NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by KDoyle on March 22nd, 2013

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#2 Georgetown vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast – South Region Second Round (at Philadelphia) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS

Florida Gulf Coast is one of the better stories in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Only in their sixth year as a Division 1 program, the Eagles are riding their first winning season in history thanks to the hiring of former Florida State assistant Andy Enfield. In Enfield’s first year, they finished 15-17, but were a game away from the NCAA Tournament as they lost to Belmont in the Atlantic Sun finals. This year, Florida Gulf Coast has been the team to beat, and it began with an early season win over Miami (FL). FGCU’s style of play greatly differs from today’s opponent, the Georgetown Hoyas. The Hoyas are predicated on a stingy zone defense that rarely allows for clean looks at the basket, and they play at a snail’s pace. Led by Otto Porter, Georgetown has a legitimate star that can carry them deep into the NCAA Tournament. FGCU very much likes to get up and down the floor with Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson leading the attack. If FGCU is able to get out in the open floor and score in transition, they’ll keep it close for much of the game. Problem is that not many teams control the pace of a game quite like Georgetown—that’s what makes them such a difficult opponent as they force the opposition to play their style of game. Historically, Georgetown has struggled in the NCAA Tournament under John Thompson III as they’ve failed to reach the second weekend in four of six appearances under him, but many believe this is a different Hoya team. FGCU is playing with house money and expect them to make a game of this, but in front of a heavy Georgetown crowd in Philadelphia the Hoyas are simply too much in the end.

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

The RTC Certified Pick: Georgetown

#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Iona – West Regional Second Round (at Dayton, OH) – 7:15 p.m. ET on CBS
One of the nation’s most balanced teams, the knock on the Buckeyes for the longest time this season was that they didn’t have a secondary scorer to help out junior DeShaun Thomas. We’ll get to that in a second, but let’s just say that Iona never had such a problem. Senior guard Lamont “Momo” Jones has always been the main offensive weapon on this team, never afraid to look for his own shot, but the Gaels have always trusted guard Sean Armand and forward David Laury to chip in heavily in the scoring column. And as a result, the Gaels have one of the most efficient offenses in the mid-major ranks. The problem for Tim Cluess’ team is the complete inability to stop teams on defense; only nine times all season have they held an opponent below one point per possession in a game. Given that Ohio State is one of the best defensive teams in the nation (sixth in defensive efficiency per KenPom.com), you can expect the Buckeyes to at least slow Iona’s prolific offense. And given that Thad Matta has been getting significantly improved offensive play out of guys like Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson, you can expect the Bucks to take advantage of that buttery soft Gael defense. While Momo Jones, et al. have the ability to make some exciting plays when they’ve got the ball, their inattention to details defensively will allow the Buckeyes to have more than their share of exciting offensive plays as well.

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Oklahoma Has a Favorable Match-up in its First Tournament Game Since 2009

Posted 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.

For the first time since this guy suited up, the Sooners are dancing. (Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

For the first time since this guy suited up, the Sooners are dancing. (Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

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.

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Big 12 NCAA Resumes: Oklahoma Sooners

Posted by KoryCarpenter on March 1st, 2013

Over the next few weeks, we’ll break down where each Big 12 bubble team stands in terms of its current NCAA Tournament resume. This time: the Oklahoma Sooners, who are trying to get back to the Dance for the first time since Blake Griffin was around campus. 

Oklahoma has seen the kind of improvement fans probably hoped for when Lon Kruger was hired prior to last season. The Sooners were 15-16 (5-13 Big 12) and finished eighth in the conference. A year later, they are a win away from the school’s first 20-win season since 2008-09 and are in a good spot heading into Selection Sunday. The Sooners are led by senior forward Romero Osby, who leads the team with 15 PPG on an efficient 52.1%. They pass nearly every test for a team to make the Tournament, so they should be fine as long as they avoid any bad losses the next two weeks.

