Oklahoma Sooners set to open NCAA Tournament against Cal State-Bakersfield

Upset-minded Roadrunners look to knock off healthy, rested Sooners

Sooners Illustrated will present three things to watch before every men’s basketball game during the 2015-16 season.

No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners (25-7) vs. No. 15 Cal State-Bakersfield Roadrunners (24-8)

TV/Radio: TNT/107.7 FM

Time: 3 p.m.

Series: Oklahoma, 1-0

Rather play Friday

Even for an experienced team like Oklahoma that has a combined 15 NCAA Tournament appearances in the staring lineup, the extra 24 hours could make a big difference. It doesn’t have much to do with studying Cal State-Bakersfield for an extra film session or two or running their sets through in practice once more.

It’s about making sure they are focused; making sure they see an upset or two on the first day.

“For the last two years, we had to deal with the tournament playing the first day,” Oklahoma All-American guard Buddy Hield said. “I don’t know if we knew what to expect. Now, we understand what can happen. It helps give us a better advantage because you can’t take any teams lightly. You can get popped real quick.”

The Sooners relied on their starting lineup about as much as any team in the NCAA Tournament. With spring break this week, Oklahoma has gotten a little more rest – going through only a 90-minute practices and a film session every day, at most.

No. 2 seeds have lost only seven games in NCAA Tournament history but none have lost in the last three years. It has happened, and Oklahoma wants make sure it doesn’t become No. 8.

“You have to wait and see which teams will win or lose or upsets,” Hield said. “It helps to make sure my team is more focused and relaxed. You can’t come playing with any teams. Any team can get hot. I think playing on Friday has a little bit of an advantage. You can get locked in and focused. It makes it more serious.”

Getting inside even for show

After every game, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger tells the coaching staff that they have to get the ball inside more often. But every time they do it at the expense of an open 3-point shot, and it fails to produce offense, the same thought goes through Kruger’s mind.

“Nah,” he thinks.

Even if its just for show, Oklahoma needs to get the ball inside to forward Ryan Spangler, who has a history of making good decisions in the post even if its not scoring.

“That’s more of a threat,” Kruger said.”. . . We’ll try to play it a little bit more. We still need to throw it inside to Ryan a little bit more. I think that is kind of dependent upon match-ups.”

Cal State-Bakersfield provides a good chance to work the ball inside. The Roadrunners will likely match up 6-foot-4 Kevin Mays against Spangler, who would have a four-inch advantage over his counterpart. Cal State-Bakersfield has only one player taller than 6-6 that is averaging more than two points per game.

Taking advantage of that for a more balanced offense will be key in the first round.

“It’s important, and it’s something that we’re working on that we need,” Oklahoma forward Khadeem Lattin said.

Time for revenge

Just as freshman forward Christian James is playing the best basketball of his career, he has a chance to avenge a two-year-old grudge. James could see time at the 4 position for the Sooners on Friday, but it’s a match-up against Cal-State Bakersfield guard Dedrick Basile that he’s looking forward to in the first round of the NCAA Tournament

When James was a sophomore at Bellaire High School, Basile played in the same district for Madison High School as a senior.

“He is a great player, offensively and defensively,” James said of Basile. “He can make plays. I owe him some payback though from high school ball. I’m looking forward to that.”

The two teams split a pair of matchups in Basile’s senior year, including a late-season game that Madison “wasn’t supposed to win,” according to James. Basile had a big steal at the end of the game that cost Bellaire the district championship.

“He was always good, so it’s going to be exciting,” Basile said.

And an extra note to start off the NCAA Tournament…

How can Cal State-Bakersfield win?

The Roadrunners come into Friday’s game as a clear underdog, already being labeled a Cinderella by most of their hometown media. But Cinderella’s have won before. Coach Rod Barnes believes that they play a style that can win: Leaning on defense and not relying on jump shooting to win.

This season, Cal State-Bakersfield has broken the single-season school team records for blocks, assists, points, field goals made and attempted, steals and are on pace to set the record for scoring average.

“But do I believe we can win the game? Surely, I do. This is March,” Barnes said. “We’re a team that I think we play the right kind of way to be an upset-type of team, . . . but if we’re at our best, and that’s what we’re going to have to be; if we’re at our best, we’ll have a good shot to win the game. Anything but our best, it will be a great season.”

Dedrick Basile, who hit the game-winner to send the Roadrunners to the NCAA Tournament, said there’s no pressure on the team.

“We’ve got nothing to lose, but everything to gain,” he said.

Forward Kevin Mays knows that it’s defense, something that can’t be affected by a pro-Oklahoma crowd, which would push the Roadrunners over the top. Center Aly Ahmed, who grew up watching the NCAA Tournament in Egypt until he was 18, believes that Oklahoma can be topped.

“I think they’re a good team, but they are not great,” he said. “They are beatable. . . . We keep just proving things every year. I think if we play pretty good defense (Friday), we’ll have a big chance.”

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