Sister’s illness makes for a bittersweet homecoming for Tulsa head coach Frank Haith

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Saturday was supposed to be a celebration for Tulsa head coach Frank Haith and his family.

Born in Queens, Haith moved to North Carolina when he was five. That’s where he says he’s from, where he calls home and where most of his family still resides. On Saturday, he’ll bring his Golden Hurricane team — one of the hottest and most surprising teams in the country, but I’ll get to that in a minute — on a trip to East Carolina for an American road game.

That’s the game those friends and family members — he is one of 11 siblings — from Burlington are going to make the two-and-a-half hour trip to Greenville to see him try and coach his boys to 7-0 in the league, their first in the American. The traveling party will not be intact, however, as Haith’s sister, Laura, is still in the hospital after suffering a brain aneurysm six weeks ago.

“She’s still in the ICU,” he said. “She’s still not awake.”

Laura suffered the aneurysm back in early December, and Frank flew home to be with his family after Tulsa’s win over Arkansas-Little Rock on Dec. 7th. He flew back to Tulsa for their Dec. 10th game against Southeastern Oklahoma State, a Division II school, having missed two days’ worth of practice. He got back into town just a couple of hours before tip-off, and the result was one of the most embarrassing of his professional career.

The Golden Hurricane lost to Southeastern, setting off a flurry of the typical, played-out Frank-Haith-Can’t-Coach jokes from spiteful Missouri and Miami fans as well as your standard-issue snark from those that write about the sport.

Imagine that.

His sister, who has two sons of her own, was in a coma and the team he left an SEC program to coach — the one that returned quite a bit of talent from a team that made last year’s NCAA tournament — was sitting at 5-4 with losses to crosstown rivals Oral Roberts and a Division II school.

“It was tough,” Haith said.

Three days later, Tulsa would get smacked around by Oklahoma.

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Regardless of how much talent there is on a basketball team, when a new coach is taking over a program, there is always going to be a period of transition. The new coaching staff needs to learn their players. What are their strengths and weaknesses, both individually and from a roster standpoint? Who needs to be pushed and who shuts down if they get yelled at? Who can take on a leadership role? Who picks up offense quickly and who doesn’t understand defensive positioning?

The same goes for the players. They’re not only learning a new system, new plays and new defenses, they’re trying to figure out just what this coaching staff expects from each of them and what their role looks like moving forward.

And, quite often, this happens in a situation where the two sides have, at best, a limited relationship to begin with.

It’s not an easy thing to do, and for this Tulsa team, Haith says, the slow start to the season was all a part of their learning curve.

“Everything was new,” Haith said. “They played a different way last year. Did things different. Different terminology.”

“They used to be three-out, two-in, now we’re four-out, one-in,” he said of the system Tulsa ran under former coach Danny Manning, who is now at Wake Forest. “We’re spread pick-and-roll, they were high-low. We had to figure that all how to put Shaquille Harrison and Jordan Woodard in a position where they could be the most successful. You want to put those guys where they can be comfortable and productive.”

Simply put, the players and the coaches were still feeling each other out.

But that loss to Oklahoma, on December 13th, was the last loss that the Golden Hurricane suffered. They’ve now won eight straight games, six of which came in American play with three of those league wins coming on the road. That’s an impressive way to announce one’s self to a conference, and Haith gives the credit to the timing of the school’s winter break: right after the loss to Oklahoma.

Everyone in the program — from Haith to star guards Woodard and Harrison to the managers giving players water during timeouts — realized they had to do something to turn their season around. So they took the time where they didn’t have to worry themselves with classes or homework and, as Haith put it, “just got better.”

Practices were more focused, players were getting individual workouts in on their own, film sessions went longer. They got to know each other better just by being in such close quarters.

“That’s the good thing about us,” Haith said. “There was no panic. In anybody.”

“That’s where we were at. It’s not like we’re that team [that can win just by showing up]. I’ve gotta give them credit because we really grew a lot over that break.”

Tulsa still has a long way to go this season. They’ve beaten Memphis and UConn at home, but still have to make return trips as well as play SMU twice and host Cincinnati. They’re a half-game up on the Mustangs and two games up on both the Bearcats and the Huskies, but it’s probably still too early to call them favorites in the league; they’re about two-thirds of the way through the easy part of their conference schedule.

