Friday, November 19, 2004

Tulane Basketball from Pete Rasche

Pete Rasche, who played tough in the trenches all along the front court for a pair of Tulane NCAA Tournament teams (1992-93), contributes his thoughts on the upcoming Tulane basketball season:

In my opinion, it gets tougher to predict college hoops every year, because I think there is more and more parity- due in large part to the increasing amount of NBA defections. This year is no exception - I think it is really tough to call. While the "elite" teams will always stay strong (borderline defection players will be more likely to stay because there is a chance at a championship), the rest of the pack gets more and more even. There will always be the teams that get carried to the title by a stud (from Danny Manning in ‘88 to Carmelo Anthony in ‘03), or teams that come from nowhere to be really strong for a season due to one or two outstanding players (i.e., St. Joe's last year), but in general, everyone's getting more equal....or, some may say, more bland.

Applying that opinion to C-USA, I just don't see many regular season C-USA games as being "gimmes" on paper. I think that, with the exception of Memphis, UL and UC, everyone else in C-USA classifies as "rest of the pack". Sure, you may have your Marquettes and your Charlottes who seem to consistently be near the top, but even they always seem to end up with several conference losses each year. It seems that their recent "success" is more based on the fact that the rest of the teams are so inconsistent or so bad that they all end up under .500 in the league.

So, in other words, I really don't know how Tulane will do. A lot of it will be determined by intangibles, like how well they play as a team, their confidence level (being able to shake off losses, etc.), whether they stay healthy, and, as I have spouted about here before, what stuff is happening off the court in their personal lives. Casual fans always seem to forget that these are kids, who are taking classes, living in dorms with other non-athletes, etc. - their lives are not 100% focused on playing ball.

If the other factors work out and confidence becomes a key, then this team should be in good shape. Looking at the non-conference schedule, admittedly full of creampuffs, I can see them going into conference play 9-2 or 10-1. Opening with LSU will be huge. An upset win or even a close loss, and they very well should win at least the next 7, maybe more. A blowout loss, and shattered confidence, and they might lose a few of those "in state" games, and that would spell real trouble for Finney. If they play as well as they did against Vasda, the only teams that should give them trouble are LSU and Princeton (always a tough mental challenge, more than anything). Princeton is always winnable if you are disciplined, and LSU is possible, simply because the toughest part of that game is not getting rattled, and we certainly have experienced depth.

One quick thought about experience and confidence: in 1991-92 we admittedly played a total creampuff pre-conference schedule. But it got our confidence up - and when you have a deep team with lots of experience, as we did, that makes a world of difference. By the time we went to Freedom Hall in January, we didn't think we could lose - so we just didn't. We started that season 13-0, and got to 19-2, and decry the creampuffs all you want, it was our attitude that played a large part in our success that year. Again, not wanting to compare this year's team to that team, but this year's team does have a lot of minutes played. If they rattle off a bunch of wins pre-conference, things could get interesting.

I have to admit, the conference schedule is nice. At Memphis and at Cincinnati (on their Senior day) are tough spots, but if you can't get up for those games (and on TV, no less), then you shouldn't be playing. Otherwise, we seem to have all the other "stronger" teams at home. Heck, we've hung with ranked teams in the New Orleans Arena a few times, even in years where we shouldn't have.

I just liked a lot of what I saw with the young guys last year who got a lot of run - and apparently the freshmen are pretty good. I am honestly very curious to see how Finney handles his wealth of experience and "apparent" talent (freshmen). Chemistry has not exactly been our strength in the Finney era, or at least consistent chemistry.

The other point that I return to is the fact that I think the "rest of the pack" teams in C-USA are not, and have not, really been that good, it's just that the teams consistently behind them (Tulane, USM, TCU, Houston, etc.) have really been bad for a while. If we get a good thing going with chemistry, using our depth (which is a huge factor if we are to play the "Kentucky style" that Finney was supposedly bringing) to wear people down, I can see us jumping up to the front of the "rest of the pack" teams.

Just making a blind stab (I really have not researched the other teams in C-USA much), I am thinking that we could legitimately pull off a 10-6 conference record. Of course, we could just as easily go in the tank and end up like 4-12. If everything clicks, and all those returning minutes really do matter (we lead C-USA in returning minutes, I read that somewhere), heck, we could even stretch to 12-4 or 13-3. And if we did, we'd be pushing Top 25 status, and Finney could kick back and relax for at least another year or two.