Oklahoma Has a Favorable Match-up in its First Tournament Game Since 2009Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 20th, 2013
Jeff Capel had it working in Norman. Building off the success of his predecessor Kelvin Sampson, Capel took the Sooners to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in 2007 and 2008. Heading into practice, the 2008-09 season had all the makings of a season to remember. The Sooners boasted the future #1 pick of next year’s NBA Draft coupled with Willie Warren, a McDonald’s All-American from Dallas, not to mention the return of veteran contributors Taylor Griffin and Tony Crocker. They won 30 games that year before eventually losing in the Elite Eight to eventual national champion North Carolina.
Since 2009? Nothing.
But it was only a matter of time before a program like Oklahoma would rise again. Lon Kruger, known as a fixer of ailing programs, has the Sooners dancing in just his second season in Norman. As the Sooners hovered around the middle of the Big 12 this year, they were searching for a leader and found it in senior Romero Osby, He’s playing the best basketball of his career, and I believe that had he not made the step from role player to lead, the Sooners may have been on the outside looking in with this Tournament. After struggling to start the year, another senior, Stephen Pledger, has turned it on as well. Oklahoma finds itself as the #10 seed in the South Region paired with #7 seed San Diego State. As a result, OU can conceivably win its first foray back into the Madness since those Griffin brothers were still wearing red uniforms together.
The similarities in these teams are palpable. Oklahoma and SDSU are roughly equal rebounding and passing squads, and both have their own seasoned coach who has been there in Steve Fisher and Kruger. The Aztecs’ Mr. Everything is junior Jamaal Franklin, who leads his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots. Also joining Franklin from SDSU’s 2011 Sweet Sixteen team are sharpshooters Chase Tapley and to a lesser extent James Rahon. Where the squads differ are in two key areas: their go-to guy, and depth. Oklahoma has the advantage in both — the Sooners could go to Osby or even Pledger if they so choose. Let’s not forget that Pledger was a contender for Big 12 POY just a season ago, while SDSU’s Franklin-Tapley combination isn’t quite as formidable together in late game situations. If either team were to try and make defensive substitutions to preserve a slim lead, I’d take Oklahoma’s nine-man rotation with over the Aztecs’ seven-man rotation.
Could either team win more than one game in this year’s NCAA Tournament? I believe it’s possible. The South Region is the weakest of them all, in my opinion. The #3 seed has problems finishing games away from home (Florida), the #4 seed can get complacent at times and wait on their All-American point guard to make plays by himself (Michigan), the #6 seed is missing a key part of its team for the tournament (UCLA), and the #2 seed has had a tendency to get picked off on the first weekend since its Final Four appearance in 2007 (Georgetown). I won’t guarantee more than one win for either Oklahoma or San Diego State will occur but we shouldn’t be surprised if it happens.
Happy Madness, y’all and try to keep those brackets clean.