Some of the luster may have worn off, but Tulane men’s basketball coach Ed Conroy isn’t concerning himself with stature and prestige.
Less than a year removed from hoisting the national championship trophy, Connecticut may be struggling even to earn its way to the NCAA tournament this season, compiling a 14-11 record (7-6 American) which includes losses to Yale and Houston.
But that doesn’t make Sunday’s 3 p.m. tipoff any less important to either team.
In fact, for the Huskies, it’s only grown in magnitude, considering UConn’s margin of error has been trimmed razor thin. That likely means it can’t lose another RPI-damaging game and still earn at-large berth.
So the contest in Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut, has become a pivotal contest. Not only is it critical for the Huskies to maintain their postseason chances, it provides Tulane with another opportunity for a high-profile road win.
The Green Wave has already knocked off conference stalwarts Memphis and Cincinnati in their own buildings this season, proving that hostile environments and opponent pedigree aren’t intimidating Tulane.
“It’s a tough assignment but a great opportunity,” Conroy said of traveling to UConn. “We’ve been a fantastic road team all year. We had one poor half at Temple, but a plan is not going to win a game. You have to execute and play with energy. The fact that we’ve been good on the road until now is not going to do anything for us. We have to bring the right mindset.”
Conroy points to his team’s lack of consistency, which has kept the Green Wave from working its way into a postseason conversation of its own. Despite those two RPI-boosting wins, the Green Wave’s chances to reach its first NIT since 2000 have largely diminished because of its inability to score with regularity.
Since recording a 68-62 win over Houston on Jan. 17 (improving to 4-2 in the conference) Tulane has failed to eclipse more than 55 points in any game. The latest offensive tumble came Thursday night, when the Green Wave dropped a 67-55 decision to Central Florida, an opponent who owns the league’s worst statistical defense.
In conference games, Tulane’s once-promising offense now ranks 10th out of 11 teams in field-goal percentage (38.1 percent). Leading scorer Louis Dabney has made just 15 of his past 71 shots over the past seven games, emblematic of Tulane’s inability to put up points.
Despite all of the offensive struggles, the Green Wave nearly sprung the upset against Connecticut on Feb. 7, before losing 62-53 at Devlin Fieldhouse. That night, the Huskies relied on the shot-blocking of center Amida Brimah whose eight rejections helped spur UConn to a 22-3 advantage in fast break points.
There’s also the matter of defending guard Ryan Boatright, one of the heroes in last year’s championship run, who leads The American in scoring at 17.6 points per game and dropped 18 on the Green Wave to propel UConn to the win.
“We have to make good decisions around the rim,” Conroy said. “Brimah blocks a lot of shots and creates some offense for them. We have to guard the ball screen again and do a good job on Boatright. But most of all, it’s the things we can control. A lot of it has to do with our decisions on the offensive end.”
Tulane has shown it’s capable of winning big games on the road, but they’ll have to do it against a proud program desperate to maintain its postseason status Sunday.
“I believe that we can beat any team,” Tulane guard Jay Hook said. “I have the utmost confidence we can go up there and handle our business.”