First Look: Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan will face Tulsa in a First Four showdown in Dayton on Wednesday night for a chance to play Notre Dame in Brooklyn on Friday night.

Here’s a first look at what the 11th-seeded Golden Hurricane brings to the table.

Tulsa is located in Tulsa, Oklahoma with an enrollment of 4,352 full-time students. The Golden Hurricane features a super hero mascot named Captain Cane. Head coach Frank Haith is in his second year with the program, missing the tournament last season despite a 14-4 AAC record. Haith has been accused of improper recruiting tactics at his last two stops, Miami (FL) and Missouri.

The Golden Hurricane went 20-11 (12-6) this season, but was expected to be left out of the field after losing to Memphis by 22 points in its opening game of the AAC Tournament. All 59 bracketologists included in the Bracket Matrix omitted Tulsa and Frank Haith found out via a tip while driving to campus for a team meeting.

Tulsa’s resume was built on a quality non-conference win over Wichita State and conference splits against UConn and SMU — two teams that beat Michigan.

By the numbers

  • Record: 20-11 (12-6)
  • KenPom Rank: #58
  • Vegas Spread: Michigan (-3)
  • KenPom Projection: Michigan 73, Tulsa 72

Experience over size

Tulsa is the most experienced team in the country according to The Golden Hurricane starts four seniors and a junior, with a couple more seniors coming off the bench. Sterling Taplin is the only underclassmen in the the rotation.

The Hurricane starting lineup goes 6-3, 6-3, 6-3, 6-5, 6-9 and Brandon Swannegan (6-foot-9, 209 pounds) and D’Andre Wright (6-foot-9, 245 pounds) are the only rotation players over 6-foot-7. Only 5.7% of Tulsa’s offensive possessions are post-ups, which could provide a welcome reprieve for Michigan’s undersized front line.

That lack of size has also manifested itself in a below-average rebounding team. Tulsa rebounded only 27.9% of its misses (234th nationally) and allows opponents to grab 30.4% of their misses (210th nationally).

Turnovers and tempo

Tulsa averages 69.4 possessions per game, making it a faster-paced team than every Big Ten team other than Iowa and Rutgers. Taking a deeper-dive, it appears that the Golden Hurricane wants to play quickly on offense — 16 second average possession length, 42nd per KenPom — and more methodically on defense with an 18.7 second average possession length (346th).

The slower pace on defense is likely a result of Tulsa switching between man-to-man and zone defenses. Tulsa plays a zone defense on roughly 40% of its defensive possessions, per Synergy Sports. Tulsa grades out in the 71st percentile in its zone defense and the 83rd percentile in its man-to-man half court defense.

The Golden Hurricane also has won the turnover battle this season, giving the ball away on just 15.5% of its offensive possessions (26th) and forcing giveaways on 20.6% of its opponents possessions (44th).

There are only nine teams in the country that create extra possessions more effectively via the turnover.

turnover gap

The Hurricane is also vulnerable in transition, when the opportunities are there. Teams are scoring 1.06 points per possession in transition against Tulsa, ranked in the 31st percentile nationally.

Tulsa is just 7-11 when it allows its opponent to score a point per possession or better, but undefeated 13-0 when it holds them below a point per trip. Tulsa doesn’t block many shots, but grades out favorably in interior defense despite its lack of size.

Three-point woes

Tulsa is shooting just 32.9% from three-point range and grades out in the just the 15th percentile nationally with a 46.5 eFG% in catch-and-shoot situations, per Synergy Sports.

James Woodard (36%) and Pat Birt (37%) are the only Golden Hurricane players to shoot better than 35% from three-point range and both players attempt almost twice as many threes as twos. Together, they account for almost 75% of Tulsa’s made three-pointers this season.


The Golden Hurricane aren’t much better at defending the three. Opponents shot 36.3% from three-point range against Tulsa this season, just 260th in the country.

Tulsa is one of the few teams that seems to do as poor of a job contesting catch-and-shoot shot attempts as Michigan. Tulsa opponents have a 54.5 eFG% in catch-and-shoot situations, ranked in just the 17th percentile nationally per Synergy.


Pick-and-roll game

Roughly 29% of Tulsa’s offensive possessions are derived from ball screen action, per Synergy Sports, and it grades out in the 82nd percentile nationally at .932 points per ball screen (including passes).

6-foot-3 senior Shaquille Harrison runs the majority of Tulsa’s ball screens, and he leads the AAC in assist rate while averaging a team-high 4.1 assists per game. Harrison isn’t a perimeter threat (4-of-40 from three), but he can score at the rim (50%) and get to the free throw line (55% FTA/FGA).

Harrison has ran over twice as many ball screens as James Woodard, but Woodard is far more efficient in the pick-and-roll game thanks to his ability to shoot off the dribble.

Bottom Line

Tulsa is ranked 58th by KenPom and his metrics call this game to be almost a toss-up, but it feels like a good match-up for the Wolverines. Tulsa won’t exploit Michigan’s size issues at the four, won’t beat Michigan up inside and struggles to defend the three.

