Sooners Open NCAA Tournament on Friday
FRIDAY'S GAME BASICS
The Madness of March is here. No. 9-seeded Oklahoma (19-13, 7-11 Big 12) heads to Columbia, S.C. for its 32nd appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Selected as an at-large bid, the Sooners will compete in the South Regional. Oklahoma opens play in the Big Dance on Friday against No. 8-seeded Ole Miss (20-12, 10-8 SEC) inside Colonial Life Arena. The Rebels claimed sixth place in the SEC and also received an at-large bid. If the Sooners win their tournament opener, they will play Sunday against the winner of Friday's contest between No. 1 seed Virginia and No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb for a chance to go to the Sweet 16.
ON THE AIR
Friday’s opening round matchup will tip at 11:40 a.m. CT on the Sooner Radio Network (KRXO 107.7 FM “The Franchise” in Oklahoma City; KTBZ 1430 AM in Tulsa) with Toby Rowland and Kevin Henry announcing. The game will be televised nationally on truTV with Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill and Tracy Wolfson calling the action.
• For the sixth time in the last seven years, the Sooners are dancing under head coach Lon Kruger. A postseason staple, Oklahoma is making its 32nd NCAA Tournament appearance overall, including its 27th Big Dance in the past 36 years. Kruger has made the NCAA Tournament six times during his eight years in Norman, including a trip to the 2016 Final Four. The Sooners went dancing only four times in the eight years prior to Kruger's arrival.
• The Big 12 Conference named junior forward Kristian Doolittle the recipient of the inaugural Big 12 Most Improved Player Award, as voted on by the league's head coaches. Doolittle led the Sooners throughout conference play with team-high Big 12 averages of 13.9 points and 7.8 rebounds to go with 2.1 assists. He was the only Big 12 player to average at least 13.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists in league competition.
• Doolittle was also named to the All-Big 12 Third Team alongside senior guard Christian James while sophomore forward Brady Manek received All-Big 12 Honorable Mention recognition. Earning his first on-court conference honor, James has led Oklahoma’s scoring efforts this season with averages of 14.4 points. Manek, also earning his first all-conference recognition, is averaging 12.0 points and 6.1 rebounds.
Lon Kruger is guiding a team to the NCAA Tournament for the 19th time in his career.
SERIES HISTORY: OLE MISS
• Oklahoma opens the 2019 NCAA Tournament by facing Ole Miss for the fourth time in program history. The Sooners are 1-2 all-time against the Rebels as Oklahoma and Ole Miss faced each other for three straight seasons between 1998 and 2000. Like the Sooners, the Rebels earned their way into the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid. Ole Miss is making its ninth NCAA Tournament appearance. Predicted to finish last in the SEC, the Rebels tied for sixth with a 10-8 mark in conference play.
• Friday will be just the third time the Sooners have faced an SEC opponent in the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners defeated Texas A&M in the 2016 Sweet 16 and Auburn in the 1988 Second Round. Oklahoma advanced to the Final Four in both of those tournaments. OU also faced Missouri (who was a Big 12 member at the time) in 2002, defeating the Tigers in the Elite Eight, again advancing to the Final Four.
• Oklahoma is 10-9 against current SEC teams during the Lon Kruger era, including 8-5 against schools which were SEC members at the time of competition. The Sooners are 2-0 against SEC schools this season, defeating Florida in the opening round of Battle 4 Atlantis on Nov. 21 and Vanderbilt in Norman on Jan. 26 as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
OU'S NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY
• For the sixth time under head coach Lon Kruger, the Oklahoma men’s basketball team is going dancing. The Sooners enter the 2019 NCAA Tournament as the No. 9 seed in the South Region. The Sooners are 41-31 all-time in the NCAA Tournament (6-5 under Kruger) and have reached the Final Four five times (1939, 1947, 1988, 2002 and 2016). Oklahoma also boasts nine Elite Eight showings and 11 Sweet 16 appearances.
• Oklahoma is hoping to win its way to the South Regional’s Sweet 16 in Louisville, Ky., and capture its third Sweet 16 appearance in the last five years. The Sooners have won four of their last five First and Second Round games and are 4-3 during opening weekend games under Kruger.
