Oklahoma and Kansas State come into Saturday night's Big 12 basketball showdown in Norman as two of the three teams tied for second place in the conference with identical 5-2 records. Baylor, which lost to the Sooners on Wednesday is the third member of the second-place trio.
Kansas State is 16-4 so far this season and ranked 18th and 21st , respectively in the AP and USA Today weekly national polls. The Sooners are 14-5 overall and unranked, and arguably are having a better season than that other team from the Sunflower State - and we're not talking about the perennial league champs, Kansas.
It's simple match, really. Consider how far OU has come in men's basketball from just a season ago. The Sooners ended the 2011-12 season with a 5-13 record in the conference, the same number of wins they have right now, and were 15-16 in all games. The year before was even worse. In the final season of Jeff Capel's five,year coaching reign in Norman, the Sooners won only four of 16 league games and were 13-18 overall, discounting that the NCAA wiped out all 13 wins from the 2010-11 season because of NCAA rules violations.
Even the conference coaches didn't give Oklahoma a vote of confidence coming into the current season, projecting the Sooners to finish seventh. Meanwhile, Kansas State came in fifth in the preseason coaches' poll.
And here we stand today, with the Sooners' men's team just a win away, coupled with a Baylor loss (which is not at all improbable given that they are at Iowa State's Hilton Coliseum on Saturday, one of the toughest road stops in the Big 12 and where Oklahoma must go on short turnaround on Monday), from taking over second place all by themselves. Wouldn't that be sweet!
Despite losing at Kansas State two weekends ago, Oklahoma has virtually owned the Wildcats for most of the Big 12 era,which dates back to 1996. The Sooners have lost three of the last three meetings, but have been victorious in 11 of the last 16 games and, more importantly, 20 of the past 26 games played at Lloyd Noble Center.OU leads the all-time series between the two schools 104-92.
OU head coach Lon Kruger, who played and coached at Kansas State, is 4-3 all-time coaching against his alma mater, and two of those four wins came last season in his first year in Norman. Another argument for why the 2012-13 Sooners are having a better season than Kansas State and should win on Saturday is the most recent RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) rankings, which rate teams on the basis of wins and losses, but also factors in who your opponents have beaten and lost to as well as what their opponents have done.
OU has an RPI of 16 through games of last weekend, second best in the Big 12. That rating is largely based on the Sooners' strength of schedule, which is currently rated the eighth most difficult in the country. The Wildcats are a distant third with an RPI of 32.
Kruger clearly has OU basketball doing well again and back on the map, but there is still work to be done. And February has not been kind to the Sooners in recent years. The past three seasons Oklahoma has gone into complete hiding in the month of February, going a miserable 3-21.
Senior foward Romero Osby, the Sooners' leading scorer with a 14.2 average, believes this year will be different. "We can be really good, but we've got to continue to work," Osby told the Daily Oklahoman's Stephanie Kuzydym earlier this week. "Like coach says, we've got to embrace the grind every day and know that it's going to be tough. It's not going to get easy. Championships are hard to win."
The next stop in the grind and in the return to glory of Oklahoma basketball is Saturday vs. K-State. And Iowa State awaits two days later.
Get more news and information on Oklahoma men's basketball and all OU athletics at SoonerSports.com.