John Klein: Scheduled stress peaks now for ORU
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Thursday, December 27, 2012
12/27/12 at 6:17 AM
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: Scheduled stress peaks now for ORU
It could be argued that few teams in the country play a nonconference schedule as difficult as that of Oral Roberts University.
ORU doesn't avoid big challenges. The Golden Eagles embrace challenge. The bigger the better.
Oral Roberts is in the midst of a brutal 10 days that includes road trips to No. 4 Arizona (a loss) and Conference USA favorite Memphis (on Friday at the FedExForum) along with a home game against city rival Tulsa (a 72-69 loss).
"We won't face a stretch in our league as tough as that the rest of the season," said ORU head coach Scott Sutton. "That's why we do it.
"I just believe that playing a tough nonconference schedule is the key to us having a good team. It is the only way we can get mentioned as an at-large possibility for the NCAA Tournament. I'm just a believer that we need to do that."
The Golden Eagles will be at it again on Friday against Memphis, a preseason top-25 team that is the overwhelming favorite in Conference USA.
Most teams from power conferences like the Big 12 will play only a couple of challenging games during the nonconference schedule.
The theory is that Big 12 teams will play a loaded schedule in league play.
There's no need for Oklahoma or Oklahoma State to play a December loaded with challenges since the Sooners and Cowboys have two games coming up against Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas, etc. during January and February.
Yet teams like ORU, in the Southland Conference, must take what they can get in December. That usually means road games against national powers.
Sutton hasn't been shy about taking his teams into the most difficult places in America to play. Playing at Arizona is the norm for the Golden Eagles.
In recent years, ORU has played at Gonzaga, Kansas, North Carolina, Louisville, Missouri, Arkansas - well, you get the idea.
Usually the trips serve as experience and a way to toughen ORU for the season ahead.
Occasionally, the Golden Eagles pull off a miracle. ORU won at Kansas. It has won at Xavier. It beat Georgetown.
It can also wear down ORU. The Golden Eagles appeared to lack poise and confidence in close losses to Oklahoma (63-62) and Tulsa. ORU had double-digit leads in the second half against the Sooners and Golden Hurricane.
"I think it is necessary to find out as much as we can about our team and our players," said Sutton. "You can find out a lot about your players when you play at a place like Allen Fieldhouse (at Kansas) or the FedExForum (at Memphis).
"I want to know how we are going to react in certain situations. I want to expose the things we need to work on to improve."
Of course, there is a downside, too.
ORU got absolutely hammered by Arizona last week and one has to wonder how that impacts the players.
"Sure, there is some risk to it, too," said Sutton. "That's why a lot of people don't do it.
"There's always the chance of injuries. You can get beat up pretty good by some of these teams. Plus, you can lose some confidence. But there is also a very big upside for improvement. That's what we hope and what has often happened for us in the past."
Tulsa has upgraded its schedule this year and returned to the city rivalry with Oral Roberts under new coach Danny Manning.
Yet, because of its membership in Conference USA, one of the better mid-major conferences in college basketball, Tulsa doesn't need to play a series of very challenging December games. TU gets enough opportunities to build a respectable RPI within its league.
That is not true for ORU. The Golden Eagles had a tough time building a good resume for the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee in the Summit League, and it'll be even more of a challenge in the Southland Conference.
Sutton knows it, so he approaches December with the same determination to jump into a series of big challenges.
"We've played some very good teams over the last 10 years or so," said Sutton. "We played a North Carolina team that won the national title. We played a Louisville team that was very good.
"Arizona this year is certainly right up there with any team we've played since I've been coach. They are so long and athletic. They've got just about everything you would want. They beat us about as bad as we've been beaten."
But even in a rout, Sutton finds reasons to learn.
"I wasn't happy with how we competed," said Sutton. "You can always learn something. When we lost to Oklahoma (blowing a 10-point lead and losing by one), we just didn't handle our success very well.
"You learn from all of it. That's what we keep talking about. You learn from it and you'll be fine. That's been our experience in the past. That's why we do this and why I'm excited to play again."
Even on the road at Memphis.