The Tulane men’s basketball team has an opportunity to scratch a 15-year itch.
Exactly 15 years to the day since its last win against a ranked opponent (North Carolina State), the Green Wave (9-1) faces No. 16, undefeated Washington (10-0) on Monday night in Seattle. After surviving closer-than-expected tests last week as a heavy favorite against Savannah State and Jackson State, the Wave can’t wait to take its swing at a major upset.
Picked last in the American Athletic Conference by the coaches, Tulane is the only team in the league with fewer than three defeats to this point.
“This is a big game,” senior guard Jay Hook said. “This game and the St. John’s game (Tulane faces the No. 20 Red Storm on Dec. 28) will really define us in terms of where we are and how developed we are and where we’re going as a team. We definitely have a chance. They have to be more afraid of us than we’re worried about them.”
Tulane has not measured up against prime competition in coach Ed Conroy’s five-year tenure, falling by double digits to all three top-25 teams it faced (No. 20 Georgetown in 2010, No. 1 Syracuse in 2011 and No. 17 Memphis in 2013). Last season, the Wave went 0-7 against the top five teams in Conference USA and was blown out each time, losing by an average of 24 points.
Washington presents a formidable challenge. The Huskies nearly blew a 20-point first-half lead against Oklahoma in Las Vegas on Saturday night, but they held on to beat the 15th-ranked Sooners 79-77 and remain one of eight unbeaten teams nationally.
Washington will tower over the Wave with a potential frontline of 7-foot center Robert Upshaw and forwards Shawn Kemp Jr. (6-9) and Jernard Jarreau (6-10). Sophomore point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, a former McDonald’s All-America selection, averages 14.6 points, 6.9 assists and 5.4 rebounds.
Never known for defense under coach Lorenzo Romar, Washington shackled then-13th-ranked San Diego State 49-36 earlier this month. That could spell trouble for Tulane, which shot 14-of-42 against Jackson State on Friday and committed 36 turnovers in two games last week.
“We need to get back in practice and find a way to handle the ball well consistently, but I feel good about where this team is in their approach to taking on another challenge,” Conroy said. “We did get to the free throw line 35 times in the last two games (35 in one and 36 in the other). We’re doing some good things as far as attacking off the dribble and getting the ball inside.”
They also are rebounding well. Since getting clobbered on the boards in an opening-night loss to Wake Forest, Tulane has outrebounded nine consecutive opponents with an all-hands-on-deck approach. Hook, a 6-4 guard, leads the Wave with 50 rebounds, one more than power forward Tre Drye and four more than reserve forward Payton Henson. The center combo of Dylan Osetkowski and Ryan Smith has pulled down 69.