  • Current Record: 18-9, 9-6 in the Big 12
  • RPI: 27
  • Record vs RPI top 50: 2-5
  • Record vs RPI top 100: 7-8
  • SOS: 9
Lon Kruger Has The Sooners I a Good Spot As Selection Sunday Draws Near.

Lon Kruger Has The Sooners In A Good Spot With Selection Sunday Around The Corner.

Case For An At-Large Bid: They have a top 30 RPI and and a top 10 Strength of Schedule. Their seven wins against the RPI top 100 are more than bubble teams like Iowa State, Baylor, Kentucky, Ole Miss, and North Carolina. They are 3-1 in neutral site games and have beaten both Kansas and Oklahoma State. They were also bailed out after losing to Stephen F. Austin early in the season. The Lumberjacks are #77 in the RPI, keeping Oklahoma’s record against RPI teams 100+ at 11-1 instead of 10-2, which could be a big deal with the selection committee. Bad losses could hurt a team just as much as good wins help, so a thank you card might be in order for the Lumberjacks. But with an impressive strength of schedule and barring a loss to West Virginia or TCU to end the season, the Sooners should have nothing to worry about.

Case Against An At-Large Bid: Their 2-5 record against the top 50 isn’t great, and 11 of their 18 wins came against teams outside the RPI top 100. The loss on Wednesday to Texas (RPI #125) won’t help their cause, either. And if they lose at home on Saturday to fellow bubble team Iowa State, it would drop their top 100 record to 7-9 with no chances to improve it in the regular season.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 15

Posted by KoryCarpenter on February 18th, 2013

We don’t have many of these rankings left this season, but the Big 12 isn’t getting any easier to decipher as we inch closer to March (less than four weeks until Selection Sunday). The Big 12 still has a good chance to get six teams into the NCAA Tournament, but Baylor and Iowa State don’t have much margin for error the last three weeks of the regular season. The Cyclones are a consensus #10 seed and the Bears are an #11 seed on the latest Bracket Matrix mock bracket. The top of the conference is more of a mess, though. Oklahoma State, Kansas, and Kansas State are 9-3 but it doesn’t mean there isn’t distinctness with each record. For instance, Kansas State is 1-2 against the other first place teams while Kansas is 2-1. Oklahoma State, on the other hand, is 1-1 but plays host to the Kansas schools in the coming weeks. They are also fortunate in that two of their final three road games are against West Virginia and TCU. And that’s why the Cowboys are #1 this week.

Tier I:

Back On Top: Marcus Smart Is Playing As Well As Anyone In The Big 12. (AP)

Back On Top: Marcus Smart Is Playing As Well As Anyone In The Big 12. (AP)

1) Oklahoma State (19-5, 9-3)
Previous Ranking: 2

Last Week: W 91-67 at Texas Tech, W (OT) 84-79 vs Oklahoma

This Week: Wednesday vs Kansas, 8:00 PM, Saturday at West Virginia, 1:00 PM

  • Rundown: After struggling around the turn of the year and dropping three out of four, the Cowboys began playing like their talent suggests and are winners of eight of their last nine games. They have an opportunity on Wednesday to become the first Big 12 team to sweep Bill Self in a season as the Jayhawks come into Gallagher-IBA Arena, where the Cowboys have won two out of three against the Jayhawks dating back to 2007-08.
  • Player Stepping Up: Freshman G Marcus Smart: Smart had 25 points, nine rebounds, and five steals in the upset over Kansas on Feb. 2. He had 23 points, seven rebounds and five steals against Texas a week later, and on Saturday against Oklahoma, Smart finished with 28 points, seven rebounds, and four assists in the overtime victory.

