In the midst of the Liberty Bowl discussion, UC’s men’s basketball team is facing a huge game against the Oklahoma Sooners tomorrow night at the US Bank Arena in downtown Cincinnati. It’s a litmus test for both squads who are looking for a marquee win on their schedules before opening up conference play. The Sooners are on the verge of being ranked with a stellar 9 - 1 season with their only hiccup a 20-point loss to the Saint Louis Billikens in the 76 Classic tournament finals. The Bearcats started the season ranked with the most anticipated campaign in years. A stunning loss to Presbyterian in the third game of the season and Marshall a week later ensured UC wouldn’t be ranked in the following month. But stellar play in the games since the Xavier brawl, all be it against weak competition, makes this matchup with Oklahoma extremely important.
This game is the second half of a home-and-home series between UC and OU. Last year a senior-laden Bearcats squad beat up on the Sooners in a 66 – 56 victory in Oklahoma City. This season Oklahoma is flying into US Bank arena in a pseudo-home game for Cincinnati. They are also bringing back with them veteran scorers like Andrew Fitzgerald, Steve Pledger, and Cameron Clark who are all averaging about double-digit points per game this season. Pledger himself has been a machine this season averaging 20 points per game and is shooting 58% from the field. One of the biggest surprises for the Sooners this season was the contribution from sophomore Calvin Newell Jr. Think of him as Oklahoma’s version of Sean Kilpatick, except Killa is still playing on his current team. Newell Jr. decided to transfer from the Sooners earlier this month and took his 13 ppg line with him.
Still, Oklahoma isn’t having much trouble putting the ball in the hoop this year as they are averaging about 80 points per game good for 29th in the county. That’s a far cry fom the 66 points (254th) they’ve averaged in 2010. But probably the biggest difference between last year and this is how the Sooners have been absolutely owning the glass on offense in 2011. They are grabbing 42 missed shots per game (5th nationally) versus 30 rebounds (324th) in 2010. Those 12 extra opportunities for the offense to score points each game has definitely contributed to OU’s increased points on offense and their impressive winning percentage this season. Power forward Romero Osby has been pulling in about 8 offensive rebounds per game and will try to own the paint with his big 6’8″ 237 lbs frame.
So Oklahoma scores a lot of points and rebounds well. This game could turn into a shootout as Cincinnati has also scored points in bunches and owned the glass in recent games. This despite playing mostly four-guard sets since Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj, and Octavius Ellis were suspended. But the bigs on Oklahoma will be the best UC has faced since that game. I expect the Sooners to try and get Kelvin Gaines and Justin Jackson into foul trouble so they can use their size to their advantage against the Bearcats’ guards. That duo will have to stay disciplined as to not provide Oklahoma with too many mismatches out there.