First Four: Tulsa hopes to make the most of its unexpected opportunity

Tulsa (20-11), which meets Michigan (22-12) in the NCAA First Four on Wednesday at UD Arena, lost to Memphis twice in 12 days, including an 89-67 blowout in the American Athletic Conference tournament. Tulsa’s RPI is 60, and the Hurricane have six losses to non-tournament teams.

Even senior point guard Shaquille Harrison commented on Twitter the night before Selection Sunday that “naw. We out bro. Lost to Memphis by 30 (sic).” But the Hurricane managed to earn one of the final four at-large bids for a chance to play sixth-seeded Notre Dame in the first round Friday in Brooklyn.

“We were 5-5 against teams in the tournament so … it was up in the air,” Harrison said Tuesday prior to his team’s practice session at UD Arena. “You never know with the committee. So it was kind of — we just didn’t know. Just at the time we were just hoping to get in the tournament, we finally got the chance so we are just trying to take advantage of it.”

The selection committee receives criticism for its picks every year. Last year, it was UCLA and Temple. This time, Tulsa is seeing the brunt of the negativity. Senior Writer and bracketologist Joe Lunardi wrote Sunday that Syracuse and Vanderbilt were questionable inclusions, but Tulsa’s selection was “indefensible by every known standard.” And, of nearly 50 brackets compiled at, none had Tulsa in the field.

“Is it really over the top, worse than last year’s?” Tulsa coach Frank Haith said. “You just can’t listen to it. You’ve just got to worry about the controllables. And I think we’ve talked to our team about that all year. Things we can control: Our preparation; our continuing to stay focused on what we need to do to have success. And all that stuff will take care of itself. There’s going to be a team every year that everybody says, they shouldn’t have gotten in, and we’re that team this year. So that’s okay. That’s behind us. We’re here now. Let’s go play the game.”

If anything, the perceived lack of respect could fuel the Hurricane for a tournament run.

“It can be used as motivation, but we look at it as a distraction,” senior guard James Woodard said Tuesday. “We’re going to focus on ourselves, focus on Tulsa basketball, and we’re going to prepare for a good Michigan team here tomorrow and that’s what we’re going to do.”

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