The No. 14 Cincinnati Bearcats will travel to Tulsa tonight to take on the third place Golden Hurricanes. Entering the season, Tulsa was picked to finish ninth overall by American Athletic Conference coaches, but the team has surprised everyone by jumping out to a 6-2 record in conference play, including wins over both Memphis and UCF.
Get To Know The Opponent
Tulsa is the very definition of the word ‘enigma’. This is a team that doesn’t excel in any one aspect of the game. KenPom ranks it 94th in the country in defensive efficiency and 153rd in offensive efficiency. Not great, but not bad either.
Their two best players - Junior Etou and Sterling Taplin - average 12.7 and 9.3 points, respectively. Oftentimes when you see a team overachieve you can point to a dominant star player that carries them, but this Tulsa team is the opposite. It hasfive players averaging between 8.5 points per game and 12.7 points per game.
The Golden Hurricane don’t shoot three pointers especially well, they don’t get blocks and steals, and despite the lack of scoring from their starters they actually play a relatively up tempo style of offense.
The only top 50 KenPom team they’ve beaten this year is Illinois State who they beat 70-68 at home on Dec. 7, but then they promptly lost to the Redbirds just three weeks later when they were randomly forced to play them again in the third place game of the Diamond Head Classic.
I simply can’t figure this team out, and I don’t think anyone really can.
My gut tells me this is an average to below-average team that’s more in the mold of East Carolina, USF and Tulane that has simply overachieved so far this year. They’ve also been lucky enough to avoid having to face most of the top teams in the conference up to this point. The Golden Hurricane aren’t favored to win any of their next six games by KenPom, and in all likelihood will fall towards the bottom of the standings where they probably belong.
The Bearcats have won all four of their conference road games so far this season, but each of them have been relatively close contests. Even the 17-point victory over Tulane was relatively close considering the fact that they had beaten them 36 points at home.
Cincinnati is 14-2 all time at home against Tulsa, but just 8-8 on the road. Just last year the Bearcats beat the Golden Hurricane at home by 19 points and then lost to them in overtime on the road.
Gary Clark is a Problem?
Gary Clark entered the season as a preseason All-Conference First Team selection. He was coming off a sophomore year where he won AAC Defensive Player of the Year and averaged 10.4 points per game to go along with 8.8 rebounds per game. Many expected this would be a season that saw him take ‘the leap’ and begin to put up Jason Maxiell type numbers.
The addition of Kyle Washington seems to have stunted Clark’s growth a bit. While this development has been great for the team, and perhaps speaks to Clark’s unselfish nature as a teammate, it’s worrisome for those that thought of him as a potential offensive leader.
Over the past five games Clark has averaged just 8.0 points per game while take just a little more than five shots per game. The Bearcats will need him to be much more aggressive against this Tulsa team that lacks a real interior presence. Freshman Will Magnay is its closest thing to a true defensive center and at this point in his development is no match for someone with the offensive skills of Clark. Look for the Bearcats to try to exploit those interior mismatches throughout the game.
If history is any indication then this game will likely be closer than it should be. On a neutral court I’d expect the Bearcats to win by 10 to 20 points, but on the road and in conference play anything can happen. I think the Bearcats will ultimately pull out a nail biting 72-66 win thanks to Clark and Washington.