2) Kansas (21-4. 9-3)
Previous Ranking: 3

Last Week: W 83-62 vs Kansas State, W 73-47 vs Texas

This Week: Wednesday at Oklahoma State, 8:00 PM, Saturday vs TCU, 3:00 PM

  • Rundown: It doesn’t really matter that top-10 teams have been consistently falling the last few weeks, but it can give Kansas fans a small sense of relief knowing that every perceived top team in the country has its flaws as well as the Jayhawks, who rebounded nicely last Monday with a 21-point win over Kansas State when they desperately needed a 21-point win. Wednesday’s game at Oklahoma State could decide the Big 12 championship.
  • Player Stepping Up: Freshman G Ben McLemore: McLemore had 30 points against Kansas State on 9-13 shooting, a cool 69.2%. In seven of his last ten games he shot over 50% from the floor. But he can still do more, attempting 10 or less shots in six of those games.  Shoot the ball, Ben.

3) Kansas State (20-5, 9-3)
Previous Ranking: 1

Last Week: L 83-62 at Kansas, W 81-61 vs Baylor

This Week: Tonight vs West Virginia, 8:00 PM, Saturday at Texas, 7:00 PM

  • Rundown: Monday’s loss at Kansas hurt, but it wasn’t all that unexpected. If they can take care of Baylor on the road on March 2, there’s still a chance the Wildcats could be 14-3 heading into the final regular season game at Oklahoma State on March 9. The remaining schedule sets up that well for K-State, with their next five games against the bottom five teams in the conference.
  • Player Stepping Up: Sophomore G Angel Rodriguez: He has a 2.5:1 Assist to Turnover Ratio on the season and is averaging an efficient 19.6 PPG his last three games. In that stretch, he is 46.3% from the floor and 41.6% from three-point range.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 13

Posted by KoryCarpenter on February 4th, 2013

It was another wild week in the Big 12, starting last Monday with West Virginia’s near-upset of Kansas in Morgantown and ending with the ever-inconsistent Oklahoma State Cowboys dropping 85 points in a rare win in Allen Fieldhouse. It helped push the Cowboys back up the standings while Baylor, who dropped both of its games last week, fell three spots to #5. We still have six projected teams in the NCAA Tournament as of now — Kansas, Kansas State,  Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor, and Iowa State — and the big wins by OSU and ISU look to have pushed them off the bubble for now. Here’s where we stand this week:

Markel Brown led the Cowboys in a rare win in Allen Fieldhouse (AP)

Markel Brown led the Cowboys to a rare win in Allen Fieldhouse (AP)

1) Kansas (19-2, 7-1 Big 12)
Previous Ranking: 1
Projected NCAA Seed: #1

Last Week: W 61-56 at West Virginia, L 85-80 vs Oklahoma State

This Week: Wednesday at TCU, 8:00 PM, Saturday at Oklahoma, 3:00 PM

  • Rundown: The Jayhawks were due for a loss after winning 18 straight games and walking a tightrope most of January. It finally came on Saturday against Oklahoma State. It also ended the Jayhawks’ 33-game home winning streak and 16-game home winning streak against Oklahoma State, dating back to 1989. Turnovers — especially at the point guard position — have been a problem for KU of late, and Saturday was no different. Elijah Johnson committed four turnovers, including a last-second mishap that prevented Ben McLemore from doing his best Mario Chalmers impersonation.
  • Player Stepping Up: Freshman G Ben McLemore: He has scored in double figures every game in 2013 and had 23 in Saturday’s loss. He is shooting an impressive 50% from the field and 45.5% from three-point range.

2)Kansas State (17-4, 6-2)
Previous Ranking: 2
Projected NCAA Seed: #6

Last Week: W 83-57 vs Texas, W 52-50 at Oklahoma

This Week: Tuesday at Texas Tech, 7:00 PM, Saturday vs Iowa State, 5:00 PM

  • Rundown: It hasn’t always been the case, but Saturday’s win over Oklahoma in Norman was big for the Wildcats. They have won 10 out of 12 and sit just one game behind Kansas in the Big 12 standings, thanks to Angel Rodriguez’s two free throws with 5.6 seconds left to give them the 52-50 win. It was a rare win in a game where leading scorer Rodney McGruder, who finished with seven points, was quiet offensively.
  • Player Stepping Up: Junior G Will Spradling: Spradling averages 8.5 PPG, but has scored in double figures in three of his last five games. He had 15 in the first meeting with Oklahoma and had 12 points in Saturday’s win while shooting 62.5%.

