By: Pat Fox, Matt Rechtien, Ryan Token
Our long awaited reaction to Tulsa being selected as the tenth best team in the American Athletic Conference at Media Days in mid-October. Pat, Ryan, and Matt explain why they agree or disagree with those results.
I’m not surprised the media picked us tenth in the conference. We finished seventh last year despite having the most talented player in program history since Paul Pressey and a preseason 2nd team All-Conference point guard. If you add in Curran Scott, we lost three of the four best shooters on the team—Jeriah Horne is the only one returning.
Frank Haith has brought in a lot of talent, especially from the transfer market. We haven’t had someone with size like Emmanuel Ugboh since “Big E” (Emmanuel Ezichinonso), but Ugboh can actually play basketball, which is important. Isaiah Hill is the best high school recruit Tulsa has had in a long time and Brandon Rachal looks like a solid wing player, but it’s hard to have much faith in this team with Frank Haith at the helm.
Haith has given us no reason to believe in his five years in charge—or really at any of his other stops—that he can develop talent and get them to mold together as a cohesive unit. He hasn’t won 20 games at TU without Shaq Harrison and James Woodard, aka Danny Manning’s recruits, but that could change this year with our god awful non-conference schedule.
I get why TU fans are so critical of Montgomery, but Frank Haith is a much worse coach and TU basketball will always be in the bottom half of the sixth best conference in America with Frank in charge.
I agree with Pat in that I’m not surprised the coaches picked us to finish tenth in the conference. I’m more than used to the #disrespect this point. However, just because I’m not surprised doesn’t mean I agree. Tulsa will finish better than tenth this year, and Frank Haith will continue his good-but-bad streak of always finishing higher than where his teams are picked in the preseason standings.
We lost a lot of talent last year with DaQuan Jeffries to the NBA, Sterling Taplin to Apollon Limassol in Cyprus, and Curran Scott to Clemson, but the big shoes that were left seem to have been filled. Jeriah Horne broke out in a big way last year and looks to take the reigns that DaQuan left him, Martins Igbanu and newcomer Emmanuel Ugboh make for a big, powerful front-court, and a mixture of Elijah Joiner, Brandon Rachal, highly touted freshman Isaiah Hill, and Darien Jackson creates an underrated and deceptively talented back-court. I think our back-court will actually be considerably improved this year compared to last year. Add in relative unknowns Josh Earley, Reggie Jones, and a potential breakout star in LSU transfer Brandon Rachal, and you’ve got what could actually be a surprisingly strong team.
Additionally, we have even more talent on the bench that won’t be suiting up at all until next year. It sounds like Georgia Tech transfer Curtis Haywood is redshirting this season, and former four-star recruit and Arkansas transfer Keyshawn Embery-Simpson’s waiver to play this year was denied by the NCAA for undisclosed reasons. Both of those guys have an opportunity to improve during this season and add to an even better, senior-laden team next year.
The teams picked to finish before us in the conference standings include a Temple team with a brand new head coach, an SMU team that has gotten worse essentially every year under Jankovich, a UCF team that is basically starting from scratch after losing their entire roster, and a UConn team that we continue to beat on a yearly basis. I’d say our ceiling this year is fifth place, but it’s more likely that we’ll end up at eighth ahead of SMU, UCF, ECU, and Tulane.
I’m not going to sugarcoat anything. I don’t really have high expectations for Tulsa this season. The American has become an arms race in the last couple of years, and I don’t think Tulsa has been keeping pace with a lot of teams in the conference. Memphis hired Penny Hardaway two years ago and he has made Memphis the top recruiter in the conference for the foreseeable future, Houston is coming off one of their best seasons ever and have back-to-back AAC coach of the year in Kelvin Sampson at the helm and Cincinnati had some addition by subtraction when Mick Cronin left for UCLA and they replaced him with Northern Kentucky’s John Brannen.
Those are just the top teams in the conference but the key thing with those three and throughout the conference is I believe most of the teams have better coaches than Tulsa’s Frank Haith. I know that we are bringing in a ton of new players this season, and some of them look to be incredibly talented, but Haith hasn’t proven that he can win at a high-level with any talent that he has brought in here. There were too many games last season where he was clearly out-coached and I don’t know if the talent we have makes up for that—especially because there are a lot of guys playing together for the first time.
So maybe my previous paragraphs don’t really justify this, but I do believe that we are better than the tenth best team in the conference. Kenpom has Tulsa listed as the ninth best team in the conference, so we’re already trending upwards! Tulane is moving in the right direction with Ron Hunter but they won’t be great this year, East Carolina has some good players but is still clearly the second weakest team in the conference, like Ryan said Central Florida will have a new look entirely after their successful season last year, and (benefit of writing just before publishing) Sunday saw the awful news that USF’s Alexis Yetna will miss the season because of a knee injury, and Southern Methodist will beat us head-to-head like normal, but Jankovich has increased their losses every season. Tulsa can be better than at least three of those teams (and maybe UConn because they #suck), so I think we will finish no worse than ninth in the conference with a chance for seventh. That’s technically positive, but I mean, barely right?