The adjusted defensive efficiency ranks of all 14 Big Ten teams are: 18, 19, 24, 31, 37, 39, 66, 79, 102, 116, 126, 136, 170, 220. Compared to Tulsa’s 86th ranked defense, Michigan has faced only five teams in league play with worse defenses than Tulsa.

After limping to the finish line on the offensive end of the floor, Tulsa’s average defense could provide the sort of fresh start that Michigan’s offense needs in the NCAA Tournament.

  • ChiMan

    Informative as always, Dylan. Thanks! Curious on your thoughts on Michigan facing a press team? I don’t think really many teams we played this season use it often. The thought of Dakich out there facing the press just gave me a small stroke lol

    • I’m not really sure they are an all-out press team, I’d have to watch some film. I think that I’m fairly confident Michigan can prep for whatever zones, etc. they throw at them. Hasn’t been a vintage Beilein team in avoiding turnovers, but still better than average.

      I guess my biggest worry would be containing a 4-guard team off the bounce on the defensive end of the floor.

      • ZRL

        To your last point – I wonder if we’ll see a lot of 2-3 zone from Michigan? It seems like it will be easier to defend them in a zone since they struggle from 3 and won’t make you pay on the glass.

      • Chezaroo

        You got it. I’m wondering if the majority of our fan base has conveniently forgotten how mightily our perimeter D has struggled containing dribble drive penetration during the season?

      • Stephen Chang

        I watched some of their game film against Temple in that overtime loss, they tend to mix up their defensive scheme. Sometimes it is halfcourt press and other times it is the 2-3 zone while every once in a while, they throw in some fullcourt pressure. But, what I noticed on their offensive side of the ball is that Harrison runs their offense and against Temple, he was doing everything for them from passing to dunking the ball. If I am Michigan defensively, I would dare them to shoot from the outside and contain Harrison, against Temple, majority of their threes were not on target or got good looks, but unable to convert them. Michigan does not have to worry about Tulsa rebounding on the glass, they are not good. Offensively, what Michigan needs to do is try and drive inside and show Tulsa that they can score inside and get good looks from 3 pt range. It will be an interesting game to watch for sure on Wed.

      • AAtoLA

        Look for a lot of pick and roll action with Donnal and Doyle running to the rim for easy buckets. That will open up the 3pt line for us. Glad we get to see another game. Go blue!

      • Retiredat23

        Derrick Walton and Trey Burke are both good enough to get past a trapping press like Tulsa has. Tulsa doesn’t pick up until almost half court – the goal is to get you just across half court, then give you no option to pass as they cut off all passing angles and use the half court line as another defender. But the trick is not to pick up your dribble at any point – you use quickness and ball handling to dart between the trapping defenders before they can set the trap on you, which will lead to an odd man break and either a lay up or a wide open 3. Trey would have sliced this press up and I expect Derrick to do the same. If Derrick is forced to give the ball up to the 2 guard, MAAR has to use his quickness to penetrate between the two defenders before they set up the trap. At the 24:50 minute mark, Fred Van Fleet needs to dart between the defenders quickly with a crossover. Instead he gets bailed out with a foul while trying to tip toe the sideline. If you get low with a crossover and split the defense, either you’ll get fouled or Tulsa won’t have time to get the trap set which will lead to that odd man break. I say it like its too easy, but ideally we really shouldn’t have an issue with this trap.

  • gobluemd16

    Thanks UMHoops and Dylan for all of the fantastic coverage and quick breakdown of our opponent. Gotta say, I love the matchup on paper.

  • gobluemd16

    Tulsa full-game from their early season win against Wichita State, for those interested:

    • Nice find, thanks.

      • gobluemd16

        Watched some of it. Very early game, but pressuring defense, some quick (and bad) shots, and good drivers off the bounce on offense stick out.

        • Stephen Chang

          Majority of their defense is halfcourt press and 2-3 zone. I agree about their quick trigger to shoot from the outside. They are a poor man’s version of VCU/Louisville.

  • A2MIKE

    I would love to see the rotation extended a little. Something like

    1- Walton 30 MAAR 10
    2- MAAR-20 IRVIN 10 Dawkins 10
    3- Robinson 30 Dawkins 10
    4- Irvin 20 Chatman 20
    5- Donnal 20 Wagner/Doyle 20

    I would hate to pull off a win and an upset and then run out of legs and energy for that 3rd game.

    • victorycircle

      The funny thing is people wanted Chatman and Donnal off the team . You see how it is to not give up on players before they graduate? Had Belien listened to the fans and not put Chatman in the game when Maar fouled out – we wouldn’t be in the tourney now. Chatman got game. He was a five star and Jordan brand player for nothing. It’s only his sophomore season. He earned his Pt.

  • Timothy David

    Looking forward to tomorrow night, it should be a dandy! Thanks Dylan (and others) for all the consistent and accurate updates.

  • victorycircle

    On the flip side…… I now understand Ricky Doyal’s fatigue issues after finding out that he has sleep apena (sp?) but there is no reason for his butter fingers…..excuse my randomness.