John Klein: ORU refuses to fall as finish line approaches
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Monday, March 05, 2012
3/05/12 at 3:39 AM
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: ORU refuses to fall near finish line
THIS IS EXPECTED to be the final week of the season for three of the state's four major college basketball teams and Oral Roberts once again played a dangerous game with elimination on Saturday night.
Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Tulsa open play in conference tournaments this week facing long odds to reach the NCAA. None of the three would appear to be on the NIT radar, either.
Meanwhile, ORU, as it has done all season, did not put away a team it should beat easily but survived in the final seconds of a 71-67 victory over IPFW on Saturday night at the Summit League Tournament.
It keeps alive ORU's NCAA Tournament hopes. ORU already has locked up an NIT bid if it fails to reach the NCAAs. Entering Sunday, ORU had an RPI of 39 according to CollegeRPI.com, which was just ahead of other NCAA at-large possibilities Notre Dame (40), Purdue (41), Middle Tennessee (42), Kansas State (43), West Virginia (44), BYU (45), South Florida (46) and Northwestern (47).
No reason to panic for ORU. The Eagles seem to play to the level of their competition, whether high or low.
"The guys have really been amazing this year," said ORU coach Scott Sutton on Sunday. "Our guys once again had a chance to put away a team and we didn't do it. We allowed them to stay around with us.
"But, once again, when we had to step up, the guys stepped up."
As a result, ORU remains Oklahoma's best chance for an NCAA Tournament bid. The Golden Eagles (27-5) are the top seed in the Summit League.
There is good news for Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles have responded well when they feel challenged.
Certainly, the Golden Eagles should feel challenged. They will play Western Illinois on Monday in the Summit semifinals with a chance to go to Tuesday's finals. ORU knows these will be difficult games.
"Our guys know nothing is going to be easy moving forward," said Sutton. "Our guys understand we will be challenged.
"But, I think that kind of thing excites our guys. I think we will be excited to play these games."
The Golden Eagles should be excited. They have played the entire season to prepare for this moment.
ORU, with a challenging non-conference schedule, has played well to earn its RPI rating and gain some talk as a possible at-large NCAA Tournament team.
That isn't likely, and Oral Roberts should feel the only option, the only option with certainty, is winning the Summit League title.
That was certainly in doubt in the second half of the victory over IPFW. The Eagles stretched out to a 12-point lead and then squandered it down the stretch.
As a result, the Eagles were saved by Rod Pearson, who made the play in the final minute to help ORU survive.
"That's the way it is in these tournaments," said Sutton. "You get into these first-round games and maybe you don't play very well. The first game is always tough because of the nerves.
"We let IPFW back into this game. That got the crowd, mostly South Dakota State fans, back into the game. As a result, that last 10 minutes or so it was really like a tough road-game environment. IPFW had a good homecourt advantage against us and it was tough."
But the Golden Eagles survived to play again.
"I feel good that we will play better," said Sutton. "We've done this all year. I'm just glad to have that first round game behind us.
"Now, let's just go out and play like I know we can."
OU, OSU and TU are hoping they can say the same thing after the opening round in their conference tournaments this week.
OSU, losing yet another player to injury in Saturday's loss to Kansas State, hopes to have five healthy guys when the Cowboys face 10th-seeded Texas Tech on Wednesday in a first-round Big 12 Tournament game.
Oklahoma, fresh off a narrow victory over Texas A&M in Norman, will play the Aggies again on Wednesday.
The Cowboys and Sooners would appear capable of victories. However, the bad news will come on Thursday. OSU, if it beats Tech, will be trying to advance against Missouri. OU's second round opponent, if it beats A&M, would be Kansas.
Tulsa avoided the Memphis side of the bracket in Conference USA, a great thing for any C-USA team, but will likely face Marshall in the quarterfinals of the C-USA Tournament in Memphis on Thursday.
Marshall, with an RPI of 65 (fourth among C-USA teams), is the sixth seed after upsetting slumping Southern Miss on Saturday. Southern Miss has a fabulous RPI (17), but has lost three of its last five and now may be in danger of losing its at-large possibilities.
TU, with an RPI of 114, could advance to the semis but will find an uphill battle to win the league title. Memphis is hitting its stride and has been playing like a top 25 team in recent weeks.