Bill Self's second season as coach at Tulsa was a success. The Golden Hurricane went 23-10 and lost to top-ranked Duke in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Season No. 3 was going to present a lot of questions because the only starter not returning was Michael Ruffin, the school's career leader in rebounds and blocked shots. He became a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Bulls.
The Golden Hurricane has given some answers quickly. It cracked the top 25 in the Associated Press men's basketball poll yesterday with an 11-1 record, and are coming off the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic where it handed the Tennessee Volunteers their first loss of the season with a 20-point win in the championship game.
"I really am surprised," Self said yesterday. "We were a totally different team last season, a power team, and now we're a team based on speed and they have adjusted to playing a different style. But they haven't lost our main style of really defending an opponent and they have come together quite quickly."
The Golden Hurricane, whose only loss was by one point at crosstown rival Oral Roberts, moved into the rankings for the first time since Feb. 3, 1997. Tulsa's defense is complemented by balanced scoring, with five players in double figures in tournament wins over Boston College, North Carolina Charlotte and Tennessee. But it was a different five each game.
Tulsa is one of the eight teams left in the Western Athletic Conference after half the former league broke off to form the Mountain West Conference. The WAC champion isn't guaranteed a spot in this year's NCAA field of 64.
"Being in the top 25 is very big any year, but maybe even more so this year since we don't have an automatic bid so it's important to get your name in front of the national audience a little more," Self said. "The timing is very good right now, but it's big for a program from a recruiting standpoint and a morale standpoint. But it's not the top 10."
Stanford (9-0) led the top 10 for a second straight week with 60 first-place votes and 1,734 points from the national media panel. Connecticut (8-1), which had seven No. 1 votes and 1,670 points, held second.
Then came the changes in a week during which 10 ranked teams lost.
Cincinnati, which got two No. 1 votes, moved up one spot to No. 3, and Auburn moved up three places to fourth.
Arizona, whose home winning streak was ended at 37 games by New Mexico, had one first-place vote and dropped from third to fifth. Florida and Syracuse moved up two spots to sixth and seventh, while Michigan State, which lost at Kentucky, fell from fifth to eighth.
The Spartans were followed by Duke, which moved up one spot, and Kansas, which jumped two places.
Oklahoma State led the second 10, and was followed by Indiana, North Carolina, Maryland, Ohio State, Tennessee, Temple, Texas, Wake Forest and Illinois.
The last five ranked teams were Utah, Oklahoma, UCLA, DePaul and Tulsa.
Utah (8-2), which had an impressive 79-73 win over Texas last week to stretch its winning streak to six games, was back in the Top 25 after falling out for three weeks following a loss at Weber State.
Gonzaga (7-3), ranked in every poll this season, fell out from No. 22 following a 72-64 loss to California. North Carolina State (7-1) dropped from 25th after a one-week appearance in the rankings. The Wolfpack were knocked from the poll and the list of unbeatens with a 73-62 loss to Tulane.
The other ranked teams to lose last week were Illinois, UCLA, Oklahoma and North Carolina. The Tar Heels (8-4) lost to Indiana, 82-73, in the Jimmy V Classic and 97-80 at Louisville, and dropped from sixth to No. 13.