NORMAN – Even before the season,Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger heard that the team could wind up in Oklahoma City for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners themselves had their minds set on the Chesapeake Energy Arena from the start of the year.
They had to play well, but over the course of the season, possible became probable, which became an almost certainty in the final weeks leading up to the annual selection process. Selection Sunday made if official as the Sooners earned a No. 2 seed in the West Region and a first-round match-up against No. 15 Cal State-Bakersfield.
“From the beginning of the season, we had in our mind to be in Oklahoma City,” All-American guard Buddy Hield said. “You never know if you’re going to get that. I thank God that we’re in Oklahoma City and able to get that home-court advantage.”
The Sooners will open NCAA Tournament play at 3 p.m. Friday. Oklahoma (25-7) will play either No. 7 Oregon State or No. 10 VCU in the second round should they get past the Roadrunners, who needed a game-winning 3-pointer to make the school’s first NCAA Tournament.
Only seven No. 2 seeds have ever lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and Oklahoma remains one of the narrowest victories in tournament history for a No. 1 seed against a No. 16 seed, 72-71 win against East Tennessee State in 1989.
This year, the Sooners were rated as the No. 5 overall seed in the nation, getting matched up in the bracket against No. 1 seeded Oregon.
“We’ve had a lot of good wins against top-50 teams I guess,” Kruger said. “Quality of schedule, given that you’re in the Big 12, you’re gonna have a good starting point there, playing against a lot of ranked teams night in, night out. Our pre-conference schedule, we had good success there against teams that are in the tournament.
“Guys have done well. They’ve made progress throughout the year. Like all teams that are in the field, there are moments we’d like to play better, but still it’s a good accomplishment. And yet they know that a lot of excitement lies ahead.”
Oklahoma set a school record with eight top-25 wins this season. Being in the West Region, Oklahoma will travel to Anaheim, Calif. if it wins the first two rounds of the tournament. The journey starts close to home for the Sooners, though.
“It means a lot. I’m from here,” Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler said. “I got a lot of people that will be at the game. Being able to play in front of your fans at OU. It’ll be good.”