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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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Tulane men’s basketball’s struggles continue

basketball
Head Coach Ron Hunter has struggled to keep the Wave afloat during conference play. (Courtesy of Parker Waters- Tulane Athletics)

After an encouraging 9-3 record entering American Athletic Conference play, the Tulane Green Wave men’s basketball team has struggled. Sitting in ninth place with a disappointing 4-9 conference record, the Green Wave has dropped its last three games and six of their last seven. Uncharacteristic lapses on defense, a lack of identity and shooting struggles from their veteran playmakers have all played a part in the team’s downturn, and the season’s outlook appears bleak.

Head coach Ron Hunter took over the men’s basketball program at Tulane at rock bottom, as the Green Wave was fresh off a 4-27 season — 0-18 in conference play — that frankly couldn’t have gone worse. Over his first four seasons at the helm in New Orleans, Hunter instilled a culture of winning, and the results have paid dividends. He won 12 games in his first season, a number that reached 20 wins in 2023. Hunter retooled a roster severely lacking high-level talent and turned the team into a bonafide AAC contender. 

Entering this season, expectations for Hunter’s squad had never been higher, as fans believed that this could be the year the Wave would make the 68-team March Madness tournament for the first time since 1995. While Ron Hunter did lose his star point guard Jalen Cook to the LSU Tigers in the transfer portal, he returned four starters and a veteran squad that knew how to win. With his trio of Kevin Cross, Jaylen Forbes and Sion James, Hunter had a nucleus of guys he had developed and trusted. It was fair to assume that trust would translate to wins in conference play, but surprisingly, it hasn’t happened.

The Wave got out to a fast start, going 9-3 in nonconference play, getting a dominant 25-point victory over Rice University in their conference opener and taking down 10th-ranked Memphis in an epic upset. 

But right when it seemed Tulane was going to take that next step, they fell two steps back. Following the University of Memphis Tigers win, the Wave dropped three games in a row, and after a tough victory over the last-place Temple University Owls, they’ve lost three consecutive games again. It is no secret that the AAC has been a deep conference with lots of formidable teams, but the Wave’s late-game struggles and disappointing shooting are traits nobody could’ve expected from a Hunter-led group.

Since Feb. 11, the Wave has dropped the rematch to Memphis on the road and lost to both the SMU Mustangs and the East Carolina Pirates. In all three games, they have given up more than 80 points as the Wave has had no answers on defense. Kevin Cross, who was dynamite for the Wave in the first half of the season, has shot just 9 for 27 from the field in the past three contests, including just 4 points on 0-2 shooting from the floor in their most recent loss to East Carolina. Cross has always been one of the Wave’s most efficient and consistent scorers, so the Wave will need him to regain his early season form if they want to have any chance at turning this season around.

While it would be naive to write this season off just yet — with five more conference games left to play before the AAC tournament — the Wave is in a very precarious position with some great basketball teams left on the docket. With matchups over the University of South Florida Bulls — the top team in the conference, the Florida Atlantic University Owls — the dangerous reigning “Final Four” squad and the UAB Blazers — who dominated the Wave last month, it’s going to take a massive turnaround from the Wave to steady the ship.

It is never easy projecting the future, but a disappointing close to this season could usher in lots of skepticism about the future of this program. Hunter only has one more year left on his contract, and veteran cornerstones Forbes, Cross and James are all set to depart the program. While it may be unfair to judge Hunter off of one disappointing season, another down season next year with an expiring contract could be the nail in the coffin for Hunter’s tenure in New Orleans. Hunter’s success in the transfer portal this spring will be an especially important story to follow and it could ultimately decide his fate.

The Wave continues its season on Sunday, Feb. 25, at 3 p.m. CST versus UAB at home. If you can’t make it to Devlin Fieldhouse, the game will be streamed on ESPN2. 

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