After a tough loss to Memphis in their opening game of the American Athletic Conference Tournament, where they lost by 22 points, most people counted the Golden Hurricane out as far as making March Madness; in fact, as much as it pains me to say, I was one of those people. However, on selection Sunday, the committee surprised almost everybody when they selected Tulsa as the final of 68 teams to play in the tournament, one of the four eleven-seeds playing in the “First Four” games against Michigan, a team that the Golden Hurricane had never faced before.
The initial reaction from the media was that there was no reason that the Golden Hurricane should even be in the tournament. Most people were saying that the mere presence of the Tulsa in the tournament was stealing a spot from better qualified teams, or better “Cinderella” teams like Monmouth for example.
When he was asked, the chairman of the committee, Joe Castiglione, the Athletic Director at the University of Oklahoma, said in an interview on ESPN that Tulsa was selected over the other bubble teams like Monmouth and Saint Mary’s because of their three top-50 RPI wins and the lack of big losses that the other two had, such as Monmouth’s three losses to teams under 200 RPI.
The last time Tulsa was in the tournament, in San Diego all the way back in 2014, I was not able to see them in person because I had neither the means (I was only a freshman at the time and could not in any way afford a flight to California), nor was I working for the Collegian at the time. This time, since I was only a six hour drive away from Dayton — I was in home in St. Louis — I knew that there was no way that I could miss the tournament.
On Wednesday morning, I hopped in the back seat of my close friend’s mom’s car — we are still college kids after all — and we road tripped up to Dayton getting in just in time for the early game, about three hours before TU’s late game. After waiting in traffic for what seemed like an hour, but realistically was only fifteen minutes, we made it to the stadium to pick up tickets/press pass, and then the hotel. I arrived for the Holy Cross vs. Southern game to scope out where to go, and got to see some extra basketball while I was at it.
While the first game was between two teams fighting for a sixteen-seed and the right to play Oregon, at least it was a competitive game to watch. The whole atmosphere at these kinds of games is just so exciting, everyone is just pumped to be watching basketball, and not everyone even has a horse in the race. There were people wearing apparel from colleges around the country who just wanted to be a part of the madness that the NCAA Tournament has to offer.
Once it was close to game time for Tulsa, I meandered to the floor to find my seat and settled in to watch the game. One of the hardest things about sitting with and being a part of the press is that you aren’t really supposed to visibly react or cheer during the game. That’s easy for people who are just reporters, but since I’m doubling as a diehard Golden Hurricane fan, let me tell you that it is not easy to not get excited when Rashad Ray passes the ball to Shaquille Harrison who slams it home.
Anyway, I had a great time watching Tulsa play even though parts were frustrating. We started the first half strong, stumbled a bit going into the half which had me a little worried, but came sprinting back after the break to take the game to the final minute before Michigan squeaked out the win by five points.
I’m convinced that even with the loss, Tulsa proved that they still belonged in the tournament. People were predicting the Golden Hurricane to get blown out by the Wolverines, and instead they just about stole the game.
Making the tournament was the best way for the nine seniors to finish their careers at Tulsa, and I would encourage anyone reading, if you are really passionate about Golden Hurricane basketball — and you should be — to make sure that you make a trip to watch them play in the tournament down the road, the experience is truly incredible and you just feel like a big part in the college basketball world. I know that I’ll be there.