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In Danny Manning's second year, Tulsa reaches 1st NCAAs since '03

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Latest in hoops: Top 25 (and one) | Bracketology | Bubble Watch

Few teams' inclusion to this year's NCAA Tournament will make you feel young again like seeing the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on a bracket line.

The 21-12 team defeated Louisiana Tech 69-60 in Saturday's Conference USA title game, putting the program back in the Big Dance for the first time in 11 years.

And what's remarkable about the return is the fact that Danny Manning is coaching this team, something college hoops diehards are aware of. But he's a big name in the sport, and this trip will make noise for the Golden Hurricane. Consider: In just his second season, he's navigated a once-proud program into the event that matters most in this sport. Tulsa toiled over the past decade in NIT trips and slowly turning into a national afterthought.

The team was seldom bad, but it lost luster of being a truly feared mid major plus-type team.

Getting to the NCAAs is especially outstanding when you consider the team lost Jordan Clarkson to Missouri and Eric McClellan to Vanderbilt. Both of those players could have been the two best this team would have had, but that's not to take away from James Woodard's (15.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG) outstanding contributions, as well as point guard Shaq Harrison.

C (USATSI)
Danny Manning and the Golden Hurricane are back after a long stay away from the NCAAs. (USATSI)

C-USA, while not a top-10 league, was still very competitive at the top this year. La. Tech, Southern Miss, UTEP and Middle Tennessee State combined for 101 total wins this season, and each of those teams won at least 12 games in league play. The top of the conference was a tight, always-in-doubt chase from start to finish.

Tulsa gets out of it and will rep the league. Superb.

Remember what this team used to be? It made eight NCAA Tourneys from 1994 through 2003. It bolstered coaches like Nolan Richardson, Tubby Smith and Bill Self. There were two Sweet 16s runs (1994, 1995) and an Elite Eight appearance, which came under Self in 2000. Those glory days were during the Missouri Valley and WAC years.

Now this school is in C-USA, or was; Tulsa is headed to the American Athletic Conference next season. Manning's going to be a big story over the next few days, especially considering he'll join his college coach, Larry Brown, in this year's NCAAs. Remember, those two won the 1988 title while at Kansas.

March is about a lot of things. Surprise, small schools, resurrections. Tulsa embodies all three.

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