For the Tulane men’s basketball team, it’s now or quite possibly never as it seeks to avoid going winless in conference play for the first time.
The reeling Green Wave (4-21, 0-13 American Athletic), which has lost its past four by a combined 99 points, will be a heavy underdog in its final four regular-season games, playing at Tulsa and at Temple before returning home to face South Florida and Wichita State.
Saturday night’s opponent, East Carolina (9-16, 2-11), nearly fell to Tulane at home Jan. 31, trailing by eight points late in the first half before rallying to win 66-65. The Pirates are 0-9 on the road, losing to the likes of UNC Wilmington (9-20) and Charlotte (6-19) out of conference.
If the Wave pieces together a solid 40 minutes, it can avoid making ignominious history while halting its longest losing streak (15) in 55 years.
“This is a huge game for us,” said senior guard Jordan Cornish, who had a career-high 10 assists in a 102-76 loss at Memphis on Saturday. “We go into every game thinking we can win, but this is somebody we know if we do all the things we’ve been preaching the last few weeks, we can come out with a W.”
One victory would not change the long-term prognosis for the program, but coach Mike Dunleavy, whom athletic director Troy Dannen already has said will be back for a fourth season, could avoid joining some unfortunate brethren.
Only two of the 23 coaches who have gone winless in conference play during any of the past 15 years are either still coaching that school or left on their own terms. And neither of them suffered through his oh-fer in his third season.
Boston College’s Jim Christian, who went 0-18 in the ACC in 2015-16 during year No. 2, improved slightly to 2-16 in 2016-17 and jumped to 7-11 in 2017-18. This year, though, the Eagles are 4-9, and Christian may not be back if the Eagles struggle the rest of the way.
Tim Miles went 0-16 in the Mountain West in his first year with Colorado State in 2007-08. The Rams’ league record rose incrementally for the rest of his tenure, and after they reached the NCAA tournament in season No. 5 he bolted for Nebraska.
Miles is in a club of one.
The other 21 coaches resigned under pressure or were fired, usually soon after their winless conference seasons. Only one who went winless after his second year was given more than two extra seasons to resuscitate the program— Kerry Keating at Santa Clara lasted until year No. 9 after going 0-16 in the West Coast Conference in 2011-12, but the Broncos never reached the NCAA tournament or the NIT in that stretch.
Dunleavy has a tough task regardless, but he will face the same long odds as the other guys on the list if the Wave cannot find a way to win at least once down the stretch.
“It’s a matter of putting it together,” he said. “Our whole thing right now is trying to get better individually and in our team play and shoring up the areas we need to shore up. It’s the same thing for us virtually every game — how we do on the boards and how we do in the turnover department.
“If we handle those two areas, we are in games.”