Lewis: Tulane men's basketball sets sights on postseason

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NEW ORLEANS — “Tulane basketball” and “postseason tournament.”

Now those are two phrases which haven’t been used in the same sentence in a while — 13 years to be exact.

But for the first time since Perry Clark’s final team made the NIT in 2000, the Green Wave is at least in the conversation.

Not for the NCAAs. That would require an unlikely running of the table in the Conference USA Tournament. And with Tulane’s current RPI of 151, the NIT is an outside shot at best.

But there’s also the 16-team Collegiate Basketball Tournament and the 32-team CollegeInsider.com Tournament. If the Wave keeps trending upward, either one is a good possibility.

“Coach tells us one game at a time, but I can help thinking about it,” senior forward Kendall Timmons said. “I’ve been here for five years, and just saying we have a chance at the postseason has me excited and glad that I can be a part of it.”

Going into Wednesday’s home game against Alabama-Birmingham, Tulane is 18-9, 6-6 in C-USA and has won four of its past five games, the latest being an 84-59 romp at Rice on Saturday. That was the Wave’s first 25-point victory in a conference road game since 1997.

Winning Wednesday is no gimme, given that UAB (6-7, 13-14) also has won four of its past five. But as Tulane coach Ed Conroy pointed out, at least his team is playing meaningful games in late February and March.

“Every game we play we play builds on the one before,” he said.

“Our guys have a great mindset about where they are, and the progress we’ve made has been obvious.”

Tulane has only one senior starter and has found itself in the past couple of weeks, as any team on the upswing desires to.

“We’re getting healthier,” Conroy said. “But more than that, we’ve just been more efficient on offense.

“You do that, and you’re able to run more up-tempo, and that puts pressure on the other team. We’re not satisfied with where we are, but we like where we’re headed.”

For Tulane that has double meaning.

Next season will be the Wave’s last in C-USA before it joins the Big East in 2014. And with Memphis, Central Florida, Houston and SMU moving to the Big East this fall, there’s a window of opportunity to Tulane to contend for the C-USA title in 2013-14.

Beyond that, no matter what the membership of the Big East looks like two seasons from now, the Wave certainly will need an upgraded product just to hold its own.

A postseason berth this season certainly can’t hurt in the recruiting department. That isn’t lost on Timmons. But he’s more concerned with the immediate benefits.

“We’ve had some dark days here,” Timmons said. “But now, all of our hard work is paying off.

“Anything that keeps my senior year going is worth it. I just want to experience the postseason once before I graduate.”