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Dean's Blog: Sooners Playing Another Road Game on Sunday

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The obvious hot topic around the Columbus NCAA Tournament site took front and center. The Sooners and Dayton went through closed workouts here on Saturday, and then met with the media.

Predictably, Dayton coach Archie Miller downplayed the notion that having an arena full of loud and dedicated fans supporting his team would be helpful when his Flyers take on the Sooners tomorrow in a high-stakes NCAA with the winner on to the Sweet 16.

The unpredictable came from Lon Kruger. Let me re-write that statement. The unpredictable came from Lon Kruger. And I re-write as a compliment as much as making the point that the OU coach is so organized and experienced that not many things coming from him are unpredictable.

After the formal press conference, I pulled the coach aside for an interview for our News 9 and News on 6 story that will air after Saturday's late games. I asked Kruger his thoughts on being a No. 3 seed but playing in an arena full of fans from his opponent. Kruger said, “We're approaching it as a road game.” He said more, but that comment is all that's needed. Both remarkably honest and uncommonly bold for the straight-arrow Sooner coach.

It is also regrettable. Regardless of the teams involved, this should never happen. Yes, good teams play through bigger challenges. But 11s should never have this type of advantage over 3s.

His players took the high road, no doubt well-prepared by Kruger to avoid any unnecessary bulletin-board material.

I asked bench-bomber Frank Booker about the home court disadvantage: “At this point, we don't really see it as fair or unfair, it's basketball, it happens and we just feel like whatever team goes out there and competes the hardest and the bench that does the best is gonna be the team that wins.” Note the rare mention of the significance of “bench!”

Spangler on same: “Yea, it's gonna be tough. We need to come out hot and keep them quiet for the rest of the game. We know they're gonna go on runs, we're gonna go on runs too, so just try to limit that, and if we're locking down on defense their crowd can't get into it.”

DJ Bennett produced a strong night in the Albany win and I thought had an interesting angle to my question about the crowd: “It really motivates us actually. I see it like it gives us more of an underdog feel, so I feel like we're gonna play harder.”

By the way, the Villanova game just ended. Did anyone think that looked like an upset? NC State looked the best team from start to finish. One No. 1 down. And in the East, where Oklahoma plays a roadie tomorrow against surging Dayton.

Saturday morning update

OU seems to have a patent on playing “neutral site” championship-caliber games in football and basketball that are actually anything but.

Football fans remember three national title games where the Sooners played in the home state of the opponent: beating Florida State in the Orange Bowl, losing to LSU in the Sugar Bowl and losing to Florida in the Orange Bowl.

The Sooner thumpers will have 100 or so hearty fans here in Columbus when they take on Dayton Sunday in the second game of the NCAA Tournament. Problem is Dayton will effectively have the rest. Dayton is a Brett Rawls long-ball from Dayton, and the Dayton crowd was large and loud in its Round of 64 win last night over Providence. Of course they won the play-in game by playing in their back-yard — not bad for a team that had to win a game to get in the actual dance.

So poise will be the biggest issue for the Sooners Sunday. I watched Dayton's second half performance last night and was impressed with their energy and athleticism.

TaShawn Thomas should give OU an offensive advantage on the inside. Thomas needs to continue to take advantage of those scoring opportunities because the last thing this team needs to do is rely on hitting a strong percentage of 3s. The nightmare scenario would be Dayton jumping on top, the house rocking and the rim getting smaller and smaller for OU as they chuck from distance.

Speaking of rims, these are the softest I remember seeing in NCAA play. Players agreed when I brought that up last night in the locker room. Jordan Woodard's outstanding end-to-end high-arching lay-up to end the first half took advantage of the soft rims. Overall, it's no advantage to either team, just something to note.

By the way, Woodard's basket was the second biggest of the game, outdone by only Isaiah Cousins' late shot clock 3 pushing the lead back to nine over Albany with 3:08 remaining. It was unquestionably the most important of the game; perhaps of the season.

We are headed to news conferences and will report back later today and tonight on News9 and the News on 6.

OF INTEREST: On Sunday Lon Kruger will attempt to become the first coach to take four programs to the Sweet 16. Kruger improved to 15-15 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and to 9-7 in opening-round games.

OU is 13-8 in its last nine NCAA Tournaments, with Final Four appearances in 2002 and Elite Eight in 2003 and 2009.

Though it may come as a surprise to most citizens of the Sooner State, the Sooners have a strong national basketball reputation. OU has a tidy 37-28 all-time NCAA record and by making their 25th appearance since 1983, the Sooners are tied with UCLA and Michigan State for ninth-most during that span.

Buddy Hield was just 3-of-11 on triples against Albany. He must improve that number if OU wants to keep playing. He was just 1-for-12 in two NCAA games last year and has been struggling for three weeks.

It was good to see my fave Ryan Spangler bounce back from the Iowa State disaster. Still not confident with his shot, the junior tough-guy scored 9 points and pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds, the 21st time in 33 games this year he's led OU on the glass.

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