BY JOHN ROHDE
April 13, 2017
Oklahoma women’s gymnastics coach K.J. Kindler said she could feel the crowd pulling for her team to win at the 2014 NCAA Championships in Birmingham, Ala.
At that time, only five schools had won national titles since the NCAA first sanctioned the sport in 1982 – Georgia (10), Utah (9), Alabama (6), UCLA (6) and defending champion Florida (1). The up-and-coming Sooners were the team of the moment.
For the first and only time in NCAA women’s gymnastics, there wound up being national co-champions as OU and Florida finished with identical scores of 198.175 three years ago. The Sooners happily embraced their role as co-champions after the Gators had edged OU for the 2013 NCAA crown by a margin of 0.200 (197.575-197.375).
Well, times have changed.
The Sooners were the 2016 national champs all by themselves and will seek back-to-back crowns when the NCAA Championships are held Friday and Saturday at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis. OU will compete in Semifinal I at noon Friday against No. 4 Utah, No. 5 UCLA, No. 8 Oregon State, No. 9 Denver and No. 13 Washington. The top three finishers from Semifinal I and Semifinal II advance to the NCAA “Super Six” on Saturday night to compete for the national title.
Fresh off their fifth undefeated regular season under Kindler, the defending champs are this weekend’s No. 1 seed for a multitude of reasons, the most recent of which came April 1 at the NCAA Seattle Regional, where the Sooners posted a nation-high 198.075 in regional competition. OU entered the meet with a program record with a regional qualifying score (RQS) of 198.010.
OU’s overall excellence this season frequently has been perfection with four gymnasts combining for nine perfect 10.0s. Though only a freshman, Maggie Nichols already owns the school career record with six and scored at least one 10.0 in every event, becoming just the ninth collegiate gymnast to ever do so. Senior McKenzie Wofford and sophomore Nicole Lehrmann each earned a 10.0 on the uneven bars and senior Chayse Capps scored a 10.0 on the balance beam. Six OU gymnasts earned a nation-best 14 regular-season All-America honors this season, with junior AJ Jackson and sophomore Brenna Dowell joining the aforementioned perfectionists. (Dowell scored a 10.0 in 2015 on uneven bars.)
Seventeen of OU’s scores this season rank in the top 10 in program history.
Suffice to say, the Sooners no longer are up-and-coming. They have reached the summit and have no intention of descending anytime soon.
“They have a target on their back,” Kindler said of her team. “People are gunning for them. Everyone roots for the underdog, and that’s not us. Now there’s that expectation and pressure knowing people are gunning for you. We just need to focus on ourselves and not on that.”Continue reading...
BY JOHN ROHDE
April 12, 2017
In his 31 seasons as a collegiate men’s basketball coach, Lon Kruger never has had one season be so contrary to the next.
His 2015-16 Oklahoma team went 29-8 overall, advanced to the Final Four in Houston and completed its season April 2 – just two days shy of the latest date possible.
His 2016-17 Sooners went 11-20 overall, were eliminated in the opening round of the Big 12 Conference tournament and completed their season March 8 – the earliest date possible.
The 18-win, 25-day discrepancy is by far the most significant one-year differential in Kruger’s career – good or bad.
“Sure, there were disappointing results,” Kruger said. “It was difficult from the standpoint of not getting results, for sure. And yet the challenge with this group was to keep their enthusiasm level up. When you’re not winning games, you still have a different type challenge, you still have objectives. You can go on, keep getting better individually and play better as a group. The good feeling, even though we didn’t get the results we wanted, is I thought they were playing their best basketball in the last three weeks. Individually, several were playing better and with more confidence.”Continue reading...
BY JOHN ROHDE
April 8, 2017
NORMAN — Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops said he was "really pleased" with the overall play during Saturday's annual Spring Game, but what pleased him most was his team's overall health.
"Nobody's seriously hurt whatsoever," Stoops said afterward. "I thought there was good execution and we met all assignments. Guys played hard, played well. I'm just really pleased. We got (in) right what we'd hoped for ... right around 90 (plays) pretty close, and that's what we were shooting for."
The White team edged the Red team 14-13 on an 80-degree afternoon before an announced crowd of 43,723 at Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Starting quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Baker Mayfield completed 11-of-20 passes for 99 yards, while redshirt sophomore Kyler Murray completed 9-of-13 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown — a 70-yard connection with senior wide receiver Jeffery Mead in the second quarter — and had another potential touchdown pass was dropped.
