehandedly account for 30+ points against TU this year. But Owasso guard Shake Milton is good and that’s good for Oklahoma and all, but did he have to choose THEM?!
Anyways, SMU will likely finish second in the conference and will likely get a tournament berth, and that’s good for the conference and all, but, again, does it have to be THEM?
Tulsa will have a tough game in store with the Mustangs, but without Nic Moore this year (Thank GOD!), I think TU actually matches up fairly well with them, assuming we are able to communicate well on defense, limit turnovers, and defend the ball screen. That’s a lot to ask from this young team, but it’s not impossible to see us pulling off an upset win again like last year. SMU has athletic bigs, great play from the wings, and is just a pretty good team overall. Interestingly, both Australians on their roster have informed the school that they intend to transfer. Random, but our Australian is still on our team, so…
Anyways, I hope we can beat them this year. Fingers crossed.
Memphis, KenPom #81
Memphis is 320th out of 351 possible places in strength of schedule rating, but at 9-3 with losses to a Providence (#60), at Ole Miss (#84), and Monmouth (#73), the Tigers haven’t had any bad losses, and with wins against #69 Iowa and at #54 Oklahoma, they have looked pretty good so far.
Legendary coach Tubby Smith enters his first year at the school, where they are likely to be athletic and talented on the offensive end in isolation and long and active on the defensive side of the floor. Boasting two 6’11 players, they have size and will likely be hard to drive past. Tulsa may struggle to score, but the tempo Memphis seems to play at (in large part due to Coach Smith) will likely inflate the final numbers. Sophomore guard Dedric Lawson is a name I remember from last year as an “I’m not looking forward to seeing this guy for the next few years” type of player. He is averaging 21.2 points per game.
Oh, and one more thing to make this January 11th game fun: Tulsa was Coach Smith’s first head coaching gig.
UCF, KenPom #86
Central Florida may actually be decent this year. #86 according to KenPom puts them ahead of teams like Washington, LSU, Belmont, and Missouri. They are 29th in defensive efficiency, which is scary considering Tulsa often struggles to score for stretches.
They have other players who are more talented, but the clear standout on this Knights team is sophomore center Tacko Fall. He is from Senegal. He wears glasses when he plays. If you need help spotting him when they play at the Reynolds Center January 28th, he is number 24. If you need more help to find him on the court, he’s also 7’6. If you still can’t locate him, I hope you had someone else drive you to the game.
Fall averages 12.2 rebounds per game, 2.6 blocks per game, and 3.5 thoughts of “my goodness, trying to guard this guy is a joke, right?” per game.
He is shooting 83.8 (!!!) percent from the floor. The true threat for the Knights, however, is redshirt sophomore guard BJ Taylor, who leads the team in points (16.0) and assists (5.0) per game.
When TU faces the Knights, expect everyone to try to go around Tacko Fall, except for the bigs. Even though he has put on weight this year, Fall is still much skinnier than most of our bigs, so expect guys like Magnay and Etou to muscle their way down low. Just don’t expect Wheeler or Taplin to be as eager to try to finish around the rim when Tacko Fall is on the floor. I do think Tulsa could take advantage of Fall by drawing him out of the paint if Etou is on the floor as the 5, but I worry about rebounding against him. Although the Hurricane rebounded much better technically against an athletic San Diego State team tonight (December 23), no slacking on the boards can be had against someone of Fall’s size. With losses to George Washington and Penn, the Knights are beatable, but they are certainly no pushover like they have been in years past.
Temple, KenPom #85
They are 9-4 with losses to New Hampshire (they have a basketball team?), UMass, and George Washington, but with wins facing #25 Florida State and #19 West Virginia, the Owls are as shocking as the scandal Temple alum Bill Cosby is involved in.
This team seems unpredictable, which means they may make a run and even win a few NCAA games, or they may be a first round AAC tourney exit. Led by do-it-all junior Obi Enechionyia, the 6’10 forward is currently pacing the Owls in points, rebounds, and blocks per game. The Philadelphia squad is dangerous for TU; if our forwards get into foul trouble early, Enechionyia could have a huge game.
Daniel Dingle will be seen wearing an Owl jersey again this year; a student section favorite, for obvious reasons.
East Carolina, KenPom #181
8-5, against a schedule ranked 4th easiest in the country does not bode well for the purple Pirates. Losses include Mercer, Charlotte (Tulsa player Curran Scott’s old school), College of Charleston, and UNC-Wilmington. Their best win is…Air Force? Stetson maybe? I don’t even know…
They are 78th in defensive efficiency so with Tulsa’s issues with turnovers, this isn’t the walk-in-the-park game it was last year, but with a 298th offensive efficiency, East Carolina doesn’t seem likely to explode on the “fun” end of the court anytime soon, either. This should be a confidence builder for this young Hurricane team.
