INDIANAPOLIS – It’s time to go dancing. Oklahoma (15-10, 9-8 Big 12) heads to the once-in-a-lifetime “controlled environment bubble” in Indianapolis for the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
The Sooners, selected as an at-large bid, have been assigned a No. 8 seed in the West Region. OU will open the Big Dance with former Big 8/Big 12 rival Missouri (16-9, 8-8 SEC) on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium’s north court.
If the Sooners win their tournament opener, they will play Monday against No. 1 Gonzaga or No. 16 Norfolk State.
ON THE AIR
• Saturday’s First Round action tips at 6:25 p.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 TNT with Tom McCarthy, Avery Johnson and Lauren Shehadi calling the action.
• Oklahoma boasts a 7-3 record in the NCAA Tournament since 2015 and is 3-1 in First Round games during that span. The Sooners are playing in the 8-vs.-9 game for just the second time in program history. The other occurrence was in the previous NCAA Tournament (2019) and also against an SEC opponent. The Sooners defeated No. 8 Ole Miss by 23 points before falling to eventual champion No. 1 Virginia in the next round.
• Head coach Lon Kruger is making his 20th trip to the NCAA Tournament, including his seventh at Oklahoma. Kruger has only missed an NCAA Tournament twice in his 10 years in Norman – his first season (after inherriting a team that was a 27-36 in the two years prior to his arrival) and in 2017 (OU had lost an incredible senior class that reached the Final Four the previous season). Although the field for the cancelled 2020 NCAA Tournament was never decided, the Sooners were projected to reach the Big Dance prior to it being shut down to COVID-19 concerns.
• The Sooners have been led by a pair of All-Big 12 players in senior guard Austin Reaves (All-Big 12 First Team) and sophomore guard De’Vion Harmon (All-Big 12 honorable mention). Reaves – Oklahoma’s leader in points, rebounds and assists – enters the NCAA Tournament second in the Big 12 in scoring (17.7 points), fourth in assists (4.7), 11th in rebounding (5.7) and second in free throw shooting (86.4%). Harmon will not be available to play this weekend due to COVID protocols.
OKLAHOMA’S NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY
• For the seventh time under head coach Lon Kruger, the Oklahoma men’s basketball team is going dancing. The Sooners enter the 2021 NCAA Tournament as the No. 8 seed in the West Region. The Sooners are 42-32 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 eleven Sweet 16 appearances.
• Oklahoma is hoping to win its way out of the opening weekend and capture its third Sweet 16 appearance in the last seven years. The Sooners have won five of their last seven First and Second Round games and are 5-4 during opening weekend games under Kruger. OU has won its First Round game in three of its last four appearances in the Big Dance.
• Although the Sooners have made the tournament in 32 previous seasons, this will be their first appearance as a No. 8 seed and second 8-vs.-9 game (the other was 2019). Oklahoma is 2-0 all-time against No. 9 seeds, with both matchups occurring in the second round of tournaments where the Sooners were a top seed.
• Oklahoma is playing an NCAA Tournament game in Indianapolis for the first time. Indy is the 33rd city the Sooners have ever competed in during the NCAA Tournament. OU is 1-1 during NCAA Tournament games played in Indiana, competing in the First and Second Rounds in Evansville in 1983.
• OU has made seven of the last eight NCAA Tournaments since Kruger’s second year in Norman. Oklahoma and Kansas are the only Big 12 schools with at least seven trips to the Big Dance since 2013. Only Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina and Villanova have reached the Big Dance more than the Sooners during that time frame.
• OU is one of only 10 major-conference schools (of 75 teams) that have made seven of the last eight NCAA Tournaments.
• Oklahoma is making its 33rd NCAA Tournament appearance, including its 28th in the past 38 years. The Sooners’ 28 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.
• Head coach Lon Kruger will be guiding a team to the NCAA Tournament for the 20th 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 23 of the last 31 years. He has guided teams to 20 NCAA Tournaments, five Sweet 16s and two Final Fours. Kruger is the first Division I coach to ever take five different schools to the NCAA Tournament. In 2015 he became the first coach since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 to take four programs to the Sweet 16 or beyond.
• Kruger has guided his teams to 11 NCAA Tournaments since 2007 (seven at Oklahoma, four at UNLV). He joins Mark Few, Tom Izzo, Bill Self, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Jay Wright, John Calipari, Matt Painter, Rick Barnes and Rick Pitino to make the Big Dance at least 11 times in that span.
