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March 15, 2011The Golden Hurricane have a pretty high opinion of themselves.
And they earned it.
Tulsa was a team that improved as much from the start of C-USA play to the postseason as any team in the league -- going from afterthought to the No. 2 seed in the league's tournament and even having a shot at a regular-season title heading into the final week of the season.
The Golden Hurricane, and head coach Doug Wojcik, proved that even after losing a pair of star players from last year's squad in Jerome Jordan and Ben Uzoh, they are now a team that should never be considered to be in a reloading or rebuilding mode.
Which is why when the C-USA Tournament run was cut short in the semifinals by tournament host UTEP, and when the NIT did not extend an invitation to its postseason event, the Golden Hurricane decided it would call it a season.
There was nothing left to prove by playing in the CBI or CIT tournaments.
"I feel like we're the second-best team in the eighth-best conference," Tulsa athletic director Bubba Cunningham told the Tulsa World. "Right now, I think it's in the best interest of our program to continue to think of ourselves at the NIT and NCAA level."
That hasn't always been the case. In fact, Tulsa won the 2008 College Basketball Invitational.
Even with senior star Justin Hurtt leaving the program after leading the league in scoring (20.0 points per game) and earning First Team All-Conference USA honors, the recent history of the program under head coach Doug Wojcik suggests it doesn't need to play in postseason tournaments that don't start with the letter N. That's not to say the 19-win Golden Hurricane think they are too good for those tournaments, they just no longer are of the opinion they are a benefit to the growth of the program.
The 2011-12 season should be no different. If the team that lost its top two leading scorers a year ago could continue to improve the way this year's team did to the point where it was the No. 2 team in the country's No. 8-ranked conference, then there is plenty of reason for optimism that next year could be even better.
Tulsa has returning next year an All-Conference USA Freshman Team selection in guard Jordan Clarkson, the league's Newcomer of the Year in sophomore guard Scottie Haralson and arguably the league's top pure center in 6-11 Steven Idlet.
Barring major offseason shakeup, Tulsa should be considered one of the league favorites next year.
• Tulsa knew senior guard Justin Hurtt was going to be the team leader and be the only player capable of even putting a dent into replacing last year's stars -- Jerome Jordan and Ben Uzoh. So did every other team Tulsa played this year, making him the unfortunate recipient of double and triple teams and as much ball-denial defense as anyone in the league saw this year.
Still, Hurtt produced. His 2009-10 scoring average of 14.5 points per game jumped up to an even 20.0 points per game this year to lead the league in scoring, and he was one of six players selected by league coaches and select media to the All-Conference USA First Team.
• Tulsa had one of the more solid post games in the conference. The same couldn't be said for its guard play. The backcourt featured several capable scorers in Justin Hurtt, Scottie Haralson and Jordan Clarkson, but the team ranked at or near the bottom in C-USA in several categories usually associated with solid, fundamental guard play.
Tulsa ranked 12th in the 12-team league in assists (11.4 per game), 12th in steals (4.4 per game), 11th in turnover margin (minus-2.0 per game) and 12th in assist-to-turnover ratio (0.8).
For comparison sake, one or both of the two teams who played in the C-USA championship game -- UTEP and Memphis -- ranked in the top two of each of those four categories.
Final Record: 19-13, 11-5, second in C-USA
2010-11 Season Recap: It's hard for some to imagine, including the school's AD, but Tulsa finished the year as the No. 2 seed in the nation's No. 8 conference and failed not only to get an NCAA Tournament invite (maybe not so surprising), but also failed to get an invite to the NIT. While Selection Sunday had a lot of bitter and disappointing feelings for the program, the fact is those feelings were a pretty good sign of just how far the team had come. In December, it appeared that senior guard Justin Hurtt would be all the team had. And as a one-man team, even a one-man team with the scoring capabilities of Hurtt, Tulsa was no better than middle of the pack at best in the league standings. Instead, several players around Hurtt continued developing and by the end of the regular season, Tulsa was heading into the final week of the season with a chance at a regular season crown (it settled for the tournament's No. 2 seed). Tulsa didn't have the non-conference resume to garner the postseason consideration it wanted, but the way it was playing in March, it was one of the best teams in the league without question.
Quote To Note: "Right now, I think it's in the best interest of our program to continue to think of ourselves at the NIT and NCAA level." -- Tulsa AD Bubba Cunningham to the Tulsa World after deciding to end the team's season on March 13 instead of accepting invites to either the CBI or CIT postseason tournaments.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Good News: Three double-digit scorers return next year including arguably the best pure center in the league in junior Steven Idlet (11.6 points, 6.3 rebounds), an All-Conference USA Freshman team selection in guard Jordan Clarkson (11.5 points) and Conference USA Newcomer of the Year sophomore guard Scottie Haralson (10.9 points). The way the team kept improving throughout the season, especially down the stretch in February to secure the No. 2 seed in the C-USA Tournament when most people wrote them off in January as a one-man team, showed the team has a bright future. It's hard to write the Golden Hurricane off anymore. With Wojcik leading the way and plenty of talent returning, Tulsa is in the top handful of teams who head into the offseason as early favorites to win C-USA in 2012.
The Bad News: The team's go-to, clutch scoring, ice-in-his-veins leader is done with Tulsa. Senior guard Justin Hurtt, who head coach Doug Wojcik says can play with any of the best players he's ever coached as an assistant or head coach, leaves Tulsa having averaged 20.0 points per game this season, not to mention leading the team in 3-pointers made (86), free throws (142), free throw attempts (175), minutes per game (33.8) and assists (2.4 per game). There is no replacing him with one player and the Golden Hurricane, therefore, can't run exactly the same type of sets they ran this year. It might only be minor tweaking, but there will be some adjustments needed in the Tulsa offensive game plan before next year as replacing Justin Hurtt will be done by committee.
Key Returnees: Tulsa loses its star in senior Justin Hurtt, but not much else. C-USA Newcomer of the Year and Connecticut transfer Scottie Haralson (10.9 points per game) will be back and is a prime candidate to see his scoring production jump significantly with the offensive game plan adjusting to give him many of the shots Hurtt took this year. Helping Haralson get the ball in good spots, as well as getting plenty of opportunities to see his scoring step up next year is Conference USA Freshman team selection Jordan Clarkson (11.5 points per game). In Haralson and Clarkson, the Golden Hurricane shouldn't be hurting without Hurtt in the backcourt. On the inside, the key is 6-11 center Steven Idlet. The junior gave the team a brief scare in December with a foot injury, but ended up just fine and could develop into the league's top big man as a senior. Idlet was second on the team in scoring this year (11.6 points per game) and led Tulsa in rebounding (6.3 per game), blocked shots (28 in 31 games) and steals (28).
• Sophomore Scottie Haralson, a transfer from Connecticut, was named on March 8 the C-USA Newcomer of the Year. Haralson hit 82 3-pointers this season and was fourth on the team in scoring with 10.9 points per game while averaging just over 31 minutes per night.
• Freshman Jordan Clarkson was selected to the Conference USA Freshman team after averaging 11.5 points per game and having started nine times. He earned C-USA Freshman of the Week on four different occasions this season.
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