Tulsa Golden Hurricanes: 10-5 (3-0 American)
Head Coach: Frank Haith
When and Where: 9:30 ET at the Reynolds Center, Tulsa, OK
TV: CBS Sports Network
Preview: Tonight's late-night primetime special features the pre-season favorites in the AAC, the UConn Huskies, versus the current owners of first place in the conference, the Tulsa Hurricanes. The New Haven Register's Dave Borges said it best...
Raise your hand if you ever thought you'd see the day UConn would play a team in sole possession of first place in its league in Tulsa, Okla— David Borges (@DaveBorges) January 12, 2015
In all seriousness, this Tulsa team is a tough one. With an established coach in Frank Haith and a plethora of talented perimeter players, UConn is going to need to continue its lockdown defense and timely shooting in order to end Tulsa's five-game winning streak while keeping its own streak alive in the process.
Tulsa is not a very deep team, with just seven players averaging 15 minutes or more, each of whom are juniors. They are heavily reliant on their back court to produce points, with nearly 70 percent of its scoring coming from its top four guards, Shaquille Harrison (15.7 ppg), James Woodard (14.8 ppg), Marquel Curtis (8.2 ppg), and Rashad Ray (6.9 ppg). Harrison is the team's primary ball handler, averaging 3.4 assists per game and scoring at least 20 points in five of their last six while Woodard is unquestionably their biggest 3-point threat with 100 shot attempts already this season from deep. Though the team has only shot 32 percent from three on the year, Tulsa's three-point shooting is my number one concern for UConn's chances to come out of Oklahoma with a victory. I am convinced our perimeter defense anchored by Ryan Boatright, who is leading the AAC in steals at nearly 2 a game, Terrance Samuel, Rodney Purvis, and co. can keep these Tulsa guards out of the lane, but it is Woodard, Ray and Curtis's ability to get hot from three that gives Tulsa its best shot at a win.
Unlike a Cincinnati team UConn bested on Saturday, Tulsa's biggest weakness is unquestionably its size. Their frontline consists of 6-foot-9 D'Andre Wright, 6-foot-9 Brandon Swannegan, and 6-foot-7 Rashad Smith; a frontline that Amida Brimah should feast on. I expect a late dinner for the 7-foot sophomore, who has played All-American defense and wildly efficient offense over the last few weeks. Amida Brimah is first in the AAC in field goal percentage (67%) and second in blocks per game (2.8) while averaging 8 rebounds over the last four contests. Brimah has been able to stay on the floor and has altered just about every shot in the paint over UConn's last three wins. Kentan Facey, Daniel Hamilton, and even Rakim Lubin should be able to rebound against Tulsa's bigs in what I think will be the tipping-point matchup of the game.
UConn's success over these last three games can also be attributed to Boatright finally finding a Robin to go with his Batman on the perimeter-- or maybe even two. Whether it has been Rodney Purvis or Omar "The Resurrection" Calhoun, UConn has had the offense that it was missing earlier and, not surprisingly, is start stringing together some wins.
I also don't see Danny Hamilton's struggles continuing for much longer. It is clear he is having a problem limiting his turnovers and cleaning up his ball-handling, but Kevin Ollie has clearly identified the problem and is in the midst of solving it, as evidence by the lineup adjustments in the second half against Cincinnati, where Hamilton played the four and wasn't a part of breaking the press where his struggles were magnified.
Tulsa's early success in conference-play is impressive, but the Golden Hurricanes are still a year away from maximizing their talent and being a legit contender for the AAC title. UConn is starting to click and should be able to gut out a win behind a hungry Amida Brimah and UConn's improving perimeter offense.
Prediction: UConn 72, Tulsa 62