When Lon Kruger came to Oklahoma a year ago as the new head coach of the men's basketball team, he was handed a roster that frankly, wasn't used to winning.
Just a single player, senior guard T.J. Franklin, had experienced the Sooners' run to the Elite Eight in the 2009 NCAA tournament, and no one besides Franklin had experienced the postseason in any form. The Sooners had come off back-to-back sub-.500 seasons, and had just been put on probation by the NCAA for violations under former head coach Jeff Capel.
After an up-and-down season a year ago, the 2012-13 Sooners are 5-1 so far in the young season, and have as many wins away from Norman (4) as they had all of last season. Two of those wins came over very good mid-major opponents UT-Arlington and Oral Roberts in true road games in front of raucous crowds hungry for the home team to knock off the big-name visitors.
In the past three seasons, both of those games were games the Sooners would have lost, especially with how the games turned out. Against UT-Arlington, the Sooners found themselves down big early, battled back to take a big lead, and then had to fight off a Maverick comeback to hang on for the victory.
Wednesday night against Oral Roberts, the Sooners were down almost the entire game, including by 10 points with nine minutes to go. OU battled back to win, 63-62, getting several big defensive stops down the stretch.
Last year, OU wouldn't have won either of those games, and while the wins don't appear to be marquee wins over big-time opponents, they're exactly what this OU team needs.
For the Sooners to get to the NCAA tournament this year, a very real possibility and a place no one on the team has been before, they're going to have to win games, and in order to win games, they're going to have to know what it takes to win games.
Sometimes, you're going to have to find a way to win the game when you aren't playing your best. That's exactly what happened to OU Wednesday night against Oral Roberts. The Sooners were atrocious for much of the game, but turned up the defensive intensity and, thanks to the timely play of freshman Buddy Hield, finally began to get the offense going in the second half.
In the eyes of a group of players that haven't been used to winning, a win is a win. More importantly, a win in any fashion gives the Sooners confidence they have what it takes to win any game. As the season progresses, the confidence will grow and the wins will pile up. In the end, it could be enough for that elusive postseason berth.
When (and if) that berth comes, the Sooners can look back to the beginning of the season as the time they learned some valuable lessons, the most important of which being knowing how to win.