Sooner or later, Lon Kruger will bring a winner back to Norman. See what I did there?
Did you miss us? We missed you.
I think we all needed some time to recharge our batteries a bit. So get ready to be bombarded with tons of content in the month of March. Because it's...well, you know. But enough of that.
The 2012 Phillips 66 Big 12 Tournament starts off with an 8-9 battle between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas A&M Aggies. A "Tale of Two Seasons," really. The Big 12 coaches picked A&M to share the conference title in the preseason but anything that could go wrong did go wrong in College Station. On the other hand Oklahoma brought in Lon Kruger to be their head coach and not much was expected in his first season. Sure they flirted with contention for a little bit but soon faded towards the bottom of the Big 12.
It was tough to figure out these Sooners from the start. They finished as runner-up of the 76 Classic in November, they beat an underrated Oral Roberts team and then gave the Cincinnati Bearcats all they could handle before losing by 1 in Cincy. Some kind of job Lon Kruger's doing, everyone thought.
But Big 12 play began and they were the lucky ones who started off at Missouri, home for Kansas and a date at Oklahoma State. They lost all three, but they went on to score wins in three of their next five games, a sweep of Kansas State and a victory against Texas Tech. But that's when it went horribly, horribly wrong. At 13-7 with 10 left to play, OU would lose all but two games the rest of the way.
Now they're playing for a spot in the NIT, if they can win a game or two in this tournament. While most will remember their late season slide, they have plenty of bright spots on the roster. Steven Pledger is one of the more productive scorers in the Big 12, Romero Osby and Andrew Fitzgerald form a solid 1-2 punch down low and point guard Sam Grooms finished just two assists behind Baylor's Pierre Jackson for tops in the Big 12. Here's the kicker: all four are juniors and if they return for their senior seasons, we could be talking about the Sooners for an NCAA bid in 2013. Future's bright in Norman.
There wasn't any mystery to the Aggies. They were torched in November by the Florida Gators, who they'll see a lot more of in the near future, and haven't recovered. Head coach Billy Kennedy was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, freshman point guard Jamal Branch left the program and star Khris Middleton was just a shell of himself while battling a bum hamstring.
The play of Washington transfer Elston Turner was a welcome sight, leading the team in scoring (13.8) and three-point percentage (.398). If there's something to look forward to in the game, at least it'll be competitive. The mid-January matchup went to overtime where A&M prevailed and last Saturday's OU win was a nailbiter. So what are the Ags playing for? Pride. That's all they have left after such a crappy season. If the Aggies were to win today, it would be their second victory dating back to February 1st, so there's that.
But if I were a betting man, I'd put my money on the Sooners to take this one. And if it is their last game in the conference, I'd like to say thank you, Aggies, for the post-Melvin Watkins era of basketball. Best of luck in the SEC and tell Missouri I said hello.
Sooners-Aggies can be seen tonight at 6pm central time on your Big 12 Network affiliate. If you wanna know which one, click here.