But if Haith has proven anything, it’s that he has a team that is going to contend for the American title this season, Southeastern Oklahoma State be damned.

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Blowing out a program like Memphis in a primetime game on ESPN to move to 6-0 in one of the top seven leagues in a country has a way of making people forget about a random loss in the middle of the Fantasy Football playoffs.

So yes, professionally, Haith is in a good spot right now.

His sister, however, is not, at least not yet.

“We just don’t know what’s next right now,” Haith said. “We’re just taking it day-by-day.”

The family will try to rally as they can this weekend, to celebrate the success that Haith is having this season. It’s a welcome distraction, something to look forward to in order to keep your mind off of a family member that’s in a coma.

But it won’t be the same without Laura there.

“This East Carolina game is a tough one for me because this is the game that she was making plans to come to,” Haith said. “She’s the one that was on top of everything.

“It’s been tough. It’s been real tough. She’s got two boys and we’re taking care of them, but it’s been hard.”

Bubble Banter: N.C. State, Indiana land massive wins

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There is plenty of action happening on the bracketology bubble watch despite it being a relatively slow night for college hoops.

Dave Ommen’s latest bracketology can be found here. Rob Dauster’s Bubble Watch can be found here. The full NET rankings can be found here.

Here is everything you need to know to.

THE BUBBLE WATCH WINNERS

N.C. STATE (NET: 60, NBC: First four out): The Wolfpack are easily the biggest bubble winners of the week, as they blew out Duke (6) at home on Wednesday. It’s the fifth Quad 1 win for Kevin Keatts — they’re also beaten Wisconsin (30) at home and three sub-50 teams on the road — to go along with an 8-6 record against the top two Quads. The biggest problem here is that they have three Quad 3 losses, two of which came at home. As of today, I would have N.C. State on the right side of the cutline and in a play-in game.

INDIANA (NET: 63, NBC: 10): Indiana picked up their fifth Quad 1 win of the season on Wednesday, going into Minnesota (44) and knocking off the Golden Gophers. This one was particularly important because of the fact that the Hoosiers only had a single road win entering the night — at Nebraska (175). They are 7-9 against the top two Quads, and their worst loss is at home to Arkansas. The Hoosiers are in a better spot than people realize.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 53, NBC: First four out): After beating South Carolina (62) at home on Wednesday night, the Bulldogs have now won two straight games and five of their last seven games. Those two Quad 3 losses are not going away, but with a pair of Quad 1 road wins and a 6-7 mark against the top two Quads, Mississippi State has themselves in a spot where they cannot afford to slip-up given that they have just a single Quad 1 opportunity left on their schedule.

VIRGINIA (NET: 54, NBC: 11): The Wahoos have now won three in a row and six of their last seven after picking off Boston College (151) at home. They have three Quad 1 wins and an 8-6 mark against the top two Quads with home dates left against Duke (6) and Louisville (10). They’re in a good spot right now.

UTAH STATE (NET: 41, NBC: Play-in game): After beating Wyoming, the Aggies have won five in a row and eight of their last nine games, ensuring they are still in the NCAA tournament mix and fully turning around a season that looked like it was lost as recently as four weeks ago. Wins over LSU (31) and Florida (35) are nice, but with three road losses to sub-90 teams and no more chances to land marquee wins, how are they going to make up for those losses? They don’t play another top 100 team the rest of the season. I don’t see how they can get in without beating San Diego State (1) in the MWC tournament.

MEMPHIS (NET: 59, NBC: Next four out): Memphis is hanging on by a thread right now, but they are still alive after knocking off a bad East Carolina (208) team at home. Memphis has just one Quad 1 win and they don’t have a win over a team inside the top 50; their best win is Cincinnati (50) at home. Throw in a pair of quad 3 losses, and the Tigers have plenty of work to do. The good news? They still get two games against Houston (27), a trip to SMU (67) and a home date with Wichita State (43).

RICHMOND (NET: 46, NBC: Play-in game): The Spiders are still in a good spot for an at-large bid after beating up on George Mason (167) at home. They’re sitting at 20-6 overall with a pair of Quad 1 wins — Wisconsin (30) on a neutral and at Rhode Island (32) — as well as two Quad 2 wins. The trouble with their resume is a a pair of Quad 3 losses, but in a year where so many bubble teams look destined to amass 11 or 12 losses, Richmond will be in the mix. They cannot truly improve their resume until the A-10 tournament.

