After finishing off the regular season with a win over USF on Senior Night last Saturday, the Golden Hurricane men’s team were fourth in the conference standings. However due to SMU’s postseason ban for this season, they will take the third seed in the conference tournament next weekend.
Before they begin the play in the tournament, we will preview the potential games and teams that they will face in order to win the Conference Championship and the automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. The Golden Hurricane will most likely need to make it to the championship game in order to earn an at-large bid at this point. The good news is that there is no team in the tournament that TU hasn’t beaten, but on the flip side they did not complete the series sweep of anyone in the top six seeds.
After earning a bye for the first day of the tournament, the Golden Hurricane’s first game will be against Memphis (16–14, 7–10 AAC), to whom they lost last week on the road. The biggest part in the loss was the foul trouble that the Hurricane ran into, combined with injuries. They were called for 25 fouls throughout the game, and when D’Andre Wright and Brandon Swannegan ran into trouble, they had to run five guards because Rashad Smith was still recovering from injury.
After that game Head Coach Frank Haith said “We played five guards and it made it hard for us. I thought our guards fought like crazy to even give us a chance. I applaud our guards’ effort in terms of competing and fighting against a much bigger and longer and athletic team.”
That’s the biggest advantage Memphis will have in the game, as well as any other teams Tulsa ends up playing—size. While Tulsa has one of the smaller teams in the conference, that hasn’t stopped them from winning games, and shouldn’t change the way they play in the postseason. The other thing the Golden Hurricane will need to focus on in this rematch against Memphis is containing forwards Shaq Goodwin and Dedric Lawson who put up 28 and 27 points, respectively in their last meeting.
If they win that game they will most likely face Houston, the second seed of the tournament, in the semifinals. Houston (22–8, 12–6 AAC) and TU split their home games, with Houston winning 81–66 and Tulsa winning a week-and-a-half later 77–63. The biggest struggle the Golden Hurricane had in their loss was shooting only 33-percent from the field, and just 12-percent from beyond the three-point line. In the rematch junior Pat Birt went off tying his then career-high 27 points.
After the win Haith said, “We were good on both ends of the court. I thought that our execution was much better here compared to when we played Houston the first time. This was a really good win for us.”
Beating the Cougars in both total rebounds (33–22) and especially offensive rebounds (13–7) helped the Golden Hurricane control the game and put it out of reach for Houston.
Beating Houston or a lower seed if UCF or Tulane end up with the upset, would send the Golden Hurricane to the championship where they would most likely play Temple, Cincinnati or UConn.
Temple (19–10, 13–4 AAC) is the first overall seed in the tournament and of the three potential championship matches, the one that the Golden Hurricane would like to see. Temple beat the Golden Hurricane at home in overtime by four points, but TU won in Tulsa by 19 points in the rematch.
Haith talked about the Golden Hurricane’s size after the win, “There is no question that we were severely undersized tonight without Rashad Smith, and we are not very big anyway. For us to win the game today we felt like rebounding was the most important thing and our ability to limit them to one shot and push back. Our guys were fighting like crazy, and we were very conscious in finding guys, locating guys and pushing back.”
So while the loss of Smith hurt the Golden Hurricane in their games against Temple and Memphis, TU shouldn’t worry too much because Smith returned to the lineup off the bench in the win over USF last weekend.
Cincinnati (21–9, 11–6 AAC) beat the Hurricane handily 76–57 in Cincy, but the Golden Hurricane responded with a 70–68 OT win at the Reynolds Center.
After the loss Haith said “They physically whipped us. They were just more aggressive and played with great toughness. They set the tone early in the game the way they competed and how hard they went at it on both ends of the court. I think they were really aggressive on the offensive end how they attacked and got offensive rebounds.”
Cincy started that game off with an 18–2 run, and the Hurricane could not recover, playing catch-up for the rest of the game.
In the Golden Hurricane’s win, the biggest factor was once again the rebounding. When a team of Tulsa’s size is outrebounding their opponents, who have the height advantage, they are able to limit their offensive possessions and put up points of their own.
UConn (20–10, 10–7 AAC) beat the Golden Hurricane close at home after Tulsa beat them by nine in the middle of January. TU handled the Huskies at home, thanks to a huge run in the late minutes of the second half, and almost erased a 20-point deficit in the road loss. In order to avoid another tournament loss to the Huskies this year, the Golden Hurricane will need to prevent them from coming out of the gate hot. Because down the stretch TU can beat them.
It’s not going to be an easy three-game stretch for the men’s team, but as they’ve already shown, there is not a single team in the American Athletic Conference that they can’t beat, and they need to play with that mentality.