For the First Time Since Blake Griffin Lived in Norman, Bedlam Means SomethingPosted by dnspewak on January 11th, 2013
As hoops junkies, it’s unfathomable to non-sports fans how many college basketball games we watch on a yearly basis. Thanks to the four-letter network, we’re plugged into our televisions and computers during every waking minute from November through March. As the days and years pass you by, though, you start to forget all the meaningless regular season games you watched on ESPN3. It’s impossible to remember everything, so to vividly remember a specific game, something wild must have happened. Austin Rivers would have needed to make a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer. DeJuan Blair would have had to have flipped Hasheem Thabeet on national television. Kansas would have had to rally against a red-hot Kevin Durant. Point is, with so many games and so many seasons, we really only remember the special games.
For some reason, I have a vivid memory of January 26, 2009. Fifth-ranked Oklahoma was on the road in Stillwater, and the place was wild. If I remember correctly, a massive ice storm had crippled a portion of Oklahoma, which made the circumstances of the game even more epic. As has often been the case with Oklahoma State under Travis Ford, the Cowboys had absolutely no size and played a four-guard lineup. They were fast, athletic and, to put it bluntly, were playing their hearts out in a rivalry game against a much better opponent. Blake Griffin was on that OU team, for god’s sake. The Sooners escaped with an eight-point win at Gallagher-Iba Arena, but it wasn’t easy. I remember that was also the first game I noticed a little freshman named Keiton Page. That kid looked so out of place on the court, but according to the announcers, he used to average 50 points a game in high school. I would hear that story a million more time before he graduated, and it never got old. I remember watching the way Oklahoma State overcame its complete lack of size against an All-American, and I remember thinking, ‘this is college basketball, man.’ Bedlam! How can you not love it? In the regular season finale a few months later, Oklahoma won by four points at home behind 33 points from Blake Griffin. And less than a week later, the Cowboys shocked Oklahoma in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament, thanks to a couple of free throws by the venerable Byron Eaton in the final seconds. The Bedlam Series was in full swing. It meant something. Both teams made the NCAA Tournament that year, and the Sooners advanced to the Elite Eight.
That was four years ago. Oklahoma State made the NCAAs in 2009-10 but has not returned since. Meanwhile, Oklahoma fired Jeff Capel after his program went south, and the Sooners haven’t finished with a winning record since that Elite Eight year. Ever since that 2008-09 season, Bedlam has hardly meant anything.
On Saturday, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will meet again in Norman. The ESPN family of networks will televise it, but neither team is ranked, and I highly doubt a large viewing audience will drop everything on a Saturday and tune in. Still, for the first time since Blake Griffin roamed the Big 12, Bedlam means something. The Cowboys, a team in the thick of the NCAA Tournament hunt with that win over North Carolina State back in November, must score a road victory here. It’s imperative. Their 10-1 start and cameo appearance in the Top 25 was refreshing to see, but two narrow losses to Gonzaga and Kansas State since then have reverted Oklahoma State to us-against-the-world mode. The Puerto Rico Tip-Off title won’t carry this team through the season. It needs to win a game on the road — remember the loss at Virginia Tech, too — and it needs to prove it can overcome its lack of size and depth in the frontcourt. Marcus Smart has nothing to prove, but there are questions about guys like freshman forward Kamari Murphy and 6’11” center Philip Jurick. With Michael Cobbins currently playing through a broken toe, Ford doesn’t have much to work with in terms of true big men. And on the wing, star sophomore Le’Bryan Nash has cooled off during the past month and must get back into the swing of the offense. Smart makes this team go, but Nash completes it. After shooting a combined 6-of-20 against Gonzaga and Kansas State, Nash needs to be a big-game playmaker.
A loss could leave Ford’s team slipping toward the bubble. Meanwhile, a Bedlam win could provide a real boost to Lon Kruger’s program as a whole. After a disappointing, lower-half finish in the Big 12 in his first year, Kruger’s team has a chance to improve to 2-0 in the league this weekend. More importantly, a win would give the Sooners their first true quality victory of the season. They’ve knocked off West Virginia twice, sure, and they beat Texas A&M, UTEP, Oral Roberts and Ohio, but that’s enough right now. At 10-3, I feel as though we know absolutely nothing about Oklahoma. Kruger has made some radical personnel changes this year, including benching Andrew Fitzgerald and Sam Grooms, the Big 12’s leading returning assists man this year. He has instead opted to play freshmen Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Je’lon Hornbeak in front of Grooms. It worked in the opener against West Virginia, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on how OU’s guards play on Saturday, especially since they’ll face perhaps the best sets of guards and wings in college basketball against the likes of Smart, Nash, Markel Brown and Phil Forte.
The winner will not throw a parade on Saturday. The loser will not fold its basketball program. Still, it warms my heart to know that Bedlam is again an important game this weekend. It’s been a while.