EAST TENNESSEE STATE (NET: 42, NBC: 11): After beating Furman (71) on Wednesday night, the Buccaneers have gotten through the toughest part of their schedule. They have a win at UNCG (55) and a win at LSU (31). With a 21-4 record and a loss to Mercer (205) at home, the Buccaneers have to win out and lost to only UNCG or Furman in the SoCon tournament to have a chance, and even that might be a bit of a longshot.

STEPHEN F. AUSTIN (NET: 87, NBC: 12): Stephen F. Austin is 23-3 on the season and 20-3 against Division I competition. Their losses came at Rutgers (28), at Alabama (38) and at home to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (316) by a single point. That’s the worst loss that anyone on the bubble is going to take this season. But they also own a road win at Duke (6), which will go down as one of the very best wins that anyone gets this season. I’m not sure what else they can do.

… AND LOSERS

CINCINNATI (NET: 48, NBC: Play-in game): The Bearcats shot themselves in the foot on Wednesday, losing at home to UCF (125) in the fourth straight overtime game that they have played and their sixth one possession game in a row. Cincinnati have just two Quad 1 wins and four Quad 3 losses. They’re in a bad spot.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 43, NBC: Play-in game): The Hoyas fell to 15-11 on the season with a home loss to Providence (58). It snapped a two-game losing streak and put the Hoyas in a very difficult spot. With road trips to DePaul (70), Marquette (23) and Creighton (11) and home dates with Xavier (39) and Villanova (15), Georgetown has a tough, tough schedule remaining. They do have five Quad 1 wins and a 9-11 mark against the top two Quads, so they are in a good spot.

MINNESOTA (NET: 44, NBC: Off the bubble): The Gophers are below .500 after losing to Indiana (63) at home. This is the last time they’ll be in this space until they start winning a few games.

SOUTH CAROLINA (NET: 65, NBC: Next four out): The Gamecocks had a chance to play themselves into a really good spot on Wednesday, but they lost a close game at Mississippi State (53). At 16-10 overall with a Quad 3 and a Quad 4 loss, the Gamecocks have plenty of work left to do and not all that many great chances left for wins.

ALABAMA (NET: 36, NBC: First four out): Alabama fell to 14-12 overall with a loss to a bad Texas A&M (134) on Wednesday. They now have just one Quad 1 win compared to a pair of Quad 3 losses. Throw in their overall record and the fact that they don’t have a road win over a team ranked in the top 95, and they are in serious trouble.

No. 12 Villanova wins 20th-straight over DePaul

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CHICAGO (AP) — Saddiq Bey and Collin Gillespie each made five of Villanova’s 18 3-pointers, and the 12th-ranked Wildcats used their long-range shooting to beat DePaul 91-71 on Wednesday night.

Villanova went 18 for 26 from deep in its 20th straight victory against DePaul. The Wildcats (20-6, 9-4 Big East) have made at least nine 3s in their last five games, including 17 during Sunday’s 76-56 victory at Temple.

Bey finished with 22 points and seven assists. Gillespie and Justin Moore had 17 points apiece.

DePaul (13-13, 1-12) dropped its eighth straight game. The Blue Demons took the Wildcats to overtime in a 79-75 loss on Jan. 14, but the rematch was a blowout.

While Villanova was taking aim from deep, DePaul went 4 for 12 from 3-point range. Jalen Coleman-Lands scored 17 points, and Paul Reed finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.

RELATED: WEDNESDAY’S THINGS TO KNOW

During one telling sequence in the second half, Coleman-Lands made a nice steal before missing a jam for DePaul. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree then slammed it home at the other end, giving Villanova its biggest lead of the game at 77-46 with 8:21 left.

Cosby-Roundtree finished with 11 points and seven rebounds.

The Wildcats grabbed control when they closed the first half with a 15-2 run for a 46-26 lead at the break. They had 10 3s at halftime; the Blue Demons had 10 made field goals.

BIG PICTURE

Villanova improved to 15-1 this season when it wins the rebounding battle. Cosby-Roundtree led the Wildcats to a 35-28 advantage on the glass.

DePaul dropped to 1-4 against ranked opponents this season. The Blue Demons got off to a great start this year, but the Big East slate has been a disaster.

