With Wichita State in its first year of American Athletic Conference play, the league office may be on the verge of getting exactly what it wanted–a season-ending fight for first place between the Shockers and Cincinnati.
The two contenders play on the final Saturday before the AAC men's basketball tournament, and Tulane, one of the last teams that can mess up those championship-tilt plans, appears highly unlikely to win in Wichita, Kansas on Wednesday night.
The Green Wave (13-13, 4-10) has lost five in a row, seven of eight and nine of 11.
The 13th-ranked Shockers (21-5, 11-3) have won four in a row and six of the last seven, starting the hot streak with four consecutive victories by 19 or more points before beating the No. 11 Bearcats on the road Sunday to pull into a tie for second place with Houston, a game behind Cincinnati.
Tulane coach Mike Dunleavy sees few weaknesses in Wichita State, a popular pick to reach the Final Four in the preseason after returning its top eight scorers from a 31-5 team in the Missouri Valley Conference.
"They have the whole package," Dunleavy said. "Great size, length across the board, solid defensively, a low-post game, a 3-point game, a pick-and-roll game. It's like pick your poison with them."
Some of the Shockers' numbers are scary. They pace the AAC in scoring (83.8 points), field goal percentage (.483), 3-point field goal percentage (.390) and rebounding margin (plus-10.2).
Leading scorer Landry Shamet, who is hitting 45.1 percent of his 3-point shots, is the only player in coach Gregg Marshall's deep, 10-man rotation averaging at least 23 minutes.
Guard Conner Frankamp has committed eight turnovers all year, adding 55 assists for an astounding 8-1 ratio.
Tulane also will have to deal with 6-foot-8, 279-pound behemoth Shaquille Morris, who is averaging 13.3 points, and aggressive 6-foot-7 forward Rashard Kelly, who has grabbed 85 offensive rebounds.
Despite Tulane's slide, forward Cameron Reynolds said he and his teammates would head to Wichita with self-belief. Four of the Wave's last five losses have come by a combined 16 points.
"We've been right there, so it gives us confidence that we are not far off," he said. "We've just got to stay disciplined on defense at the end of the shot clock and close out games."
Injured and ill
Starting point guard Ray Ona Embo, who missed the Memphis game on Saturday with an aggravation of a hand injury, was limited in practice on Monday. He received an injection last week that was supposed to make his hand feel better, and it became more sensitive instead.
"He's day-by-day," Dunleavy said. "We'll see how his hand does. Hopefully he can give us something."
Sophomore Colin Slater, who had season highs of 14 points and 7 assists at Tulsa in his first start for Ona Embo, went scoreless with two assists in the same role against Memphis.
Dunleavy said Tulane center Blake Paul remained under the weather after Monday's practice. Paul missed a start for the first time this season and played only three minutes against Memphis on Saturday after catching a bug that was bothering other teammates,
Dunleavy is on the sick list, too.
"I was down all day yesterday," he said. "I saw the doctors today and got whatever medicines I can get. Everybody's got to suck it up and do what they can do."
Paul has scored two or fewer points in 11 of Tulane's last 13 games after scoring 12 in a conference-opening victory at Temple. … Tulane forward Samir Sehic has taken over the AAC field goal percentage lead from teammate Melvin Frazier. They rank 1-2, with Sehic hitting 57.7 percent of his shots to Frazier's 57.4. … Wichita State is Tulane's third first-time opponent this season. The Wave won the other two against LIU-Brooklyn and Colorado State. … This is Tulane's first game in Kansas since Jan. 20, 1976 versus Kansas State. … The Wave's last victory against a top-25 opponent was Dec. 22, 1999 against North Carolina State.