John Klein: Inconsistencies, injuries dog ORU basketball in first Southland season
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Writer
Friday, March 08, 2013
3/08/13 at 7:13 AM
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: Consistent play evades the Eagles
THERE WERE HIGH hopes Oral Roberts would make a championship transition into the Southland Conference this season.
The Golden Eagles, although rebuilding with a talented core group, figured to have the ability to win the league and grab an NCAA Tournament bid.
Instead, ORU, much like its college basketball neighbor in Tulsa, has been hit by a series of devastating injuries and off-the-court issues.
The Golden Eagles head into their final game of the season Saturday at Central Arkansas as the likely third seed in next week's Southland Conference Tournament in Katy, Texas (a Houston suburb).
That's not where ORU planned to be in the league bracket.
"We just haven't shown it this season," said ORU coach Scott Sutton. "Part of it is the injuries. Part of it is the youthfulness. We just haven't shown the toughness it takes to find ways at the end to win games.
"I think our guys are certainly talented enough. I think we do have the pieces to win three games in the tournament."
It makes the Eagles a long shot to return to the NCAA Tournament. ORU's last NCAA appearance was five years ago.
However, considering the lengthy list of injuries, suspensions and other issues that confronted ORU this season, it might be better than we should have expected.
Oral Roberts was on the verge of something big a number of times this season. Early in the year, ORU blew huge leads and lost to state rival Oklahoma (a likely NCAA Tournament team) and crosstown rival Tulsa. It also blew an eight-point lead against Belmont, a likely NCAA Tournament team with a top 30 RPI.
"I think if you win those games, or a couple of those games, maybe things are different," said Sutton. "Sometimes your entire season can come down to a possession or two at the end of games. That may have happened to us.
"If we win those games, then maybe our players have more confidence and win some of these other games."
ORU has proven to be very similar to TU this season. The Golden Eagles, like the Golden Hurricane, have shown enough promise to make us believe they could be as good, if not better, than predicted.
In the case of ORU, that was league champ.
However, the Golden Eagles have struggled to put together a consistent run this season.
ORU is 18-12 (13-4 in the league).
Oral Roberts is 4-4 in its last eight games.
"It is all about consistency with us," said Sutton. "We haven't done that."
It was swept by Stephen F. Austin, the league's top team, and split with second-place Northwestern State.
ORU was not at full strength for any of the four games against the Southland's top two teams.
That's not an excuse. ORU simply has not put together any type of consistency that would make you believe it is capable of a three-game run through the league tournament.
So, in its first season after moving from the Summit League to the more travel-friendly Southland Conference, the Golden Eagles have a mixed-bag of results.
Some nights it is good. Some nights it is not.
Certainly, ORU has been good enough in some areas to win the league. The Eagles are the league's best free-throw and 3-point shooting team.
Damen Bell-Holter has blossomed into the best post player in the league, averaging 15.8 points and 9.7 rebounds.
"He's really had a good season," said Sutton. "He's become a very good player and has been very consistent in scoring and rebounding."
Oral Roberts has four players who have had recorded a double-double in games this season.
"We've got talented guys," said Sutton. "We also have some youth. We just haven't put it together for a string of games."
Sutton has followed his usual pattern this season.
Oral Roberts played a brutal nonconference schedule and got crushed on the road by powers like Memphis and Arizona.
On the other hand, it blew golden opportunities at home to beat OU and TU.
That's an easy synopsis of ORU's season. Good at times. Not so much at others.
That will have to change next week for Oral Roberts to be playing in the NCAA Tournament.
The Golden Eagles have shown no signs of being able to put together three straight solid games.
That doesn't mean it isn't possible. But for ORU to get back in the NCAAs, it will have to do something it hasn't done this season.
The talent on ORU's team would seem to indicate it isn't out of the question.
They'll have to play at peak form for three straight games. If so, ORU is more than capable.
"That's the beauty of college basketball," said Sutton. "In a league like this, you play all year for March. If we can play well on Saturday and then go to the tournament and play well for three more games, then this is a very good season.
"We've been on the other side of that. But I know we're capable of it. We just have to go do it."
ORU Assistant Sean Sutton coaches as his brother Scott looks on during NCAA basketball between ORU and Weber State in Tulsa on February 23, 2013. JOEY JOHNSON/For the Tulsa World