UP NEXT

Villanova visits Xavier on Saturday. The Wildcats beat the Musketeers 68-62 in their Big East opener on Dec. 30.

DePaul hosts Georgetown on Saturday night. The Blue Demons lost 76-72 to the Hoyas on Feb. 8.

Second-half surge powers No. 22 Houston past Tulsa

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HOUSTON — Caleb Mills scored 22 of his 27 points in the second half to lead No. 22 Houston to a 76-43 win over Tulsa on Wednesday night.

Mills shot 9 of 16, including hitting 5 of 9 on 3-pointers. Nate Hinton added 15 points for Houston (21-6, 11-3 American), which shot 41%.

The Cougars moved into sole possession of first place in the American with the win combined with Cincinnati’s loss to Central Florida on Wednesday. The Cougars rebounded after losing to SMU, 73-72, in overtime on Saturday and avenged a 63-61 loss at Tulsa on Jan. 11.

RELATED: WEDNESDAY’S THINGS TO KNOW

Martins Igbanu had 15 points, and Jeriah Horne added 12 points and seven rebounds for Tulsa (17-9, 9-4). The Golden Hurricane shot 35% but were 4 of 20 on 3-pointers.

Houston opened the second half by outscoring Tulsa, 30-8, to take a 56-28 lead with 11½ minutes remaining behind Mills, who scored 20 points in the run.

With just under 13 minutes remaining in the game, Tulsa’s frustrations and tensions between the two teams heated up.

Tulsa coach Frank Haith was ejected with 12:50 left in the second half after receiving two technical fouls within two seconds.

After Igbanu was called for traveling on the ensuing possession, Igbanu shoved his shoulder into Fabian White Jr, who fell to the ground. The two teams had to be separated, and Igbanu and White were issued technical fouls on the play, while Elijah Joiner was ejected for an unsportsmanlike flagrant two technical foul for running up on to the play and needing to be held back by the official.

BIG PICTURE

Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane has lost five straight to the Cougars in Houston, with their last win coming on Feb. 5, 2015. … Tulsa fell to 2-1 against ranked teams this season, with wins over Wichita State and Memphis coming at home. Tulsa last beat a ranked opponent on the road on Feb. 10, 2016 when it won at SMU.

Houston: The Cougars improved to 12-2 at home this season and have won eight straight at home. … Houston forced Tulsa in 16 turnovers and converted it into 18 points. … The Cougars are 6-0 this season after a loss and 16-0 after a loss over the last three seasons.

UP NEXT

Tulsa hosts SMU on Saturday.

Houston travels to Memphis on Saturday.

Wednesday’s Things to Know: NC State blows out Duke, Auburn loses again and a halfcourt 2OT buzzer-beater gets waved off

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The biggest news of the night came out of Newark, where Seton Hall got a buzzer-beater to defeat Butler, but that wasn’t the only action across the country. Here’s what else you need to know:

Wolfpack pick up huge resume win in blowout of Duke

The headline is going to that Duke lost, because Duke is Duke and the Blue Devils are the sixth-ranked team in the country. And when Duke, being Duke, gets throttled by an unranked team, as the Blue Devils did in an 88-66 loss to NC State, that goes double.

Really, though, this is a much bigger result for the Wolfpack than it is for Coach K’s team.

Kevin Keatts and Co. entered a monumental week with a resume that wouldn’t measure up to an NCAA tournament berth with losses to Georgia Tech (twice), Memphis, Clemson, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Boston College (on Sunday) outweighing a number of good-but-not-great victories.

They’ve taken the first step in changing that reality with their thumping of the Blue Devils, who had won seven-straight coming into the evening.

Markell Johnson scored 28 points while Devon Daniels had 25 and DJ Funderburk 21. The Wolfpack converted at a 45.1 percent clip overall from the floor and made 8 of 13 from 3-point range (61.5 percent). They had just 10 turnovers and grabbed 15 offensive rebounds. Perhaps most impressively they took a couple of big punches from Duke in the early part of the second half that many an ACC foe has been staggered by, but NC State found its footing and punched back to earn a 22-point win.

Wednesday, though, was just half of the Wolfpack’s big week. On Saturday, Florida State will visit PNC Arena in Raleigh, giving Keatts a second shot at another resume-bolstering win. The victory against Duke makes this week a win regardless for NC State, but if the Wolfpack can go 2-0, it’ll be absolutely massive for them. This week is especially important for the Wolfpack because of what comes next – just one more shot at a marquee victory, at Duke to start March. That’s a hard ask. It’s less of a must now because of the way they were able to take care of business on their home car. That goes double if they can do it again Saturday.