Tulsa, KenPom #132
Just kidding, guys.
USF, KenPom #235
Before beginning, let me admit that I was excited for this year’s matchup with the Bulls, as it would feature sophomore star Jahmal McMurray as the clear go-to guy after his awesome freshman season. Unfortunately, he told the coaching staff he would like to leave the program just nine games into the season. He was averaging 20.3 points per game before this decision, and his offensive abilities were a joy to watch. Last year, he scored 20 against Tulsa, but appeared to be able to catch fire and hit shots regardless of the looks the defense was giving him.
Boogie Lite is another member of the 2015-16 team that can no longer be seen wearing a Bulls jersey; he was a senior last year and was signed by the Dallas Mavericks. I still don’t think DeMarcus Cousins’ younger brother Jaleel was that good, but it was fun seeing a guy who looks and acts just like his older brother not able to play nearly the same level of basketball, yet showing the trademark frustration DeMarcus is known for.
The Bulls have lost to Elon, Florida Atlantic, George Washington (DESTROYER OF AAC TEAMS), #16 South Carolina, and Northern Illinois to open the year 6-5. Unfortunately for the team from Tampa, that was supposed to be the easy part of their schedule. The Hurricane should circle this matchup as a must-win if they want to finish anywhere near where they would like to this year
Michael Bibby, son of former NBA player Mike, is on this team. How ‘bout that.
UConn, KenPom #83
Not the start the Huskies were hoping for. In the preseason, UConn was ranked #18 by the AP and #16 by the USA Today Coaches Poll. Yes, the Huskies have had more injuries than their local Storrs hospital, but they still had expectations that were sky high with returning players like Jalen Adams, Amida Brimah, Kentan Facey, Rodney Purvis, and Terry Larrier, and highly touted newcomers Mamadou Diarra and Alterique Gilbert (Gilbert is my favorite to be “the next Kemba” for the inevitable “unlikely” championship run the “underdog” Huskies go on next year. They won in 2011 and 2014. Tulsa fans should be smart enough to realize the math says they’re due in 2017, even if “nobody believed in them”).
Despite being 5-6, the Huskies look to be more and more dangerous as the season trudges on. I can’t imagine them being any LESS healthy, unless the team collectively slips on some ice walking out of practice during a Connecticut snowstorm. Tulsa matches up with the Huskies relatively well if you ignore the experience and length advantages of the northern team. I’m afraid for these matchups, but I don’t see it as impossible for the Hurricane to steal a game this year. Jalen Adams, sophomore guard, is the real deal: 17.4 PPG, 5.8 APG, and great poise for a sophomore. Similar skillset to Tulsa’s Sterling Taplin, but with a bigger role in the offense.
Also, shout out to the American for giving the AAC Championship tourney to Connecticut this year. It’s been so long since it’s been there last (2015), and it’s nice all the other teams in the conference (Memphis, UCF) have gotten to host before picking a repeat location (not). It’s cool that the conference favorite (not UConn) gets rewarded by getting to host. Regardless, even if they weren’t the favorite (Cincinnati is), at least the tournament will be convenient and geographically centered for easy travel for all the teams (Houston is 1700 miles away).
I apologize for the sarcasm. The American is actually a really solid conference and I do believe the Power Six hype. If only we could get some Power Six football refs…
Tulane, KenPom #275
3-9 after playing the 244th hardest schedule? Not good news for the Green Wave. They lost to McNeese State, a team whom I had to Google to see if they were even Division I (they are). Tulane’s website brags that head coach Mike Dunleavy, Sr. has coached five basketball hall of famers through his various coaching jobs. No one on this roster will make that number increase to six.
Like East Carolina and South Florida, Tulsa should make sure to take care of business against the Green Wave and guarantee at least two wins in conference play in this transition year for the Golden Hurricane. Starting the year with UConn, at Houston, Memphis, and at Temple, Tulane may be the first conference win we get. Starting 0-4 in AAC play won’t look good to anyone, so watch for this January 18th showdown in T-Town to allow TU to put a 1 in the win column.
I’m excited for conference play this year, mainly to see how all the new pieces compete against known commodities such as Troy Caupain and Kentan Facey. Though I think Tulsa is a longshot to make the best postseason in all of sports—the NCAA Tournament—the conference will prove a great enough test and have enough talent to give the Hurricane the opportunity to play themselves in.