Opinion: Dear men’s hoops, what happened?

Jonathan Harvey, Online Sports Editor

Tulane men’s basketball had a 13-5 record Jan. 17 after a tough three-point win against conference foe Houston. The win gave the Wave an impressive 4-2 record in the American Athletic Conference. The fast start was improbable, as many experts gave Tulane little to no shot of competing with the top half of the conference. 

But the naysayers bit their lips and couldn’t believe their eyes. Tulane sat third atop the AAC, behind red-hot Tulsa and a half game behind Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown’s Southern Methodist Mustangs. Let’s not understate this start. By mid January, the Wave lead Memphis, Connecticut and Cincinnati, three teams in the AAC to make the NCAA Tournament last March.

After that hot start, the student body was talking Tulane basketball, which Tulane faithful needed after football fell flat in its inaugural season in the newly built Yulman Stadium.

So, what has happened since that start? Tulane has dropped seven of the last eight games and it’s one win came from sophomore guard Jonathan Stark’s three-point heave at the buzzer. The Wave now sit at 14-12, good for No. 7 in the conference. 

The naysayers nailed it. Tulane has talent, a plethora of guards and a young front court that has some nice additions coming next year. Head coach Ed Conroy has gotten the best out of freshman center Dylan Osetkowski, who adds an inside punch off the bench and plays tough interior defense. 

But Conroy’s offense faltered of late. The inside-outside focus only works if the interior play can soften the defense up, allowing three point shooters to get off easier looks.

Senior forward Tre Drye is respectable on the boards but can’t stretch the floor, as he’s shooting 18 percent from deep and has trouble finishing at the rim. Drye grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the 69-55 loss against Central Florida Thursday but had trouble finishing his putbacks. 

Drye’s replacement sophomore Payton Henson can hypothetically shoot but has had a miserable shooting season. Henson has has hit just one of his 13 shots behind the arc. Henson has added some energy off the bench but has not made much of a difference stretching the floor, a skill necessary to Conroy’s offensive scheme. 

Tulane is the ultimate upset team but only when the three point shot is falling. The Wave almost upset then-No. 13 Washington when shooting 41 percent from three point range while holding the Huskies to 30 percent. 

Conroy can mask the lack of size and the underwhelming four spot if the guards heat up but that hasn’t been the case of late. Leading scorer junior guard Louis Dabney is shooting 24 percent from the floor in the past seven games, a statistic appropriate for a Reily Center pick up game, but not when competing against other Division I basketball teams. 

Let’s be frank: Tulane can win games. Conroy has talent and he’s proven he can utilize his players to not only stay in games but win conference games. But none of this is possible if the Wave’s key contributors can’t put the ball in the basket at even a league average rate.  

It will be intriguing to see how the Green Wave come out for the AAC tournament March 12-15, as the squad’s strengths and weaknesses are no secret. If Tulane comes out firing from the start, the Wave could be in for a wild ride.