Meanwhile, it was a pretty miserable night for Duke if you weren’t Vernon Carey, who had 27 points and 12 rebounds. Tre Jones had 17 points, but was 6 of 18 from the floor, though he did also have nine rebounds. The Blue Devils shot just 37.7 percent from the field, and were 4 of 17 from 3 (23.5 percent). They assisted on just six of their 26 field goals.

It’s far from a catastrophic loss for the Blue Devils, but it does do damage to an already weak argument for a No. 1 seed. With a weak schedule to finish out ACC regular season play, there probably isn’t a whole lot Duke can do other than hold on to a No. 2 seed.

Auburn drops second-straight

Auburn hasn’t done much to dissuade the considerable amount of people that aren’t buying the Tigers as among college basketball’s best this week. Even if this past week comes with a considerable asterisk.

Georgia defeated Auburn, 65-55, to give the Tigers their second-straight road defeat after they lost over the weekend to Missouri.

That’s two pretty tough losses to a team that previously only had two losses on the whole season. Auburn shot 31 percent from the field and 15 percent from 3-point range. Of course, their performances against Mizzou and the Bulldogs comes with the pretty notable absence of Isaac Okoro, who is dealing with a hamstring injury. It’s probably not surprising that being down your most efficient offensive player is going to make winning on the road in the SEC pretty tough.

Still, a difficult two games for Bruce Pearl’s group.

Cincy’s would-be halfcourt buzzer-beater waived off

Cincinnati is getting well-acquainted with overtime. The Bearcats are also now well-acquainted with some heartbreak.

Down two in double-overtime to UCF, the Bearcats’ Jarron Cumberland let fly a halfcourt heave that that found nothing but net…but was too late.

Maybe the saddest thing about this – unless you’re a UCF fan – is that Cumberland seemed to know the minute the shot fell that it was too late. No celebration. Just dejection.

The Bearcats, who played in three-straight OT games in November, have now played four-straight overtime games, and sport a 2-2 record over that span. There’s a decent chance it stretches to five, with Wichita State coming to the Queen City this weekend.

No. 11 Louisville stops skid with rout of Syracuse

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Jordan Nwora scored 17 points, Dwayne Sutton added 16 and No. 11 Louisville routed Syracuse 90-66 on Wednesday night to end a two-game losing streak.

The Cardinals (22-5, 13-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) never trailed the Orange after losses at Georgia Tech and Clemson dropped them six spots in the rankings and out of the conference lead. They stretched a 41-34 halftime lead to double digits early in the second half before an 18-2 run made it 69-44.

Nwora shot just 5 of 18 from the field and 2 of 7 from beyond the arc but regrouped from scoring just seven points the past two games. Louisville shot 47% with 10 3-pointers and controlled the boards 45-36.

Sutton had three 3-pointers and eight rebounds, McMahon had four 3s for 13 points and 6-foot-11 Malik Williams 14 points while matching a career high with 13 rebounds in his first start this season.

Buddy Boeheim had 15 points and Quincy Guerrrier for Syracuse (14-12, 7-8), which shot 38% and lost its fifth in six games.

BIG PICTURE

Syracuse: After losing four of their last five by a total of 17 points, the Orange stayed within reach in the first half. Things steadily slipped away in the second as they struggled to limit Louisville’s offensive options, especially from long range. Bourama Sibide (five rebounds, two points) fouled out with 10 minutes left, leaving them more vulnerable inside and the Cardinals…

Louisville: After shooting 34% and 35% respectively in the two losses, the Cardinals were patient and worked the ball around Syracuse’s trademark 2-3 zone defense for looks. They initially succeeded from deep with Sutton and McMahon before working it down low for chances. Nwora struggled from deep despite good looks but created chances elsewhere.

UP NEXT

Syracuse: Hosts Georgia Tech on Saturday in search of a season sweep of the Yellow Jackets. The Orange won the first meeting 97-63 in December.

Louisville: Hosts struggling North Carolina on Saturday. The Cardinals won last season’s meeting 83-62 in Chapel Hill before the Tar Heels answered by winning 83-70 in the ACC Tournament.