Head Coach: Frank Haith
2013-14 Record: 21-13, 13-3 in C-USA, 2nd round of NCAA Tournament
Key Losses: Pat Swilling, Jr. (8.6 PPG), Lew Evans (5.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG)
When they play UConn:
January 13 (at Tulsa)
February 12 (at UConn)
Tulsa comes into the year in a new conference and with a new coach after making the NCAA Tournament last season. Frank Haith, former Missouri coach, shocked everyone when he decided to take the open spot after Danny Manning left Tulsa for Wake Forest. Haith takes over a team that is led by mostly juniors. The 10 players in the Class of 2016 peaked a little earlier than expected as they rattled off 11 straight wins to capture the Conference-USA title before losing to UCLA 76-59 in the NCAA Tournament. All of the Golden Hurricanes' main contributors are back and they look ready to make a splash in the American.
James Woodard is a player everyone should know about heading into this season. The 6-foot-3 guard was the team's leading scorer last season, averaging 15.5 PPG while also pulling down 5.9 RPG. As a sophomore last year, he was named to the All-Conference USA 2nd-team and scored in double figures in 30 games, including 27 in a row. Woodard has been a go-to-guy since he stepped foot on campus as he averaged 12.0 PPG as a freshman and made the Conference-USA All-Freshman team. He has the ability to make the All-Conference team this year and keep up the success at Tulsa.
Joining Woodard in the backcourt will be 6-foot-4 guard Shaquille Harrison who will be the primary ball handler. Harrison did a little bit of everything last season averaging 9.6 PPG, grabbing 3.9 RPG and leading the team with 3.2 APG. Harrison has some of the most experience at the guard position in the conference as he has started every game in his first two years with the team. If he can cut down on his 2.3 turnovers per game, he can impact the game in a very positive way for Frank Haith.
In the frontcourt, Tulsa does not have the height that most teams do but will try to make up for it with physicality and versatility. Rashad Smith, a 6-foot-7 forward, was the team's second leading scorer last season at 12.0 PPG while also recording 4.9 RPG. If he can improve his perimeter shooting (just 1-5 from three), he can be an extremely effective stretch 4 by taking bigger defenders away from the basket.
Playing alongside Smith in the frontcourt is junior D'Andre Wright who is more of an actual big man. At 6-foot-9, 248 pounds, he had an outstanding freshman year, averaging 8.5 PPG with 5.1 RPG and earning a spot on the Conference USA All-Freshman team. Wright had somewhat of a sophomore slump only averaging 7.4 PPG with 3.9 RPG last year. The rebounding figure is what Tulsa coaches need to see improve right away or else he could start seeing more time on the bench.
A player to watch out for this season is Emmanuel Ezechinonso who stands at 6-foot-11, weighing 267 pounds. A native of Nigeria, he redshirted last season but Frank Haith may try to use him this year to see if he can be a force down low. Ezechinonso is extremely raw but has the ability to be a great rebounder, post-defender and shot blocker.
Although Tulsa may have missed a beat due to the departure of Manning, Frank Haith will make sure to have them ready for their first game. The Golden Hurricanes will be challenged in non-conference games against Auburn, Wichita State, Creighton and Oklahoma before trying to make a run in their new conference. Those games will say a lot about Tulsa as they will be going up against both size and athleticism.
Tulsa is a legitimate contender coming into the year as they have scorers, experience, and depth. If everyone does their job like last year, plus a little more, which they are certainly capable of, they have the ability to compete with every team in the American. Tulsa will get some signature wins in and out of conference and make the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.