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NCAA Basketball Conference USA BasketballMarch Madness

Sophomore Class Has Tulsa Basketball One Win Away From Big Dance

Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

The Tulsa Golden Hurricane got off to a rough start to the season, going 1-6, but they clicked at the right time and find themselves in the Conference USA Championship Game.

Since the start of the new calendar year, Tulsa has been a different team, posting a 13-3 conference record and having won their last 10.

The key to that stretch has been the maturation of the sophomore class. The sophomores account for seven of the top eight players in the rotation, including the to six scorers. They were on display against Middle Tennessee State in the CUSA Tournament Semifinals. They accounted for 63 of Tulsa’s 76 points in a 76-69 victory. James Woodward led the way with 19 points, while Rashad Smith added 14 and Shaquille Harrison added 10. In fact, only one player outside the sophomore class played in the game for the Golden Hurricane, as senior Tim Peete scored a season-high 13 points.

A trip to the NCAA tournament seemed to be a long shot at the beginning of the season, but now, that dream is within reach. Tulsa started 1-6 on the season, but four of those losses were to teams in the RPI Top 100, including two to teams in the RPI Top 10. The Golden Hurricane have seen their record rebound thanks to a soft schedule the rest of the way. Of Tulsa’s victories, 15 have come over teams in outside of the Top 150 in the RPI, but Tulsa is playing much better basketball now than they were at the beginning of the season.

Tulsa has no shot at an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament, even though they finished in a four-way tie for the conference title at 13-3, but they do have a great shot at getting an automatic bid. Woodard has stepped his game up in the conference tournament, scoring 24 and 19 respectively in the Golden Hurricane’s two victories. If he can get some solid contributions form the supporting players, as has been the case in recent games, the Golden Hurricane have a serious shot at making the Big Dance.

Spencer Impellizzeri is a MLB writer for Rant Sports. He also covers college basketball. Follow him on Twitter @Spence_I