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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
Two months after former Maryland assistant Dave Dickerson was hired as Tulane's 22nd head coach, The Sporting News printed a feature and accompanying day-by-day sketch of Dickerson's first 30 days in office, beginning April 1.
It was a nice swig of pub for a program that hasn't visited the NCAA Tournament since 1995. Now if the story had just delineated these projected key dates:
March 30, 2005, after Maryland is ousted from the NIT semifinals: After devoting four years of athletic prime (he was a basketball letterman for the Terps from 1986-89) and nine years of apprenticeship to one of the NCAA's premier programs, Dickerson wasn't about to rummage through the bargain bin for his first head coaching position.
"What I saw quite frankly was an opportunity to turn a program around," said Dickerson, 38, who succeeded Shawn Finney after five unproductive seasons. "There are two kinds of situations that attract coaches ... One is when a program has been down a little bit but they still have an opportunity to win, and a program that has won [before] and you can step right in without missing a beat. I felt good about the opportunity and about the new conference."
Mid-October, Tulane's first practice date: Clearly, abundant reformation is overdue for the Green Wave, which was drawing roughly half of capacity in Fogelman Arena for conference games last year. The only way Dickerson knows to combat such malaise is to introduce turtle power, beginning today.
"We're going to play the same way we played at Maryland," Dickerson said. "We're going to try to play up-tempo but still make good decisions. We're going to try to play unselfishly at the offensive end, and we're going to try to get at people [for] 94 feet defensively.
"If we can't do that as a team, we're not going to be successful. That's the way I want to play. I've seen that style of play win a national championship [in 2002]."
November 18, Tulane's first game: Four starters and 10 lettermen return from 2004-05, but by the time Tulane opens this season, its Q-rating had better be outstanding. That's Q as in Quincy Davis (13.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.5 bpg), a 6-9 senior who led Conference USA in field-goal percentage at 61.2 percent. "Building around" Davis is too passé now; the 238-pound L.A. native has already proven central to any turnaround Tulane hopes to experience.
"I think he's the guy you have to point to as being a leader," Dickerson said. "I think it's going to be a challenge for the coaching staff to make sure you build on the stats he did last year [by] just getting the ball to him a little more.
"Quincy might be like a Lonnie Baxter at Maryland if he can continue to be that efficient."
By this time, too, it needs to be obvious that 6-1 sophomore Taylor Rochestie (10.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.7 apg) is the Green Wave's point man. An all-freshman C-USA selection, Rochestie divided 1- and 2-guard capabilities with Marcus Kinzer last season. Kinzer has graduated, leaving the Santa Barbara, Calif., product in charge.
Rochestie has already shown a flair for the dramatic, draining a jumper with 2.2 seconds left to subdue Houston and beating the buzzer with a three in overtime to stun UAB. He also turned the ball over like it was a flapjack (77 miscues, compared to 103 assists). How Rochestie will fare in all-floor attack Dickerson proposes will be critical for the Wave.
"I think Taylor's going to be a perfect point guard for how we want to play," Dickerson said, "because he's able to score but he's more interested in the team's success."
January 11, 2006, Tulane's first Conference USA game: Ideally, Dickerson has ironed out the intermediate positions between Rochestie and Davis by now.
Thankfully, the coach is not short of options. David Gomez (6.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg), a 6-8 sophomore from Baton Rouge, grew into a smarter scoring threat as the league schedule unfolded. He put up five of his eight double-digit scoring efforts against C-USA foes, and committed just five turnovers over the last nine games.
Another small forward in pursuit of a starting role is 6-6 sophomore Donnie Stith (5.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg), who started half of the Green Wave's 28 games and at one point hit 22 free throws in a row. Overtaking Stith briefly toward the end of '04-'05 was 6-5 sophomore Matt Wheaton (3.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg), a rugged rebounder for his size.
Two other players seeking to re-establish themselves are 6-6 senior Vytas Tatarunas (3.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and 6-3 junior Vincent Camper (5.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.9 apg). Tatarunas majored in "DNP-CD" by the end of last February, despite having a pair of double-doubles in December. Turnovers -- a persistent theme for Tulane last year -- were partly his undoing.
Camper's problems stemmed from the classroom; he was academically ineligible for the second semester. If Camper minds his Ps and Qs, he could help the Green Wave get some Ws -- he notched 12 points and seven assists versus Prairie View and 13 and four against Savannah State.
Not to be overlooked among the forwards are 6-5 junior Chris Moore (3.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg), 6-8 junior Kory Castine (2.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg) and 6-7 sophomore Robinson Louisme (1.1 ppg, 0.8 rpg). Daniel Puckett (20.1 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 5.0 bpg), a 6-7 freshman from McEwen, Tenn., and a Mr. Basketball Finalist from that state, may stir it up further.
So many interchangeable and competent parts had thrown Dickerson for a loop in April. By January, the 2-3-4 puzzle should be resolved.
"On the onset of it, I think that may be the strongest part of our team now," Dickerson said. "You have four or five guys that you can move around and that they're athletic enough to compete with any team in the country. We're going to have a lot of options to turn to in those other positions."
One serious issue is who backs up Rochestie, the team's leader in minutes as a freshman in 2004-05. Camper has a history at the point, but 6-2 freshman Ryan Williams (16.5 ppg, 4.0 apg) can also contribute. Williams was called upon to assume full-time point-guard duties his senior season at Jonesboro (Ark.) High after averaging more than 23 points a game as a junior.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
March 15, 2006, an opening-round NIT date: Presumptuous, perhaps. Nevertheless, with so many freshmen turning the page to their sophomore years, Tulane may have enough guile in a softer Conference USA to push for postseason consideration.
The nonconference schedule, featuring New Orleans on two occasions, a trip to Seton Hall, LSU and Richmond, is palatable. Foes responsible for nine of Tulane's 12 conference defeats last year are no longer in the league.
But the Green Wave also must find a cure for their rampant turnover problems -- Tulane committed 17.1 mistakes per game last year, the highest rate of any current C-USA team -- and shoot the ball better from three-point range. Last year, with Davis leading Conference USA in field goal percentage, the Wave was a collective 31.2 percent from downtown, 12th in the league.
"My whole goal is to have guys play with confidence and feel free to make plays and take those shots when they're open," Dickerson said. "I think being able to pass the basketball better and be able to get guys open shots will help our shooting percentage.
"You look at the great teams at Maryland that we had in my nine years, those are the teams that were able to pass the basketball and get guys open shots."
For the most comprehensive previews on all 326 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 25th anniversary edition of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).