Sooner hoops fans nationwide gathered around their TV screens to watch their favorite basketball team play the North Carolina Tar Heels for a chance at a Final Four bid. Some of the lucky few even got a chance to witness the event live. They were ready to see Blake Griffin and the Oklahoma Sooners add to their favorite program’s rich tradition. Sadly, the outcome was not what Sooner fans had hoped for, as the much deeper Tar Heels team waltzed into the Final Four with a crushing defeat of the Sooners.
Though it was disappointing, the future looked bright, the Sooners, led by one of the best young coaches in the nation, Jeff Capel, were seemingly guaranteed to make the tournament for years to come.
Fast forward two seasons, and the above statements seem laughable.
The Sooners are coming off of back to back losing seasons, facing NCAA violations, and the firing of their youthful, promising coach. Sooner basketball was in an absolute doleful state of mind. There was not one positive thing to say about the situation, to put it bluntly, they sucked. It would have taken a miracle worker, a savior, to revive the program in its current shape.
Then, Oklahoma found him in Lon Kruger.
As soon as he stepped on campus, the mindset almost immediately switched from negative back to the positive, upbeat one this program is accustomed. Most assumed a complete overhaul such as this one would be a major work in progress, this year was written off completely, a “rebuilding year” they called it. It was a reasonable thing to think, the Sooners did return most of their team, but after two seasons of losing, no one expected any major amelioration. “Two, three extra wins tops, a .500 season” was the sentiment around Norman to start the season.
Now, eight games into the first season of the Kruger era, the Sooners are halfway to their win total from a season ago, sitting at 7-1. In case you didn’t know, that’s the second best start in the last 10 seasons for the Sooners. They received votes in the coaches poll last week for the first time since the 2009-2010 preseason, and a crowd of over 6,000 people gathered to watch the new-look Sooners pound Arkansas Saturday. To put it simply, things are moving in the right direction at a much quicker pace than anticipated. If the pace can be kept, this has potential to be one of the most sublime turnarounds in recent memory.
Little by little, the Sooners are ripping off the band-aid left behind from seasons past. But the questions still remain: At what point can the band-aid be totally removed? At what point can the fans admit that this is a good basketball team? Is an NCAA Tournament bid possible?
It’s certainly not out of the question. If anything, a bubble team at least. With the work ethic this team possesses, they are improving on a daily basis, and it’s scary as an opponent, yet comforting as a fan, to think of how good they could actually become by Selection Sunday.
Sure, the schedule has not been one of the best early on, but the opponents have been somewhat respectable. Their one loss came to a team, many think could challenge Xavier for an A-10 title, and that is almost a lock to be dancing,Saint Louis. A solid showing in conference play could be just enough to earn the Sooners that coveted spot in the field of 68.
As for the fans, it’s a different story. When can they remove the band-aid revealing their scarred hearts? One should certainly not be too eager to get their hopes up, only to have them snatched right back, a repeat of the terrifying year of 2009-2010. When is it okay to not only hope for, but expect great things from this basketball team?
The answer may very well be now. The product on the court in Norman this season is certainly better than the past two years, at least that’s one thing fans can all agree on.
Despite the consensus heading into the season, this team has defied the odds and proven the doubters wrong. Fans can take solace in the fact that every time this team takes the floor they are giving it 110%. While it sounds cliché, it’s true. The Sooners will be forced to, and probably will, win a lot of games on effort alone in a stacked Big 12 this season, and that’s fine, as long as they are winning.
When reality hits home for Sooner fans, it will be a different kind of feeling than the last realization left them with. You know, the kind of feeling you get when you realize that your team could win 20 games, make the NCAA tournament and get back on the national radar. It’ll be that feeling.
So Sooners fans, it’s time to wake up from the dismal nightmares that were the 2009-2011 seasons as well as the 2011-2012 Sooner football season, and join the dream that is the 2011-2012 Sooner basketball season. Because this team is for real.