It will be Bedlam in Norman Saturday afternoon, when the Oklahoma Sooners and Oklahoma State Cowboys clash on the hardwood for the first time this season.
The Sooners and Cowboys have split the season series the past three seasons, with each team holding serve at their home court. The Cowboys also defeated the Sooners in the Big 12 tournament in 2009 and 2010.
Many expected the Sooners, with a lot of new talent and great depth, to make a run at an NCAA tournament berth, something OU hasn't accomplished since 2009. To this point in the season, the Sooners have shown significant improvement from a year ago, getting a nice win at home over Ohio, a team that went to the Sweet 16 a year ago. The Sooners have also won several games in comeback fashion, something the team a year would not have been able to do. However, Oklahoma has also had a pair of tough losses, dropping a winnable road game against Arkansas and a nail biter against Stephen F. Austin.
Despite the Sooners' strong start to the season, a win against the Cowboys, who have been in the lower portion of the top 25 for most of the season, would go a long way toward validating the Sooners as a legitimate threat to make the tournament.
"I think if we win this game, it does open everybody's eyes with them being a top-25 team, with a lot of hype around them this year," OU point guard Sam Grooms said. "If we beat them, I feel like that will push us even more into the spotlight and let everyone see what we've been working on from the spring to the summer to the fall for this moment right here."
The Sooners are coming off a comeback win on the road against West Virginia to open Big 12 play. Down 12 with 18 minutes remaining, the Sooners rallied to eventually win by 10. Oklahoma didn't play this week, something head coach Lon Kruger said is neither good nor bad.
"Sometimes when you come off a good game like that you like to bounce back and play," Kruger said. "On the other hand, you like the idea of preparing for more days and putting in different wrinkles. It's a push."
While the Sooners have five seniors on the roster, there is a plethora of youth as well, including starters Je'lon Hornbeak and Buddy Hield. Those two, along with freshman guard Isaiah Cousins, will be getting their first taste of Bedlam Saturday afternoon, and the veterans have been preparing them for what to expect.
"This is what you came to Oklahoma for," Grooms said. "If you don't understand that Oklahoma-Oklahoma State is one of the biggest rivalries in the country then I don't understand why you came here. In a lot of people's eyes in Norman and all around, this game is huge and to keep the legacy going we have playing against those guys is big."
Bedlam is always an emotional matchup between the two schools, no matter what the records are that particular season. Fitzgerald said harnessing those emotions is the key to playing well in rivalry games.
"I remember my first Bedlam game here," Fitzgerald said. "It was a sold out crowd, packed out and just emotional. Every rivalry game is an emotional game and you just have to stay focused and not get distracted by what else is going on."
The Sooners have dominated Bedlam in Norman as of late, winning eight straight and 11 of the past 12 at Lloyd Noble Center. Saturday's game will be a sweet time for OU, as the Sooners have played just five home games this season, fewest among the 75 schools in the six BCS conferences.
While both OU and OSU have been down the past few years as programs, Bedlam has not suffered. Now, with both programs trending upward once again, Saturday is the first step to return the series to the intensity level fans enjoyed a decade ago.