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Big 12 M5: 01.23.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on January 23rd, 2013

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  1. Romero Osby is what you call an impact transfer. A year ago, he immediately became a force on the boards and in the paint for Oklahoma after transferring over from Mississippi State. Now, as a senior, he’s elevated his game even further. Osby is the centerpiece of a team attempting to qualify for its first NCAA Tournament since the Blake Griffin era, and he’s leading the way by attacking the glass and playing with an edge. He scored a career-high 29 against Texas on Monday night, and doing damage against the Longhorns is a sure way to become a new fan favorite in Norman.
  2. Losing team? Underachieving? Cue the coachspeak from Rick Barnes, who says his Texas team won’t give up even after losing its first five Big 12 games. We should certainly hope that players with Division I scholarships wouldn’t simply pack it in, but if anybody were to do it, it might be Texas. The Longhorns have been crippled by the suspension of Myck Kabongo, and he’s not set to return to the lineup until next month. There are no juniors or seniors on this team, no veteran leaders and an offense so ugly it makes Bo Ryan look like Paul Westhead. Except Ryan wins. His teams play slowly but efficiently. There’s nothing efficient about Texas right now, and Barnes will need to look ahead to next season to rebuild his proud program.
  3. Before Kansas outlasted Kansas State last night, CBS Sports penned a thoughtful piece on why the state of Kansas is perhaps the “best college basketball state of the modern era.” Not Indiana. Not Kentucky. Not North Carolina. The state of Kansas, home to KU, KSU and the MVC’s Wichita State. Look at the numbers. Matt Norlander, who wrote the article, might just be right. The three schools in Kansas have won more than three-quarters of their games historically. That number sits at 81 percent. Eighty-one percent, people! All hail to the state of Kansas.
  4. Everybody loves Melvin Ejim in Ames. Why not? He hustles his tail off and, oh, he rebounds too. The Iowa State forward leads the league thus far with 9.7 rebounds per game, a statistic you probably didn’t know about until you read it here. Truth be told, it surprised us too. Ejim is 6’6”, after all, so the fact that he’s outboarding 7’1” Isaiah Austin in the Big 12 is a testament to that whole “it’s-not-the-size-of-the-dog-in-the-fight” theory.
  5. West Virginia is having a bad season. You know that. At least one writer argues that it’s due to a lack of recruiting. Problem is, the article doesn’t really dive into Huggins’ recruiting classes or analyze the players he’s brought in. In terms of high-profile recruits, you’ve got to consider Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten in that “marquee” league of newcomers, even though they’re both transfers. They were wildly coveted across the nation after they transferred out of the Atlantic 10, and although they’re not traditional freshmen, those were major signings for Huggins’ program. If you look at sheer Rivals.com ratings — which mean little to nothing, but can at least give us a barometer — it shows one four-star player on this roster in Jabarie Hinds and two more signed for 2013. It also may be premature to rank Huggins’ sophomore class, which includes Hinds. The bottom line is that Huggins’ players aren’t getting it done, but that might not necessarily be because the head coach is losing a bunch of recruiting battles.
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Oklahoma A Perfect Example Of How To Schedule Advantageously

Posted by dnspewak on January 15th, 2013

Joe Lunardi released his latest Bracketology rankings this morning, and there’s a surprise team from the Big 12 in the field as a nine-seed: Oklahoma. After complete irrelevance since Blake Griffin jumped to the pros four years ago, Lon Kruger’s team picked up an important Bedlam victory at home over Oklahoma State this weekend and now firmly has itself in the NCAA Tournament conversation. And why not? The Sooners defend pretty well, they’re obviously well-coached, and they have a good mix of young guards to team with veterans Sam Grooms and Steven Pledger. Leading scorer Romero Osby has been a steady senior, Wyoming transfer Amath M’Baye has helped, and Kruger has much more depth and athleticism than a year ago. There’s a lot to like, but despite this weekend’s victory, there’s still a lot to question, too. Oklahoma was embarrassed by Gonzaga in Orlando during the Old Spice Classic. It also lost at Arkansas, dropped a home game to Stephen F. Austin, and did not have a quality victory over a projected NCAA Tournament team until knocking off the Cowboys. You can count Texas A&M as a decent victory after Elston Turner and the Aggies dismantled Kentucky at Rupp Arena, but the Wildcats have their obvious problems and Lunardi does not have A&M in the field at this point.

