NIT Preview: #7 William & Mary vs. #2 Tulsa

Tribe Vs. Tulsa Side

As of Sunday night, ESPNU has announced that the William & Mary Tribe will take on the Tulsa Golden Hurricane this Tuesday in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT)! Although the Tribe is not dancing in the NCAA Tournament this year, the contest vs. Tulsa will mark only the third time in Tribe program’s storied history that the Green and Gold has qualified for the NIT–a tournament that has been around since 1938.

In the contest, W&M will look to win their first ever NIT game and advance past the first round for the first time. W&M first qualified for the NIT in 1983, but fell to Virginia Tech in the first round by a score of 85-79. The Tribe also qualified for the Tournament just 5 years ago in 2010, when the team took on UNC and lost by eight points. This year, led by the College’s all time scoring leader, Marcus Thornton, the Tribe may have its best shot at securing an NIT victory.

The Opponent: Tulsa 

Tulsa is a fairly small school, but well known nonetheless. Check out some quick stats below!

Established: 1894
Type: Private
Religious Affiliation: Presbyterian Church
Endowment: $885 million
Students: 4,352 (3,174 undergrad; 1,178 postgrad)
Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Men’s Basketball Head Coach: Frank Haith (1st year)
Basketball Arena: Reynold’s Center (capacity 8,355)
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 15 (12-15 record) — most recently in 2014
NIT Appearances: 9 (11-7 record) — most recently in 2010

Background: Tulsa This Season

This year, William & Mary will square off with an American Athletic Conference power: the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. Tulsa finished the season ranked second in the AAC, a conference that includes #20 ranked Southern Methodist and the perennial powerhouse UConn Huskies. The Golden Hurricane turned in a 22-10 (14-4 AAC) record, but lost to UConn in the semifinals of the AAC tournament this past week.

However, don’t let that loss fool you. Tulsa split the regular season with a powerful UConn Huskies team before falling to them in tournament play. In addition, Tulsa swept Temple–a team that just barely missed qualifying for the NCAA Tournament and was one of the “First Four Out.” In short, the Temple Owls secured a #1 seed in the NIT, and Tulsa beat them twice this season. Tulsa will be no easy matchup for the Tribe on Tuesday.

Tulsa carries a 47 RPI ranking. For comparison, the Tribe currently holds a 95 RPI ranking. The Rating Percentage Index, mostly known as the RPI, is used to rank sports teams based on a team’s wins and losses and their strength of schedule. But of course, this is not a be all end all for the Tribe–the RPI is just one measure of many.

Additionally, the Golden Hurricane carries a 12-4 record at home. Unlike the NCAA Tournament, where games are held at neutral sites, NIT games are played on the home court of the higher seeded team. Tulsa’s stellar home record is something to keep in mind, as they seem to elevate their game when in Oklahoma. The Tribe will need to overcome its lowly road record (6-9) and step up on the road against the Golden Hurricane.

Tulsa’s Head Coach

The Golden Hurricane’s Head Coach is Frank Haith. Haith coached at both the University of Miami and at the University of Missouri (Mizzou). At Miami, he compiled 129 wins and a .561 win percentage. After coaching in Miami for 7 seasons, Haith moved on to Mizzou. He was even more successful there, winning 76 games in three seasons and achieving a .731 win percentage.

This is Haith’s first season at the helm for Tulsa, and he has more than continued his success on the court. Tulsa finished the regular season second in the AAC, and looks to make moves in this year’s NIT.

Tulsa’s Team

The Golden Hurricane are an efficient and well-rounded defensive team, allowing just 60.2 points per game– ranking them 30th in the entire nation in this statistical category. It’s safe to say this is a defensive-first team. On offense, Tulsa does not perform as well, ranking just 233rd nationally in points per game with 65.2. In addition, they shoot 42.1% from the field, which ranks just 258th in the country– and they shoot 33.1% from beyond the arc.

James Woodard after Tulsa qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 2014  [Photo: Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports]
James Woodard after Tulsa qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 2014 [Photo: Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports]
Guards

#10 James Woodard, Junior, Guard (6’3”, 189): Averages a team high 14.5 PPG.  Woodard is the team’s three-point threat, as he shoots around 39.0% from beyond the arc and 41.5% from the field. The Tribe will need to keep an eye on Woodard throughout the game and make sure he doesn’t get into rhythm out from three.

#3 Shaquille Harrison, Junior, Guard (6’4”, 182): Harrison is a well-rounded guard who averages 12.7 PPG and 5.0 RPG. Harrison shoots a solid 42.3% from the field, but has only connected on a mere 19% of his three point attempts. Getting to the hoop is Harrison’s main-stay; look for him to drive to the hole throughout the game. Help defense will be key in guarding Harrison in this one.

#5 Rashad Ray, Junior, Guard (5’10”, 172): Ray averages 7.3 PPG, while shooting 37.9% from the field and 37.3% from behind the arc. Ray is known mostly for his defensive skills, and may look to matchup with one of the Tribe’s sharpshooters.

Forwards

#1 Rashad Smith, Junior, Forward (6’7”, 205): Smith is the leading rebounder for Tulsa; he averages 6.0 rebounds per game to go along with 8.5 PPG. He has a knack for offensive rebounding, and has totaled 53 on the season. Smith may give the Tribe some headaches on the offensive boards this Tuesday; boxing him out when the ball is in the air will be a must on both ends of the court.

#40 D’Andre Wright, Junior, Forward (6’9”, 245): Wright averages 6.9 PPG and 4.4 RPG, and shoots 37.8% from the field. Wright is a very talented player, but has committed at least four fouls in an astounding 17 games this season. The Tribe will need to take advantage of Wright’s aggressive nature, and drive at #40 early and often.

#44 Brandon Swannegan, Junior, Forward (6’9”, 209): Swannegan is Tulsa’s shot blocker who has 48 blocks on the season, while also averaging 3.9 PPG and 3.9 RPG. Swannegan shoots an efficient 48.3% from the field.

Details for Gameday

Where: The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.com
When: 8:15 PM on Tuesday, March 17

This will indeed be a tough matchup for the Tribe. Marcus Thornton, Daniel Dixon, and Omar Prewitt will need to penetrate a tough Tulsa defense; a steady dose of the 3 would be ideal. Terry Tarpey will be relied on to stuff the stat sheet (as he has done all season)–look for the CAA’s leading rebounder to battle throughout the game for loose balls. Sean Sheldon and Tom Schalk will have their hands full with a trio of big men, but will need to play well for the Tribe on both ends of the court in order to pull off the victory. They can do it.

LET’S GO TRIBE!!!

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