Does anyone remember Bell’s Amusement Park? As a Tulsa lifer, I remember going there many times. Those who have lived here for a while definitely recall Zingo, the park’s main roller coaster.
Bell’s and Zingo may be gone, but anyone who has followed Tulsa basketball this year has likely felt the same pitfalls in their stomachs.
It’s strange. I shouldn’t be surprised by how this season is going, but I am. The RCS guys and everyone who even vaguely follows TU sports knew this year would be a “rollercoaster year.”
In fact, what surprises me the most is that this team is having a season that follows most closely to its amusement park comparison. The team started off low, working hard uphill to gain chemistry and identity, dropping a few easy games along the way (Jacksonville State?). But, they reached the top of the hill, winning 5 of 6 games, including against UCONN and Memphis. But, rollercoasters are not one way escalators. Next came the drop. And they
After starting AAC play at 5-1, we saw a stumble. A loss at East Carolina isn’t great, but this is a young team that had just rattled off 4 straight wins. They recovered to beat a decent UCF team, and all looked well again. It even carried over to a big prime time game against Cincinnati. Well, for 36 minutes at least.
The Hurricane had a decent lead with just a few minutes to play against the then-#14 team in the country, and gave it up. Senior guard Troy Caupain hit a huge game winner with just a few seconds left on the clock to lead the Bearcats to a 2 point win. Again, fine, that’s understandable with a young team against a team that’s that good. It was a disappointing end, but a good, competitive game. A Cincinnati fan blog even had this tweet for us after the game, which I agreed with at the time.
— OhVarsity! (@OhVarsity) February 2, 2017
Unfortunately, times change. The next 4 games saw the Hurricane losing by 72 total points. That’s an average of 18 points per game. There seem to be many problems with this team, but it’s only truly frustrating because not only have we seen them play better, but also their ceiling is high and seems limited by things that should be fixable, yet haven’t been.
As a 21 year old college student who only played basketball in high school, I understand my limitations to comment and make judgments. I don’t know the coaches’ gameplans. I’m not there during practice. I have no personal experience with collegiate basketball. But as a sports fan, I’m left with many questions.
Why can’t our team seem to play intelligent defense? Against SMU, the first bucket of the game was a wide open 3 by not only one of the better 3 point shooters in the country and an NBA prospect, but also the guy who tore us up last year: Shake Milton. How can you possibly lose track of that guy?
Why does our offense consist of passing the ball slowly around the 3 point arc until somebody looks up, realizes there’s only 8 seconds left on the shot clock, and tries to go 1 on 5 and make a move to score? I know this isn’t how the offense looks in Coach Haith’s head, and I understand that this is a young team not only in their first year playing together, but also their first year playing D1 basketball for most of them, but it’s frustrating to watch. Other teams seem to create open shots and movement. Our team seems to be dedicated to playing isolation YMCA ball after 15 seconds of passing the ball around.
I know Haith is said to have good offensive teams, but it hasn’t looked that way in his 3 years here at Tulsa. His first two were with other coaches’ recruits, and this year’s squad is young, but I’m starting to lose confidence. Since 2009, the 2012 Missouri Tigers under Haith had a top-5 offense based on points per possession, but I’m starting to think that was more due to the roster featuring 3 players who would go on to play professionally rather than Haith’s system. Again, it may be due to the players simply not being comfortable or familiar with the offense yet, but as each game goes by that the team fails to score 60 points, I begin to question the offense more and more.
Why doesn’t Travis Atson play more? This one is likely answered in Coach Haith’s head and probably due to what goes on in practice, but us RCS guys have no idea why Travis doesn’t see the floor more. Sure, he’s a bit slow for a wing, and undersized for a forward in the AAC, but he doesn’t play poorly when he does get minutes. A typical night for Travis seems to go like this:
He checks into the game about midway through the first half. He gets a rebound, moves through the offense, and usually scores at least once. He doesn’t take many bad shots. Defensively, he’s occasionally overmatched when switched to a bigger defender, but often holds his ground, boxes out, and doesn’t make any glaring mistakes.
After about 2 minutes of this, he is subbed out, never to return.
It’s confounding every time we see it happen, and I wish there was some explanation.
What will the players develop into? This is an important one regarding the future of the team. Some guys, such as Pat Birt, Corey Haith, and TK Edogi, seem to have reached their developmental boundary. Their talents and roles are well established, and there likely won’t be any surprises. However, most of the others cause me to wonder.
Can Sterling Taplin become a cornerstone/anchor/floor general/star?
Lawson Korita generally takes good shots and his shot is too pretty for me to really worry yet, but will his 3s start to connect?
Can Corey Henderson carve a niche as the 6th man scoring extraordinaire, a la OKC James Harden, LA Clippers Jamal Crawford, or JR Smith?
Will Geno Artison finally begin to trade his huge potential for on-court dividends?
Can Jaleel Wheeler decide to remain aggressive and look to score, yet keep his turnover count low?
Will Junior Etou learn to pass out of his head-down vertical drives when a defender steps over to stop him/take a charge?
How much can Martins Igbanu and Will Magnay add to their respective games? Martins has moved from raw talent, to a rebounding monster, to potentially becoming a stretch 5, as he went 3-4 from downtown against UCF on Valentine’s Day, while Magnay has been simply a rim protector and alley-oop threat, yet warms up before games shooting mid-range jumpers and 3s.
What is Joseph Battle’s ceiling? He’s an athletic wing, but seems to be such a blank slate that the coaches will likely be able to develop him in a multitude of ways… But what will they work on? Will he become a 3-and-D guy, a guy who can attack the defense and rim reminiscent of Shaq Harrison, or something else entirely?
Countless other questions dance inside my head, but those above are the main ones.
I urge Tulsa fans to remain patient with this year’s team. For those who watch NBA basketball, I would compare this year to my team, the Miami Heat: a team that isn’t really that good, and yet has won more than expected, for whatever reason. I have questions for the offensive system and for defensive gameplanning, but those could be answered sooner than next season, if all goes well.
I appreciate the passion the team brings every night. I love Shaq Harrison, Rashads Ray and Smith, and B-Swag, and miss James Woodard and the other seniors who no longer play in the Reynolds Center, but I feel like this roster is special. I truly believe they can reach great heights, and their attitude will certainly help. Seeing the looks of disgust and disappointment following bad losses at home when the band plays the alma mater displays their emotions and not just their desire to win, but their desire to not lose. The motivation for most is not always to succeed, but often to not fail. I study late into the night because I hope for good grades, sure, but mainly so I don’t bomb my tests. The anger and sadness when they come up short is encouraging, in a strange, twisted way, because it shows they want to be better and truly care about how the team performs. Last year’s squad didn’t like losing, but didn’t seem to have the same hunger as this year’s group.
This may be a rollercoaster season, but I promise you I’ll be right back in line to ride it again as many times as I can.