OU opens NCAA Tournament play Thursday night against Morgan State.
NORMAN, Okla. --
Jeff Capel's University of Oklahoma men's basketball team (27-5) is slated as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will take on No. 15 seed Morgan State (23-11) on Thursday in Kansas City, Mo., as part of the South Regional. The Sooners and Bears will tip off at approximately 8:40 p.m. CT (30 minutes after the conclusion of the 6:10 p.m. Clemson/Michigan game).
If OU wins its first-round game, it will play Saturday against the winner of Thursday's contest between No. 7 seed Clemson (23-8) and No. 10 seed Michigan (20-13). Games will be played at Sprint Center.
The Sooners, who finished in second place in the Big 12 Conference with a 13-3 mark, are making their 26th NCAA Tournament appearance and 13th in the last 15 years.
"Hopefully it keeps us a little more fresh," said Capel of not having to travel far to nearby Kansas City. "But our guys should be real excited, excited to have an opportunity to still play. A lot of people would love to be in our spot right now. We should be excited and hopefully we play that way."
When asked if he thinks the NCAA Tournament selection committee took Blake Griffin's February concussion into account when awarding OU a No. 2 seed Capel said, "I definitely think so. I think that's mainly why we're ahead of (No. 3 seeds) Kansas and Missouri. I thought both of them were very deserving. But I think they looked at our whole body of work -- our non-conference (schedule), our RPI, our strength of schedule. We played a lot of teams that won their conference tournaments. I think that helped us in terms of seeding."
Leading the Sooners into the first round will be sophomore forward Blake Griffin. The Big 12 Player of the Year is averaging 21.9 points a game and leads the nation with his 14.3 rebounds a contest. He is shooting .635 from the field and also leads the country with 26 double-doubles.
Said Griffin about OU's selection as a No. 2 seed, "I feel like this is what we work for every summer, all the hours we put in, the preseason conditioning, weightlifting and everything. This is what we put it in for -- having the opportunity to make a run and be considered one of the top teams in the nation."
Senior Taylor Griffin, who's averaging 9.6 points and 6.0 rebounds, said, "I think we got a good draw. We thought we were going to be No. 2 or No. 3, but obviously it is better to be higher. We had a rough stretch in the end but we still pulled out a couple of wins and that says a lot. It's encouraging because we put in the work this year, we have done a lot and it has been a long season. This is when it all counts."
Oklahoma and Morgan State have never met. The Bears, who finished 13-3 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and won the league's postseason tournament, are coached by Todd Bozeman. The Sooners beat fellow MEAC members Coppin State (93-62) and Maryland Eastern Shore (100-64) in back-to-back games in early January.
Said Capel, "We have to compete. We have to get back to competing at a really high level and understand that we have to do that every possession. We can't take possessions off. I think that's one of the things we've done here down the stretch and we have to get back to competing on every possession."
OU owns a 33-25 all-time record in the NCAA Tournament and has made four Final Four appearances (1939, 1947, 1988 and 2002). It reached the national championship game in 1947 and 1988.
On getting back into a high-powered mode:
|| Senior Forward Taylor Griffin
"We had a really good practice at 2 today. It was really physical, just getting right back down to the nitty-gritty and competing every possession. I think that is what it is going to take for us."
On guard play during the postseason:
"This is the time to step it up. I have complete confidence in all of our guards. They are competitors, they know how to play, they have the confidence to play and they have the ability to play. I expect them to do what they do and do what they do well."
On Willie Warren being aggressive in the tournament:
|| Sophomore Forward Blake Griffin
"That is one of the great things about Willie, is that he is a weapon for us. He opens up the floor with all of the things he can do. He can drive, he can score, he can shoot and he can pass. It makes it tough for other teams when you have a guy like that. So we need him to be aggressive."
On being the only Big 12 team to play in Kansas City:
"We are excited about that. I hope we have great fan support and hopefully we can use that to our advantage."
On the South region:
"Clemson is a great team, athletic. They play like Missouri. Michigan is also a tough team. They have good guards and good posts. We are going to concentrate on one game at a time. It is not going to be an easy road, but I think if we stick together and start playing how we are capable of playing we will be fine."
On playing Morgan State:
|| Senior Guard Austin Johnson
"I've heard of them. I don't know much about them. Obviously there are going to be a good team since they made it to the tournament. We are going to have to watch a lot of film, practice a lot and focus and be ready. It is just different not knowing a lot about them. A lot of us haven't watched them. It is just a lot of focus and a lot of time watching film."
On playing in his last NCAA Tournament:
"It is great getting a No. 2 seed and getting to go Kansas City, and hopefully we can get a lot of fans to come watch us. Just having that No. 2 seed is always special and there are a lot of teams that would want to take that No. 2 seed. It is great being a senior with the potential this team has."
On the experience of playing in the preseason NIT preparing him for the NCAA Tournament:
|| Freshman Guard Willie Warren
"It prepared us a lot. We are not going to be at home and the closest we'll be is Kansas City, so we have to go out there and play like we did earlier in the season."
On guards seeing this as a challenge:
"We just have to go out there and play our game. Just do what we did during our 13-game winning streak and we'll be just fine. We have to get the ball to Blake (Griffin) and everyone else needs to make plays and feed off of what he does."