Oklahoma's Scheduling Has it In Good Position

Oklahoma’s Scheduling Has it In Good Position

Bottom line is, Oklahoma’s resume isn’t staggering. Strangely, though, not only are the Sooners included in the NCAA Tournament field, but they’re actually quite safe as a projected nine seed. There’s a simple explanation for all of this: the RPI! Oklahoma is a top-15 team in the RPI right now and top-10 in strength of schedule, which is downright stunning considering the competition level hasn’t seemed all that demanding to this point. This team doesn’t have many quality wins, it has really only played one elite team in Gonzaga, and it scheduled four teams from the Southland Conference during non-conference play. Makes you wonder whether somebody did the math wrong.

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Big 12 Team Preview #8: Oklahoma Sooners

Posted by KoryCarpenter on November 2nd, 2012

Over the next two weeks, we’ll bring you the obligatory team preview here at the Big 12 microsite. Oklahoma at the #8 position is next on our list.

The Skinny

  • 2011-12 record: 15-16, 5-13 Big 12
  • Key Contributors Lost: None
  • Head Coach: Lon Kruger
  • Projected Finish: 8th

Lon Kruger Enters His Second Season With the Sooners (Photo by ISportsWeb)

Every school in the country is one hire away from success or mediocrity. Take Kentucky’s handoff from Tubby Smith to Billy Gillispie to John Calipari, for example. So when Oklahoma fired Jeff Capel in 2011, two years after guiding the Sooners to the Elite Eight but failing to survive a tumultuous 2010-11 season, no one could really tell where the basketball program was headed. They had been to three Elite Eights since the turn of the century but it was nothing that could protect them from the wrath of a potentially bad hire. But in came Lon Kruger, the career journeyman who has coached in the Mountain West, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, and the NBA. He took Florida to the 1994 Final Four and will surpass the 500-win mark this season. Last season in year one in Norman, the Sooners went 10-2 in the non-conference season thanks to a slate against teams like Idaho State and Santa Clara but struggled in the Big 12, finishing eighth and missing the postseason for the third straight year. There were a few bright spots between all the losses, though, like the 13-point victory over in-state rival Oklahoma State or the season sweep of Kansas State, an NCAA Tournament team. Luckily for the Sooners, they’re in a considerably better spot this season than Texas Tech and TCU, four should-be wins in the conference. Here’s why: Kruger returns every major contributor off last season’s team. Experience matters — just look at Missouri’s regular season last year. That experience could have a big effect on the program going forward as well. With four seniors in the starting lineup, an impressive season could boost Kruger’s recruiting going forward, which was so-so this year.

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Big 12 M5: 10.30.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on October 30th, 2012

