A trip to Cincinnati is a rough way to break out of a horrific shooting slump.
After failing to score more than 55 points while losing five in a row, the Tulane men’s basketball team gets an opponent that is 6-0 at home in the American Athletic Conference, allows a league-low 55.5 points per game and is hopping mad after getting blown out by Temple on Wednesday.
Can Tulane (13-7, 4-7 AAC) beat Cincinnati (17-7. 8-4) with its current form? Good luck with that.
“Cincinnati is a great program with a tremendous environment,” coach Ed Conroy said. “Even though they zone more now this year than they have in the past, their identity is still the same—just tenacious defense and great on the boards. We’ll have to solve that puzzle of finding a way to consistently score against probably the best defense in the land.”
Recently, Tulane has played some of the worst offense in its history. Until now, the last time the Wave scored 55 points or fewer in five consecutive games was 1944-45, 40 years before the advent of the shot clock.
Guards Louis Dabney and Jonathan Stark, the Wave’s leading scorers, have dipped below 40-percent shooting, with Dabney hitting 13-of-50 shots (26 percent) in the last four games and Stark connecting on 13-of-52 (25 percent) in the last five.
“There just needs to be more ball movement,” Dabney said. “We often get real stagnant on the floor and that messes up the flow of the offense. In this conference it’s a lot harder to beat teams when you just let the defense sit in one spot.”
Dabney’s poor percentage is due in part to the team-wide struggles, which often force him to take difficult shots at the end of the shot clock. Stark has gotten similar looks to the ones he had when he scored 46 points in a two-game stretch to earn AAC Player of the Week honors in early January. He just has not made them.
His 3-for-8 performance against UConn last Saturday was his best since going 8 for 18 against UCF on Jan. 14.
“I feel like I’m starting to get my confidence back,” Stark said. “I’m shooting the ball better in practice, and it’s going to translate into the game.”
Cincinnati won’t make it easy. The Bearcats have held all but two teams to 60 points or fewer in regulation and had limited 27 consecutive opponents to fewer than 70 points dating to last season before losing to Temple 75-59.
They rank third in the AAC in field goal percentage defense (.388), first in defensive rebounding, second in blocked shots and second in steals.
The series history bodes poorly for Tulane, too. Cincinnati has won 10 in a row going back to 1991, and the Wave even went 1-9 against the Bearcats during the Perry Clark era, when the program reached its zenith with three NCAA tournament appearances.
Although the Bearcats have gone to the NCAA tournament four straight years, this is not the same team that boasted two-time national player of the year Oscar Robertson (1959, 1960), won the NCAA championship twice in a row (1961, 1962) or played in 14 consecutive NCAA tournaments under former coach Bob Huggins from 1992-2005. Guard Troy Caupain is the only Cincinnati player averaging in double figures, and just barely at 10.2 points. Coach Mick Cronin has been out since mid-December due to health concerns and will miss the rest of this season, with interim Larry Davis replacing him.
Conroy saw some positive signs against UConn, when Tulane led 44-39 with less than seven minutes left before losing 62-53. Four days later, UConn clobbered league-leading Tulsa 70-45.
With no midweek games, the Wave had seven days to prepare for the Huskies and the Bearcats.
“The final score can disguise the fact we made progress last week,” Conroy said. “Cincy is a tough riddle to solve, but hopefully we can show some more progress this weekend.”