Creighton starts a stretch of critical games beginning with Tulsa on Monday night. The Hurricane are coming off of an 80-75 victory in overtime against Texas-Arlington Saturday night.
This game may not look tough on paper as Tulsa is only 5-6, but any of those six losses could have gone the other way. Once they figure out how to win those close games, the Hurricane could be a tough team by season’s end. The hope is that they don’t have that figured out by Monday night.
Polyfro’s Primer will give you most of what to know about the Tulsa. But for a different perspective, on the Hurricane’s struggles this season, we talked to beat writer Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World. Here is what he had to say.
White & Blue Review: Tulsa has historically been a good basketball team. After starting the season 3-0, Tulsa has not had much success. What is different this season compared to the past?
Eric Bailey: Tulsa has had problems finishing basketball games. In each of its six losses, the games have gone into the final minutes and TU couldn’t find a way to close out the opponent. Perhaps a good sign for Tulsa fans is that the Hurricane did beat UT-Arlington in overtime on Saturday, 80-75. The team found a way to win despite being down four points in the final 22 seconds.
WBR: All of Tulsa’s games have been close and it looks like they had opportunities to win those games. Is there someone on the team that should step up and lead the way?
EB: Jordan Clarkson has stepped up and hit big baskets, but TU needs to find someone else to do some heavy lifting. Overall, the team tends to play tight in the final minutes of games, which has also led to close losses.
WBR: Tulsa has really struggled from the free throw line. Are they normally better free throw shooters?
EB: This is an uncharacteristic year for the Hurricane. Tulsa hasn’t had many problems at the line until recently. The team did make 26-of-32 after halftime on Saturday night, which may be a good sign, but is still shooting 65.2 percent as a team.
WBR: Who do the Bluejays need to look out for on Monday night?
EB: Scottie Haralson is among the nation’s top ranked players in 3-point shots made. The UConn transfer is 38-of-90 from the 3-point arc this season. He has made at least four 3-pointers in four of Tulsa’s past seven games. Another player to watch is Steven Idlet. The senior post player has lacked consistency this season, but if he can play a full 40 minutes, he will be a handful for most opponents.
WBR: It appears the point guard position has some challenges with one player leaving and another one getting injured before the game against Wichita State. Is Jordan Clarkson built to play 40 minutes a game?
EB: Eric McClellan returned to the starting lineup after missing the Wichita State game with an injured knee. The true freshman hit a big shot to send Saturday’s game into overtime. His progress has been rapid. Tim Peete is the third point guard and has the team’s best assist-to-turnover ratio (26-20). Turnovers are problematic for Tulsa.
WBR: Have you had a chance to watch Doug McDermott yet this season? How well will Tulsa match up against him?
EB: McDermott will be on the top players to play at the Reynolds Center in the past few years. Tulsa has prided itself on its defense in recent years, but has struggled at times this year in that aspect. In games this year when Tulsa has been able to bottle up the opposition’s top scorer, someone else seems to have a career night.
WBR: This will be the third MVC team Tulsa will face this season. Do they wish they were back in the MVC sometimes? Does the Hurricane struggle in scheduling non-conference games?
EB: I think Tulsa is happy in Conference USA because of its football affiliation. The football team finished last season ranked in the Top 25 and was on the fringe until a season-ending loss to Houston. C-USA basketball hasn’t been strong since 2005 with the exception of Memphis. Tulsa has played strong nonconference schedules and has played in exempt tournaments in four consecutive years.
WBR: What could the Conference USA / Mountain West merger talk affect Tulsa hoops in the long run?
EB: I think it would be a big upgrade for TU basketball when you add schools like UNLV, Colorado State, TCU, Wyoming and New Mexico. Memphis would continue to add strength to the merger.
WBR: What’s your final prediction? What will it take for Tulsa to get a win over the Bluejays?
EB: Tulsa would have to play its best game of the season and hope Creighton has an off-night. Tulsa isn’t a horrible team, despite its record. Creighton is just a special basketball team right now.