  1. Jamari Traylor has Kevin Young’s broken bones in his hand to thank for his starting spot in Kansas’ first exhibition game, but he’ll use it as an opportunity to show his coach how valuable he may be during the 2012-13 season. Traylor often gets lost in the shuffle behind other KU freshmen like Ben McLemore and the veteran core of Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, but he could play a major role on this team after a redshirt season a year ago. The early scouting report on Traylor is that he’s a monster inside and the kind of guy who will do anything and everything to tip a ball, grab a rebound, or make a hustle play. Young won’t be out long with his injury, but we’ve got a feeling Traylor will earn himself plenty of playing time this season regardless.
  2. Kansas State has a lot of returning experience, but according to head coach Bruce Weber, that doesn’t necessarily equate to great leadership. Yet. He’s still searching for that bona fide leader, the kind of guy who can rally the troops and fight his way through adversity. Luckily, Weber has a couple of promising point guards in Angel Rodriguez and Will Spradling, as well as three seniors. Rodney McGruder is the best player on the team but he’s not the most vocal guy, whereas Jordan Henriquez — one of the league’s best defensive big men — could probably talk all day if you let him. It’s silly to worry too much from an outside perspective, though. Weber’s a good coach, this is a good team, and these guys will figure something out. By the end of the year, this won’t be a discussion anymore.
  3. Oklahoma held its media day on Monday, and the players seem to be approaching this season with a completely different attitude. After tumbling in Big 12 play a year ago, the Sooners return a lot of individually talented parts but must find a way to bring everything together under Lon Kruger. It all starts with point guard Sam Grooms, the Big 12’s leading returning assists man. He says he’s already noticing how the added depth has helped the team, thanks to Wyoming transfer Amath M’Baye and a very good group of freshmen. Forward Romero Osby may have said it best: “It’s a new feel.”
  4. A couple more news and notes from the Sooners’ media day: freshman C.J. Cole and junior college transfer D.J. Bennett will both redshirt this season, according to Lon Kruger — maybe that’s a testament to the depth Grooms talked about. Later in that article, there’s also an interesting tidbit involving a former Sooner named Blake Griffin. Perhaps you remember him. Apparently, Griffin’s first dunk after surgery back in September was over OU freshman Buddy Hield. “You can’t stop anybody like Blake Griffin,” he says.
  5. We’ll have a Texas Tech preview coming your way later today, but we may as well direct you to CBS Sports‘ preview of the Red Raiders as well. There’s no harm in providing a variety of opinions, and this write-up gives a decent overview of what to expect from this program in shambles. No matter who’s writing the preview — CBS, RTC, or any other outlet — it’s hard to argue with the fact that head coach Chris Walker has quite a task ahead of him. This particular writer predicts Texas Tech to finish winless in the Big 12. That’s a bit much, but you get the point. It’ll be a long year.
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Big 12 Summer Update: Oklahoma Sooners

Posted by dnspewak on July 18th, 2012

In an effort to remind you that college basketball does in fact exist during the summer, Big 12 microsite writers Danny Spewak (@dspewak) and Jeremy Pfingsten (@jeremylp21) will roll out three summer updates per week during the next month. The goal is to compile every bit of news and information from the summer months for each team and package it into neat, easy-to-read capsules for your convenience. Next on the list — Danny’s update on Oklahoma. 

Oklahoma Sooners

2011-12 Record: 15-16 (5-13)

Lon Kruger isn’t used to losing. He reached a Final Four at Florida, an Elite Eight at Kansas State, and qualified for seven combined NCAA Tournaments at Illinois and UNLV. This man has been everywhere and won everywhere — well, except for that failed NBA experiment with the Atlanta Hawks — but his first season at Oklahoma did not fare so well. After making promising progress against a fairly weak non-conference slate, Kruger’s team fell flat in Big 12 play. His tactical ability and coaching expertise allowed a roster with a few decent parts to hang tough for the most part, but an eighth-place finish and a losing record will not sit well with Kruger this summer. This is not a program in turmoil anymore, though, no matter how bad the record looks from a year ago. Kruger will indoctrinate his first true recruiting class this summer to mix with the return of his entire starting lineup. His cast of newcomers include a few stud freshman and, most importantly, Wyoming transfer Amath M’Baye, who just might be the biggest story of the whole summer in Norman.

