Can Tulane be competitive in the AAC?

The league’s coaches gave a resounding “no” at Media Day, tabbing Tulane last out of 11 teams. That’s a strong statement, because the Green Wave returns 91 percent of its scoring and beat fellow AAC newcomer East Carolina on the road in their only meeting last season. The reason for the negativity is simple. Although Tulane was .500 overall and in Conference USA, it did not beat a team that finished in the top 150 of the RPI, and it lost 12 games by 15 or more points. Now it has to play home-and-home against Connecticut, Memphis and Cincinnati. Still, the bottom half of the league is unproven. Central Florida (13-18), South Florida (12-20), East Carolina (5-11 in C-USA) and Temple (9-22) are coming off dreadful years. How the Wave fares against them will be telling.

Is this coach Ed Conroy’s deepest team?

Absolutely, and the contrast to last year is particularly dramatic, when an exodus of transfers left the Wave low on functional players. Essentially, Tulane was a four-man team, with no one other than guards Louis Dabney, Jay Hook and Jonathan Stark and forward Tre Drye averaging as much as 4.0 points or 3.0 rebounds. This time, Conroy can count on the improvement of sophomores Cameron Reynolds, Peyton Henson and Josh Hearlihy. He also welcomes back athletic guard Kajon Mack, who missed 2013-14 with a foot injury, and adds talented freshman point guard Keith Pinckney. Last year, Tulane’s starters played until they dropped. This year, finding minutes for everyone will be difficult.

What is the Achilles’ heel?

Center. Tulane got virtually nothing out of the position last year, and there’s little proof anything will change. Kevin Thomas and Tomas Bruha are gone, leaving sophomore Ryan Smith as the only center with any experience. Although Conroy has praised his progress, Smith was overmatched every time he stepped on the court as a freshman. The other candidates provide even less immediate hope. Freshman Dylan Osetkowski needs time to develop. Freshman Stanley Roberts Jr. is a long-range project. Sophomore transfer Aaron Liberman, a walk-on, scored two points for Northwestern in 2013-14.

Where will Tulane improve the most?

Perimeter defense. The Wave forced a Conference USA-low 10.6 turnovers per game last year because it could not afford to pressure anyone due to its lack of depth. Stark averaged more than 37 minutes and had to save himself to run the offense. With the addition of Pinckney, the Georgia Player-of-the-Year, and the return of Mack the Wave became deeper and more athletic. Look for Tulane to force the issue more defensively and not just let opponents get into their offense whenever they want.

What is the biggest difference between Conference USA and the AAC?

Visibility. Whether or not the Wave is ready for a league upgrade right now, the long-term picture is positive. Conference USA had devolved into a basketball backwater through defections, and Tulane’s games rarely were on TV. Just about every AAC game is televised, and the simple fact that defending national champion UConn is coming to Devlin Fieldhouse on Feb. 7 will draw attention to the program.

-- Guerry Smith