From the 2000-01 season when coach Shawn Finney took control of Tulane's program, the Green Wave's progress has been steady, if not methodical. From nine victories to 14, then to 16 and a winning record, Tulane seemed poised to make a run at the postseason.
Maybe that projection was one year too early.
With a lineup that heavily relied on underclassmen -- particularly freshmen -- the Green Wave regressed to 11 victories last season. The growing pains weren't a surprise. But nobody expected it to hurt that much. Tulane went through lengthy periods of offensive inefficiency, while lacking a go-to scorer, a set lineup and team leadership.
Finney believes it was a one-season hiccup, not the start of a disturbing trend.
"There was progress," Finney said. "We played so many young people. At times, maybe some of them tried to do too much. But we're going to be past that now."
The season ended on an especially disappointing note with four consecutive losses. Tulane went out meekly in the Conference USA tournament with a 78-48 loss to Charlotte. The Green Wave shot a season-low 27.1 percent from the floor -- the 25th consecutive game in which Tulane failed to connect on at least 50 percent of its shots.
FRONTCOURTThe return of junior center Quincy Davis fuels much of Finney's optimism. Davis played a supporting role as a freshman but matured into a shot-blocking force inside. He was an adequate rebounder and, at times, an effective scorer, but he lacked consistency. He led the Wave in scoring and shot 53.3 percent from the floor.
Davis should benefit from the return of Ivan Pjevcevic, who went down just eight minutes into last season's opener with a knee injury and took a medical redshirt. Pjevcevic, who already has earned two degrees from Tulane, is well-schooled in scoring from the arc. He's a 43.9 percent 3-point shooter, the best career mark in school history.
"It showed what a great player Quincy was that teams double-teamed him," Finney said. "With Ivan back, it will make that [double-teaming] more difficult. Ivan's long-range shooting is going to really propel our team."
So will the continued improvement of Vytas Tatarunas, who can post up or drift to the perimeter. Tatarunas played 82 minutes and scored only 35 points as a freshman; he needed four games to surpass those totals last season. Tatarunas led Tulane with six double-doubles and paced the team in rebounding 11 times.
Finney expects more minutes from physical sophomore Kory Castine, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds against Southern Miss in his first start. Freshman David Gomez, perhaps the top signee in Finney's Tulane tenure, also should figure somewhere in the rotation. Robinson Louisme needs more seasoning.
BACKCOURTPoint guard Marcus Kinzer, who started every game, saw his offensive capabilities come alive in key moments last season, including a 19-point output in a victory against UAB. Kinzer doesn't need to assume responsibility for heavy scoring, though, and would be better served in reducing his turnovers. Kinzer's quick hands and excellent free throw shooting are major assets.
Things can only improve for Vincent Camper, a tough customer who has shed some unneeded weight and seems ready to blossom. He showed flashes, but a 32.6 shooting percentage in C-USA games must improve.
Ben Benfield, at times the team's most effective offensive force, is a valuable reserve. Finney said Chris Moore, who displayed a fearless long-range shooting stroke, could be a surprise after a productive summer of work. Freshmen Matt Wheaton and Donnie Stith don't figure to challenge for a starting spot, but their minutes should increase throughout the season.
FINAL ANALYSISTulane is accustomed to rebuilding instead of reloading. Think of last season as an investment in the program's future. Its freshmen played a combined 1,630 minutes, the highest figure among C-USA teams. The Green Wave remain young, but now there's game-tested experience.
Tulane doesn't have enough muscle to contend for a championship, but the team should be better.