Lon Kruger Has An Impressive Track Record

Summer Orientation: The early reviews on M’Baye are already flattering. The Wyoming transfer, who started every game as a sophomore in 2010-11, is an impact newcomer in every sense of the phrase. He brings worldly experience to the Sooners, having lived in France, Senegal, California and, of course, Wyoming. But his skills are as intriguing as his background. Kruger said M’Baye polished his game considerably as he sat out in 2011-12, improving as both a ball-handler and perimeter player. He’s no longer just a 6’9” forward with a mid-range game and post skills. Now, Kruger said he’s combining that tall, lanky frame with an ability to attack off the dribble and use his elite athleticism to his advantage. His teammates have had nothing but praise for M’Baye, who averaged 12.0 points per game as a sophomore, since he arrived on campus last year. Andrew Fitzgerald called him “very athletic and really competitive” while practicing against him last year, and says he “could be one of the best players in the Big 12.” It is easy to overrate Division I transfers, but M’Baye appears to add a new element to Oklahoma because of his unique versatility as an inside-outside type swingman.

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The Final Game: How a Star and a Walk-On Finished Their Careers in Kansas City

Posted by dnspewak on March 28th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 Microsite writer. He wrote this piece after covering the first two days of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.  You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

One senior exits the court at the Sprint Center with 53 seconds remaining, walking gingerly toward his coach as an entire arena stands to applaud his four years of contributions. He will be remembered in college for playing more minutes than any player in program history — 4,322 to be exact. He is a former high school legend who set a state record for most points in a single season, once totaling 61 points in a single contest. He is a star and always will be. A name nobody around his parts will or could ever forget.

A night earlier, another senior enters the court at the Sprint Center with 21.2 seconds remaining on the clock, jogging toward his teammates as a few supporters in the stands politely applaud his four years of contributions. He will be remembered in college for hardly ever playing any minutes — 111 to be exact. He is a former high school point guard who won a 2008 state title without even scoring five points per game for his team, a man who has never been a star and never will be. A name most people around his parts will immediately forget.

T.J. Franklin and Keiton Page played their last games in Kansas City, Mo. (Photos by Oklahoma Sooners and NewsOK.com)

From a statistical standpoint, Keiton Page and T.J. Franklin could not possibly be any different. At the same time, they could not possibly be more alike. They are two seniors beloved by their teammates and coaches. They are two seniors considered within their respective programs as unquestioned leaders, guys who always say and do the right thing. They are two seniors who represent the best of college athletics.

This is not a story just about a household name and a walk-on. It is a story about two seniors who saw their careers end in the span of 24 hours in Kansas City, Missouri. A story about what it’s like to pour your entire life into one sport and see it all evaporate in the matter of two hours. A story about how Page and Franklin are entirely different and yet entirely the same. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Breakdown: Wednesday Night in the Big 12 Tournament

Posted by dnspewak on March 7th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 Microsite writer and will provide wall-to-wall coverage of the Big 12 Tournament from the Sprint Center in Kansas City this weekend. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

Knowing most of you are probably not all that interested in reading about the league’s bottom four teams, I’ll try to be brief here. Here’s exactly what you need to know — and nothing more — about the first round of the Big 12 Tournament.

Game 1: (8) Oklahoma vs. (9) Texas A&M, 6 p.m CT.

Lon Kruger Needs to Work His Magic

With only one scholarship senior on the roster, Lon Kruger may actually have a decent roster to work with next year. So although Wednesday could be the final game of C.J. Washington‘s career, this could mark the beginning of a turnaround in 2012-13. The Sooners have not fared well in Big 12 play after a strong start in November and December, but they have an underrated point guard in Sam Grooms, a blossoming scorer in Steven Pledger and a couple of really good  forwards in Romero Osby and Andrew Fitzgerald. Osby has quietly played very well down the stretch for Kruger, helping offset Pledger’s inconsistency and Fitzgerald’s struggles. He’s one of the top offensive rebounders in the Big 12, which sets up a showdown with Ray Turner and David Loubeau. Billy Kennedy will need to rework his roster more than Kruger next year, but the Big 12 Tournament could still give him some valuable feedback on what needs to change in his program.

The key player is… Osby. When these two teams played on Saturday, he scored 24 points and looked virtually unguardable. Surprisingly, Texas A&M actually kept him off of the offensive glass, which is Osby’s main strength.

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