• Although the Sooners have made the tournament in 31 previous seasons, this will be their first appearance as a No. 9 seed and first ever 8-vs.-9 game. Oklahoma is 2-1 all-time against No. 8 seeds, with all three matchups occurring in the second round of tournaments where the Sooners were a top seed.
• Oklahoma is playing an NCAA Tournament game in Columbia for the first time. Columbia is the 32nd city the Sooners have ever competed in during the NCAA Tournament.
• OU has made the Big Dance six times in the last seven years (since Kruger’s second year). Oklahoma is one of only three Big 12 schools with at least six NCAA Tournament appearances during that span, joined only by Iowa State and Kansas.
• OU is one of only 13 major-conference schools (of 75 teams) that have made six of the last seven NCAA Tournaments.
• Oklahoma is making its 32nd NCAA Tournament appearance, including its 27th in the past 36 years. The Sooners’ 27 NCAA Tournament appearances since 1984 are the ninth most in the nation during that span, behind only Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, Arizona, Connecticut, Kentucky, Michigan State and Syracuse.
• Kruger will be guiding a team to the NCAA Tournament for the 19th time in his career – the 10th most among active head coaches. He was the first Division I coach to take five different schools to the NCAA Tournament and is the only coach to win an NCAA Tournament game with five programs. In 2015, he became the first and only coach since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 to take four programs to the Sweet 16 or beyond. He is one of only three head coaches to ever lead four schools to multiple NCAA Tournament wins.
• A staple of the NCAA postseason, Kruger has taken five different schools to the Big Dance. His collegiate teams have made postseason appearances in 22 of the last 29 years. He has guided teams to 18 NCAA Tournaments, five Sweet 16s and two Final Fours.
• A group of Sooners will be making their third NCAA Tournament appearance. Matt Freeman, Christian James, Jamuni McNeace and Rashard Odomes were all members of Oklahoma's 2016 Final Four squad and also qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 2018.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT THE SOONERS
With 68 teams taking part in the NCAA Tournament, media and fans may be watching the Sooners play for the first time this season. Below is a quick guide on this year’s team and 2018-19 campaign.
• Oklahoma received an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament after going 19-13 against one of the toughest schedules in the country. Oklahoma was the only school in the country with a win over a team from every major conference (Power Five + Big East) and the only team that didn't play a "Quadrant 4" game. OU entered Selection Sunday as the No. 37 team in the NCAA's NET Rankings. OU's average opponent NET Ranking of 64 is the second best in the country and the evaluation tool ranks OU's schedule as the 28th toughest in the country.
• The Sooners entered the season returning less than 50 percent of its scoring from the previous year, primarily through the loss of national freshman of the year Trae Young (27.4 points per game). It was assumed by many that the leftovers from last year's team would not be dancing in 2019, as most major bracketologists left OU out of their preseason brackets. The Sooners were picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 preseason poll (voted on by league coaches) and most media outlets listed the Sooners as ninth in the 10-team league.
• Oklahoma began work on its postseason resume in non-conference play, facing teams from every other major conference and only playing three games in Norman during November and December. The Sooners picked up non-conference victories over teams such as Wofford, Florida, Wisconsin, Dayton, Wichita State, USC, Creighton, Northwestern and Vanderbilt.
• The Sooners' dancing chances again looked weak this time last month, when Oklahoma dropped five straight Big 12 contests between Jan. 28 and Feb. 11. OU fought back into the conversation by winning four of its next five games, including victories over then-No. 13 Kansas and bubble teams TCU and Texas.
• Oklahoma's offense ran primarily through senior guard Christian James during non-conference play (averaged 17.6 points and 6.9 rebounds in non-league games). During Big 12 play, the Sooners worked through junior forward Kristian Doolittle, who was awarded the league's innagural Most Improved Player award. Doolittle led the Sooners throughout conference play with team-high Big 12 averages of 13.9 points and 7.8 rebounds to go with 2.1 assists.
• OU will head to Columbia with one of the most experienced rosters in the country. Oklahoma owned the Big 12's oldest roster (average age on opening night was 21.1) and features a veteran senior core of James, Rashard Odomes and Jamuni McNeace. The Sooner roster also includes a pair of graduate transfers making their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance in Miles Reynolds (from Pacific) and Aaron Calixte (from Maine).
• Oklahoma is the only school in the country with a win over a team from every major conference (Power Five + Big East).
