Happy game day, Sooner Nation! The Oklahoma Sooners are still dancin’ following an eye-popping 95-72 victory over Ole Miss on Friday and hope to continue the momentum as they take on No. 1 seed Virginia in today’s Round of 32 matchup in Columbia, S.C.
Before the Ole Miss game, I wrote about how many of us likely had no idea what to expect from an inconsistent OU team that spent most of the season searching for an identity following the loss of star freshman Trae Young to the NBA. After the squad’s blazing surprise start out-of-conference, the fanbase began buzzing about the possibility of another exciting season.
We all know life in the Big 12 is bound to leave teams with some bumps and bruises, and the battle-tested Sooners, though a lackluster 7-11 in conference play, showed up big to overwhelm the Rebels from the SEC in the opening-round win on Friday. Few saw this coming, yet by halftime some of the game’s all-time greats were full of accolades for Lon Kruger’s Sooners, who came out of the gates peaking at the perfect time to begin tournament play.
I believe my questions about attitude and identity were answered following that landmark win on Friday. This team does have an identity — Lon Kruger. The high-flying Sooners, who started out the game on a 12-0 run and never looked back, reminded the college basketball world of their unique brand of “Kruger Ball”, and were picture-perfect in their near-flawless display of offensive efficiency and aggressive, turnover-causing defense that turned into instant points in transition.
For a minute, I had to wonder if I’d taken a trip back to 2016!
As Kristian Doolittle came out aggressive to set the tone early, seniors Christian James and Rashard Odomes, along with sophomore Brady Manek, took things to the next level. By the time the Rebels had time to catch their breath, the Sooners were too far ahead to look back and could’ve hung a hundred on the scoreboard by the time the final buzzer sounded.
So, I suppose the only thing to do today before this matchup against the Virginia Cavaliers — who were one ACC tournament win away from being this tournament’s overall top seed — is to once again leave any and all expectations at the door. As a diehard fan who can think back to other big moments in Sooner tournaments past, I can’t help but feel the stage is set for yet another one this evening in the South region.
As any 8- or 9-seed in this tournament would probably tell you, Virginia, for all their impressive regular-season accomplishments for the past few seasons, are prone to suffering upsets. A slow-it-down, methodical team that relies on discipline and defense to wear down its opponents, the Cavaliers endured the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history, falling as the overall No. 1 seed to a quick-moving, constantly attacking, 16-seeded UMBC team a season ago.
This year’s tournament started out in similar precarious fashion in a close first-half against 16-seeded Garner-Webb on Friday, but UVA turned it on in the second-half to win going away. Impressive as their response was, it came against a lesser-quality opponent than what the Big 12 has to offer. But the Cavs come in the heavy favorite against the Sooners, and rightfully so, all things considered.
Opening lines for Sunday's Round of 32:— OddsShark (@OddsShark) March 22, 2019
Oklahoma vs Virginia -11.5
Iowa vs Tennessee -8
Buffalo vs Texas Tech -3.5
Cal Irvine vs Oregon -4.5
If OU can continue its rhythm and momentum (which is essentially what successful tournament ball is all about), then things could be closer than the double-digit spread favoring Virginia would indicate. That said, UVA may have gotten the proverbial monkey off their backs advancing past the first round as a top seed and shaking off the demons from a season ago.
But…what if they haven’t? Could Kruger Ball give the Cavaliers a thriller in another opening weekend as a top seed in the region? I believe it has all the ingredients to do so.
This tournament’s resulted in mostly chalk this weekend, though, and I fully expect Virginia to be settled in and control the game with their experience and defensive discipline. The Sooners must bring the same attitude to not go on a scoring drought — which is what Virginia feeds on. After all, Oklahoma has struggled with these types of teams in 2018-19, as OU was smothered by Kansas State — a team that plays much like Virginia — on two separate occasions. Our own, Allen talked about that last night and even got Train’s “Meet Virginia” stuck in my head. Jeez, thanks a lot, Allen!
If Oklahoma gets to the 70-point mark (shoot, or even the 60-point mark) in this ballgame, then it could be anyone’s down the stretch. A 9th-seeded Sooner squad with nothing to lose will bring more talent and big-game experience than any lower seeded team Virginia has shown vulnerabilities against in recent years. Will that be enough for Oklahoma to advance continue a surprise run this tourney?
When the #Sooners play, and then beat SEC teams in #MarchMadness all-time:— Lee Benson (@LeeBensonNews9) March 24, 2019
1988 - OU over Auburn (2nd Rd)*
2016 - OU over Texas A&M (Sweet 16)*
2019 - OU over Ole Miss (1st Rd)^
*OU advanced to Final 4
I’d love to think so, and although I thought about going with my head on this one, I can see the Sooners keeping it close with a strong start and giving another strong effort even as Virginia clamps down and stifles Kruger Ball as they’ve done to so many opponents along the way. A loss against this UVA team is nothing to be ashamed for OU coming into a season with little to no expectations. And the future certainly seems bright for the Sooners with strong veterans still in place in Doolittle, Manek and Jamal Bieniemy to go with a promising incoming class for next season.
But this March Madness. And the Sooners are still playing with a little house money. A win today is not out of the question.
I wrangled back and forth with my prediction in this ballgame. My head says an 8- to 10-point loss, but I have nothing to lose by putting my name behind an upset pick. So, Sooner Nation, it is with some reservation but mostly just blatant homerism and excitement that I predict the Oklahoma Sooners will advance past No. 1 seed Virginia this evening in the Round of 32.
And I’ve got to be feeling good about my pick, because Greg agrees.
The NCAA Tournament upset of the day will be the #9 seed Oklahoma Sooners taking out the #1 Seed Virginia Cavaliers. Yep the first #1 seed will fall. You heard it hear first.— Greg Rickman (@LeapingBear) March 24, 2019
Thanks in advance for this remarkable run, Sooners. We’ll see you next week in the Sweet 16! (Note: Please erase this from your memory if OU loses)
Score prediction: Sooners 72, Cavaliers 71
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