Basketball

HCS Op-Ed: Oklahoma Basketball: The Biggest Week Of The Lon Kruger Era

Oklahoma is in unfamiliar territory heading into the last couple of weeks before the NCAA Tournament. They find themselves in control of their own destiny late in Big 12 play for the first time since the 2008-09 season. The Sooners have two games left in the regular season with a chance to win the Big 12; at Iowa State on Monday and in Norman this Saturday against Kansas. Depending on how the week plays out, this could give the Sooners their first Big 12 championship in 10 years. In what is the most important week in the Lon Kruger era at Oklahoma, it can help solidify the Sooners as serious contenders in the Big Dance.

Now, if they lose a game (or two) this week, the Sooners will be looking at a two to three seed in the Big 12 Tournament and a three to five seed in the NCAA Tourney. So you could say it’s a pretty important week for the boys down in Norman.

Iowa State came to the Lloyd Noble Center earlier in February and came away with an 11 point loss in a high scoring game, 94-83. Oklahoma big man Tashawn Thomas scored 22 points in the victory as the Sooners held a comfortable lead for much of the second half. If the Sooners play as good as they did on that cold night in Norman, then they have a good chance to sweep the 12th ranked Cyclones. Iowa State is a streaky shooting team and when considering they lost their last two, you would expect them to find it again soon. If they do find their rhythm against the Sooners, then it might be over before the second half. Oklahoma has done a good job in staying in games all the way through this season, but the Hilton Coliseum is a different monster. If you fall behind in Ames, you usually don’t get a chance to recover.

The Sooners can still lose tonight and win the Big 12, but it will require West Virginia to beat Kansas in Lawrence. That’s highly unlikely given they haven’t lost at home since they’re 70-42 loss to Kentucky. So if Buddy Hield and company can play at a high level in Ames, they might be able to squeeze out an upset and knock Iowa State out of the picture. That would set up an epic Big 12 championship this Saturday against the Jayhawks (even if Kansas has already claimed a piece of the Big 12 Title). The Sooners can still win their first conference title since 2005, the year Kansas’s streak of 10 straight conference championships began.

Oklahoma’s game against Kansas can give the Sooners a huge tournament resume boosting win against a top ten foe. The Sooners are no stranger to wins against KU, they beat the Jayhawks in Norman two seasons ago. Kansas will more than likely have won a part of the championship by then, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the young squad overlooks the game in Norman and gets caught looking ahead to the Big 12 tournament. KU is struggling of late, having lost three of their last six, all of them road losses. I expect Oklahoma to pull off the upset here, adding a high quality win against a possible two seed in the NCAA Tournament. Despite being down 19 at the half, OU nearly upset KU in the Phog earlier this season.

If the Sooners can win both of these games, they’ll also be the number one seed in the Big 12 tournament as they would have swept the likely third place team, Iowa State, when the Jayhawks went 1-1. Lose one of the next two games, and Oklahoma will find themselves in second or third place, with the slight possibility of them still sharing the championship. This all combines to make this week the biggest of the Lon Kruger era in Norman thus far. While it’s by far the toughest two game stretch in the Big 12 this season, it’s not impossible to win them both. Lose these games, and OU still has the Big 12 tournament and March Madness ahead of them. It will be fun to watch how it all plays out.

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