• Sometimes the key to victory can be as simple as making shots. Oklahoma is 19-1 when it holds a better shooting percentage than its opponents and 0-11 when the Sooners have a worse shooting percentage (0-1 when the percentages are equal). The lone loss when OU held a better shooting percentage was the Sooners' most recent outing, a one-point loss to West Virginia in the opening round of the Big 12 Championship. Oklahoma is shooting .475 (.373 from 3-point range) in its 19 wins and .401 (.307 from deep) in its 13 losses. The Sooners are 13-3 when they shoot above 45 percent.
• The Sooners are 12-4 when limiting opponents to under 70 points and 4-1 when opponents score less than 60.
• Oklahoma is 18-5 when it scores at least 30 points in the first half.
• The Sooners are 13-1 when outrebounding their opponents. In its 19 wins, Oklahoma is winning the rebounding margin by an average of 3.5 boards.
• OU opponents are shooting 40.2 percent from the field – the second lowest opponent field goal percentage in the conference and 25th nationally. The Sooners rank 23rd in KenPom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency.
• Oklahoma is 20th in the nation and first in the conference in defensive rebounding with 28.4 defensive boards per game.
• OU has three players ranked in the top 11 in rebounding in the Big 12: Kristian Doolittle (sixth, 7.0), Christian James (eighth, 6.3) and Brady Manek (11th, 6.1). TCU is the only other school with multiple players (two) ranked in the top 11.
• Of the nine players in the Big 12 averaging at least 11 points and six rebounds, three play for the Sooners. Oklahoma is the only team in the conference with multiple players averaging 11 and six as its roster features Christian James (14.4 points, 6.3 rebounds), Brady Manek (12.0, 6.1) and Kristian Doolittle (11.2, 7.0).
• Oklahoma is the only Big 12 team with multiple players possessing at least five double-doubles. Christian James leads the Sooners with six games of at least 10 points and 10 rebounds while Brady Manek has produced five. Neither Manek or James owned a double-double in their career prior to this season. Additionally, Kristian Doolittle has secured four double-doubles.
DOOLITTLE DOOING IT ALL
• Junior forward Kristian Doolittle continues to show progress in his game as the season goes along - so much so that the Big 12 coaches voted him the league's Most Improved Player. After averaging 7.2 points and 5.8 boards in the first 12 games of the season, Doolittle led the Sooners throughout conference play with team-high Big 12 averages of 13.9 points and 7.8 rebounds to go with 2.1 assists. During Big 12 play, Doolittle ranked in OU's top three in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, field goal perecentage and free throw percentage.
• An All-Big 12 Third Team selection, Doolittle was the only Big 12 player to average at least 13.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists in league competition this season.
• The forward won the league's inaugural improvement-based honor after averaging only 2.9 points and 4.3 rebounds in 2017-18 and 7.2 points and 5.8 boards during this season's non-conference stretch.
• Doolittle enters the Big Dance on a scoring hot streak, producing at least 14 points in the last seven straight games, highlighted by a 24-point, 11-rebound performance against Kansas. The junior is averaging 17.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and shooting 50.6 percent during that seven-game stretch.
UP NEXT: GARDNER-WEBB OR VIRGINIA
•If the Sooners win their tournament opener, they will play Sunday against the winner of Friday's contest between No. 1 seed Virginia and No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb for a chance to go to the Sweet 16. The tip time and TV designation will be determined Friday evening.
• GARDNER-WEBB: Oklahoma is 3-0 all-time against Gardner-Webb...This season's Big South champion, the Bulldogs are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance at the Division I level...The Sooners are 5-0 all-time against No. 16 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. All five previous matchups occurred in the opening round when the Sooners held a No. 1 seed.
• VIRGINIA: Boasting the top seed in the South Region, Virginia enters the NCAA Tournament with a 29-3 record. The Cavaliers own a 2-1 advantage in the all-time series with the Sooners, including a Sweet 16 victory over OU in 1989 NCAA Tournament – the only previous postseason meeting between the two programs...Oklahoma is an even 16-16 all time against current ACC schools, but is 2-5 when facing an ACC team in the Big Dance...OU is 2-2 when facing a No. 1 seed since the tournament field expanded to at least 64 teams in 1985. The Sooners most recently faced a top seed during March Madness when Oklahoma defeated Oregon in the 2016 Elite Eight.