Sooners head into tourney action shorthanded

By Michael Kinney

Back in the hey-day of the Big 8, some of the best matchups on the hardwood occurred whenever Oklahoma took on Missouri.

In the late 1980s and early 90s, the Sooners would roll out players such as Stacy King, Skeeter Henry and Mookie Blaylock. The Tigers would counter with ballers such as Anthony Peeler, Derrick Chievous and Cuonzo Martin. It made for some exciting basketball and great matchups.

More than three decades later the two teams are set to face-off again. However, this time they are no longer part of the Big 8 or even in the same conference. But the stakes are higher.

No. 8 seed Oklahoma (15-10, 9-8 Big 12) will take on No. 9 seed Missouri (16-9, 8-8 SEC) Saturday in the opening round of the West Region at the NCAA tournament. Tip-off is set for 6:25 p.m.  in Indianapolis  and can be seen on TNT.

This will be the 212th meeting between the former conference rivals. The Sooners are 114-97 all-time against the Tigers. Their 114 wins are the Sooners third most over a single opponent.

This will also be the third time the Sooners and Tigers have met since Mizzou left the Big 12 for the SEC, with Oklahoma winning both matchups in a home victory in the Big 12/SEC Challenge in 2014 and neutral-site win at the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City in 2019.

The Sooners enter the game struggling. They have dropped five of their last six games after reaching No. 7 in the polls. That includes being booted from the Big 12 Tournament in the second round by a shorthanded Kansas squad.

The news got worse for OU this week. Second leading scorer De’Vion Harmon has been ruled out of this weekend’s action due to COVID-19 protocols.

Oklahoma still has all-conference guard Austin Reaves, who enters the tournament ranked second in the Big 12 in scoring (17.7 points), fourth in assists (4.7), 11th in rebounding (5.7) and second in free throw shooting (86.4%).

Brady Manek, left, and Austin Reaves will need to be be key for Oklahoma in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. (Photos provided by Theron Smith/OU Athletics )

Yet, in order for Oklahoma to move past the Tigers, Reaves can’t try to do it all himself. Without Harmon in the lineup, players such as Brady Manek, Elijah Harkles and Umoja Gibson need to be willing offensive threats. The Sooners are 9-1 when scoring at least 78 points.

More importantly, the Sooners have to return to the defensive and rebounding nature that allowed them to win five games against teams ranked inside the top-15, which was tied for the most in the nation. Oklahoma is 14-1 this season when it grabs at least 31 rebounds and 1-9 when it pulls down 30 or fewer.

If Oklahoma advances, they will take on the winner between No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 16 Norfolk State on Monday,

Michael Kinney Media

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