SERIES HISTORY VS. MISSOURI
• Oklahoma opens the 2021 NCAA Tournament by facing an old conference rival in No. 9-seeded Missouri. Saturday’s matchup with Missouri is the 212th meeting between the old conference foes. The Sooners are 114-97 all-time against the Tigers and their 114 wins over the Tigers are OU’s third most over a single opponent. This will be the third time the Sooners and Tigers have met since Mizzou left the Big 12 for the SEC, with Oklahoma winning both matchups in a home victory in the Big 12/SEC Challenge in 2014 and neutral-site win at the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City in 2019.
• The two programs have met in the NCAA Tournament on just one previous occasion, with OU defeating the Tigers in the 2002 Elite Eight to advance to the Final Four.
• The Sooners have won six straight games against SEC schools and are 3-0 all-time against SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma defeated Ole Miss in the 8-9 First Round game of the 2019 NCAA Tournament 95-72. Oklahoma defeated 2020-21 SEC Champion Alabama earlier this year in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
• In Oklahoma’s first NCAA Tournament since the passing of legendary head coach Billy Tubbs, it’s only fitting that the Sooners face one of Tubbs’ favorite rivals. The Sooners and Tigers met in many classic matchups in Tubbs’ era, but none is shrouded in more legends and recollections than a home game on Feb. 9, 1989. With his fifth-ranked Sooners trailing third-ranked Missouri 21-8 five minutes into a nationally-televised game and the home crowd upset about the early officiating, Tubbs was asked by referee Ed Hightower to make a public address announcement to discourage the crowd of from throwing objects onto the court. Tubbs grabbed the microphone from scorers’ table and spoke, “The referees request that regardless of how terrible the officiating is, do not throw stuff on the floor.” Tubbs was issued a technical and the Sooners stormed back to a 112-105 win.
HOW WE GOT HERE
• Oklahoma received an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament after going 15-10 against one of the toughest schedules in the country. Over half of the Sooners’ games were against teams in the latest AP Top-25, including 11 games against teams in the top-15 (OU was 5-6 in those games). During the regular season, the Sooners won five games against teams that were ranked in the top-15 at the time of competition, tied for the most in the nation. The Sooners only lost one game outside of “Quad 1” in the NCAA NET Rankings.
• The Sooners spent three weeks in the top 10 of the AP Top-25 this season, coming after a historic stretch in late January where the Sooners beat three top-10 teams in eight days. By defeating No. 9 Kansas, No. 5 Texas and No. 9 Alabama, Oklahoma became just the third team in NCAA history to beat top-10 teams in back-to-back games, joining Michigan (2014) and Iowa (1987). In the month of January, Oklahoma became the first college basketball team since 1974 to beat four top-10 teams in one calendar month.
• Oklahoma enters the NCAA Tournament losing five of its last six games. Four of those losses came to teams ranked in the top 12 of the latest AP Top-25.
STATS AND TRENDS
• The Sooners are 9-1 when scoring at least 78 points. OU is averaging 80.3 points per game in victories and 66.5 in losses.
• Oklahoma is 14-1 this season when it grabs at least 31 rebounds and 1-9 when it pulls down 30 or fewer.
• Oklahoma is committing only 11.1 turnovers per game – the second fewest in the Big 12 and 33rd best in Division I.
• The Sooners lead the league in fewest fouls committed per game, fouling an average of 14.4 times – the 14th-fewest in the country. This continues a trend that Oklahoma showed a lot of discipline in last season, commiting only 14.4 personal fouls per game in 2019-20 – the third fewest in the country. This year, OU opponents are shooting an average of 13.8 foul shots per game, compared to OU’s 17.7 free throw attempts. OU is making the most of its trips to the line, ranking second in the Big 12 in free throw percentage with a 74.4% rate.
• Oklahoma is at its best when having time to prepare. The Sooners are 7-0 when they are four or more days past the previous game.
• Austin Reaves enters the NCAA Tournament ranked second in the Big 12 in scoring (17.7 points), fourth in assists (4.7), 11th in rebounding (5.7) and second in free throw shooting (86.4%).
• Elijah Harkless’ 2.0 steals per game rank second in the Big 12.
• Kur Kuath enters the Big Dance averaging 1.4 blocks per game – third in the Big 12.
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