Men’s Basketball: Tulane, UNO open league play Thursday night
For the Tulane Green Wave and New Orleans Privateers, the prelims are over. The part of the schedule that will ultimately determine how successful their season will be begins Thursday night.
Mike Dunleavy’s Green Wave travels to Temple to open American Athletic Conference play at 6 p.m. An hour later, Mark Slessinger’s Privateers begin defense of their Southland Conference title against Abilene Christian at Lakefront Arena.
What have we learned about each team during the non-conference schedule? In reality, not much more than we knew two months ago, because pre-conference play has effectively held to form for both teams – win at home, lose on the road.
Tulane has defeated all seven visitors to Fogelman Arena in Devlin Fieldhouse and scored a pair of neutral-site wins in Jamaica – including a dominant effort against Colorado State, likely its best victory of the year – to finish non-conference play at 9-3. Its losses have been at defending national champion North Carolina, on a neutral floor in Tampa to a nationally ranked Florida State club and at Georgia State.
UNO’s non-conference home schedule was made up of three non-Division I opponents, all of which the Privateers, as expected, handled. The road was not so kind, with losses to St. John’s, Oakland, Memphis, South Alabama, Houston, SMU, UL Lafayette and UAB.
The good news – besides the paychecks collected at most of those stops – is that Slessinger’s team was in a close game late on nearly every road stop, which ideally translates into a battle-tested team in January and February.
Both teams feature solid talent. Tulane has been led by a pair of wing players, senior Cameron Reynolds and junior Melvin Frazier, who have combined to average better than 33 points per game. UNO has been paced by its interior returnees, seniors Travin Thibodeaux and Makor Puou, who lead the team in scoring and rebounding, respectively.
So what should conference play hold for the two local teams?
Tulane was picked 10th in The American, but based on the early season, this looks better than a 10th-place team. A good target for the Green Wave might be seven conference wins – that would guarantee Dunleavy’s club a winning overall record for the year, and a marked improvement from a six-win season in 2016-17.
New Orleans, despite its regular-season and tournament titles of a season ago, was picked sixth in the Southland. The returnees on Slessinger’s team know how to win in the league, but the league’s top choice in preseason, Stephen F. Austin, will be hard to take down. Finishing in the top four and earning a first-round tournament bye could be a realistic expectation.
There are nine opportunities to see each team at home in conference play, but for the area college basketball fan, here are a few key dates to mark on the calendar:
Wednesday, Jan. 3 – Lamar at New Orleans – Cardinals were picked second in Southland in preseason poll.
Thursday, Jan. 4 – SMU at Tulane – Mustangs were an NCAA Tournament team last year.
Saturday, Jan. 13 – UConn at Tulane – Huskies aren’t as good as previous years, but always an intriguing visitor.
Wednesday, Feb. 28 – Southeastern Louisiana at New Orleans – Late-season matchup had major implications a year ago and could again this year.
Thursday, March 1 – Cincinnati at Tulane – Of the two preseason favorites in the conference, only Cincinnati visits New Orleans. Chance to see a conference and possible national title contender late in the season.
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Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…