Halfway through the American Athletic Conference schedule, the Tulane men’s basketball team is exactly where the league’s coaches expected.
That’s not good.
Predicted to finish last by all but one voter, the Green Wave (8-14, 1-8 AAC) has slipped to the bottom of the standings heading into a trip to Tulsa (13-7, 5-3) on Saturday in large part because its touted freshman class has yet to deliver on its promise.
Melvin Frazier, a high-flying but raw wing from Higgins High, went 2-for-10 with two turnovers and no assists in Tulane’s 73-60 loss to South Florida on Wednesday at Devlin Fieldhouse.
Shooting guard Kain Harris, from Chicago, played 24 minutes off the bench, and also went 2-for-10 with two turnovers.
Point guard Von Julien, who won four state championships at Riverside Academy, handed out a game-high five assists, but was 2-of-7 from the floor as his season-long shooting problems continued.
Power forward Blake Paul, from Landry-Walker, did not score or grab a rebound in six minutes after getting saddled with early foul trouble after entering as a reserve.
All four players were three-star recruits according to Rivals.com — doubling coach Ed Conroy’s total for his first five years combined — but none of them has been a consistent contributor as a freshman.
“They are still adjusting a little bit to the level of play,” Conroy said. “Case in point, Melvin had some really good drives last night, but we’re in one of the best defensive leagues in America. He has to clean up his finishing game. With some of the other guys, maybe it’s a matter of pressing a little bit.”
Their shooting numbers, like most of their teammates, are depressing. Frazier, who has started 10 times, is 42-of-101 (41.6 percent) overall, 11-of-38 (28.9 percent) on 3s and 20-of-41 (48.8 percent) on free throws.
Harris is 24-for-77 (31.2 percent) since the start of December with one double-figure scoring game. After showing early potential from long range, he has missed 10 of his past 11 3-point attempts.
“The grind of conference play can sometimes take your confidence away,” Conroy said. “You have to go through the first round of league play to really learn, and as we enter the second round, I think he’ll understand more about where his shots are coming from and step up.”
Julien is 15-for-50 (30.0 percent) since December, and that includes a 4-for-4 performance against Cincinnati last Sunday. He had nine consecutive games with one or fewer field goals before that burst.
The freshman trio is averaging only 14.4 points for a team that has struggled to put the ball in the basket all year.
“I just try to move on to the next play and forget about the last shot and keep shooting them,” Harris said. “I know I can make shots. It’s just a matter of time before they start falling.”
Paul, the fourth freshman, came in with the reputation as a rim protector and rebounder rather than a scorer. He has done none of those things since being pressed into heavier duty when starting center Jernard Jarreau went out with a leg injury against SMU on Jan. 17, blocking three shots in the last four games and grabbed just one rebound in the last two.
Paul’s season averages are 2.0 points and 2.1 rebounds in 10.0 minutes.
“I’m still learning the college game a little bit,” he said. “It’s just the athleticism. In high school you are the bigger, stronger player, so you just out-muscle the opponent, but in college everybody is as big and strong as you.”
Finding a way out of their funk will not be easy against Tulsa, which has beaten Tulane five times in row since 2013-14 with core players who have been starting since they were sophomores.
“It’s not the way we envisioned the first half of conference play going, but I think this group is together,” Conroy said. “They are working hard. It’s just been hard to find a rhythm, and hopefully we’ll find that down the stretch.”
Leading scorer Louis Dabney, who did not play against South Florida due to knee soreness, will be a game-time decision. … Tulsa sank 13 of 20 3-pointers in an 81-67 win at Devlin Fieldhouse on Jan. 10 while Tulane went 4 of 27.