Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

March 17, 2014

Sooners land No. 5 seed in NCAA tournament

Oklahoma will open NCAA tournament play against No. 12 North Dakota State in Spokane on Thursday

The buzz was different on the floor of Lloyd Noble Center late Sunday afternoon. No. 17 Oklahoma had just wrapped up its team banquet a few minutes earlier. When and where it was playing next was the only issue remaining.

The announcement came relatively quick. The Sooners (23-9) received the No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament’s west region. They face No. 12 seed North Dakota State (25-6) at 6:27 p.m. Thursday at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena in Spokane, Wash. The game will be televised on truTV.

A roar went over the crowd when OU’s slot was announced, but it wasn’t the sense of joyous relief OU experienced a year ago on Selection Sunday.

Even the players were subdued.

“This year, we kind of knew we were going to make the tournament,” OU forward Cameron Clark said. “We’re trying to take the next step. We’ll focus on the first game and do what we need to do to get this win.”

OU's mindset was on display even on a celebratory day like Sunday.

College basketball teams around the country gather in front of television screens as the field of 68 is revealed.

Most know whether they’re not getting in. Others are praying somehow, someway, the NCAA tournament selection committee bought their arguments. Those are the teams — the ones on the “bubble” — that experience true agony on a day like Sunday. OU experienced it a year ago.

A select group of about 30 or so were in the Sooners’ shoes Sunday. There was not anything to sweat. Just a lot of waiting around to see where and when and against which team.

The lack of stress was noticeable.

“It was much better sitting there and waiting to see who the opponent is going to be and the location as opposed to wondering if your name is going to be called,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “That’s a credit to these guys. They’ve earned this and they’ve made the progress necessary. I know they’ll be excited about lining up and working to get a better result than we did a year ago.”

The Bison had their dance card punched the old fashion way. They beat Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne in the Summit League tournament title game last Tuesday. The conference tournament title was part of a hot streak that brought 12 wins in their final 13 games.

Kruger said he knows North Dakota State coach Saul Phillips. No shock there. Kruger, who is leading a team to the NCAA tournament for the 15th time, runs into few strangers in the coaching ranks.

“Couldn’t tell you anything specifically,” he said. “I watched their team play a little bit within the Summit League last year and this year. I know they've played really good basketball.”

OU’s coaching staff began dissecting the Bison Sunday night. The game plan will start taking shape when practice resumes today.

The first practice after the NCAA tournament bracket is released should be different. It's then when teams decided whether or not getting in the field of 68 is good enough or is advancing the goal.

The Sooners weren’t able to flip that switch in March of 2013. It had been four very long years since it had played in the NCAA tournament. Getting to the Big Dance was enough.

That’s no longer the case. Selection Sunday was different for OU. It was part of the privileged which did all the required work in the regular season to relax Sunday.

Now it has to validate itself all over again and OU knows it.

“We're a hungry team,” OU guard Buddy Hield said. “We’re trying to get a postseason win because I haven't won in the postseason. Cam as well. Just trying to set the tone in starting a new chapter.”

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