Freshman quarterback Chris Robison completed 3-of-5 passes for 49 yards while sophomore Austin Kendall completed 2-of-4 passes for 47 yards. Running back Abdul Adams had the catch of the day with a 34-yard reception.
Passing was hampered by steady gusts of 20 mile-per-hour winds throughout the game.
"By position, I liked what the quarterbacks did, overall," Stoops said. "(They) had smart play, took care of the ball, good throws. It was a windy day. It's tough to get the receivers a little bit of a break because the ball's getting blown all over on a few occasions."Continue reading...
BY JOHN ROHDE
April 7, 2017
You would think a men's gymnastics program would be satisfied having already won 10 NCAA championships. Not so with Oklahoma.
Seven of those national crowns have come under the guidance of coach Mark Williams, but in his constant quest for more championships, Williams wanted more depth and more opportunities for more gymnasts. As a result, this would bring more titles.
Williams got his wish.
Since Williams arrived in 2000, the OU men have never placed lower than fourth at the NCAA Championships and claimed national titles in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2015 and 2016. In that six-year gap between championships (2009-14), Williams had to settle for two third-place finishes, followed by four straight runner-up finishes. Even though the NCAA increased the number of participating athletes per team from 12 to 15, Williams was seeking an even bigger talent pool.
Williams approached Athletics Director Joe Castiglione and was granted permission to add a club team, where walk-ons could hone their skills to perhaps someday be good enough to join the school’s NCAA squad. “I had to tell him we were getting beat by sheer numbers,” Williams recalled of his meeting with Castiglione. “My 14 guys couldn’t hold up to other team’s 22 guys."
Since Williams was granted a feeder program, the Sooners have continued to feast on collecting crowns.
Not only will OU seek its third straight NCAA championship later this month, the school’s club team is seeking a three-peat at this week’s National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs (NAIGC) championship, which is being held Thursday through Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.Continue reading...
BY JOHN ROHDE
April 6, 2017
Merv Johnson's 60 years in college football included some of the sport's most significant moments:
• Born in King City, Mo., Johnson was recruited by and played for one of the sport's greatest innovators in Missouri coach Don Faurot, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame who is credited for inventing the Split-T formation in 1941. "That was pretty special," Johnson said of being recruited by the legendary Faurot.
• As a Missouri senior in 1957, Johnson was selected as an All-Big Seven Conference offensive tackle for the Tigers under first-year coach Frank Broyles, who had replaced Faurot.
• On Nov. 9, 1957, OU beat Missouri 39-14 in Columbia. The following week, the Sooners' streak of 47 straight victories came to an end with a 7-0 loss at home to unranked Notre Dame. Yup, Johnson played for the last team OU defeated in its record-setting run.
• Johnson followed Broyles to Arkansas in 1958 and was an assistant there for two seasons before returning to his alma mater as an assistant under coach Dan Devine, who had replaced Broyles at Missouri. While with the Razorbacks, Johnson served as a "dorm coach" and had to keep an eye on a player named Barry Switzer, who served as team captain his senior year in 1959. Broyles convinced Switzer to put his plans to attend law school on hold and instead go into coaching. After Johnson returned to Missouri, Switzer replaced him as dorm coach.Continue reading...
BY JOHN ROHDE
April 5, 2017
Bennie, Bud, Barry and Bob all made their indelible mark as Oklahoma football head coaches, but historic contributions also have come from a man endearingly referred to as "Coach Merv."
Mervin Lewis Johnson spent more years inside the Sooners' football program than Bennie Owen, Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer or Bob Stoops.
After 38 years as an assistant coach (1979-97) and director of football operations (1998-2017), Johnson formally has retired from the university. "At 80 years old, I figured it'd probably be a good time to do that," Johnson said of retirement.
Johnson will continue his role as the team's radio analyst during games, however. "I said, 'Merv, you may be retiring in employment terms, but we're not going to let you get away that easily. We still want you and need you around here,'" OU Athletics Director Joe Castiglione said of Johnson, who will turn 81 on May 16.
From 1958-2016, Johnson was a football staff member for 59 consecutive college seasons and 703 total games. He served under seven head coaches and those teams combined for an all-time record of 516-175-12 (.743).Continue reading...
BY JOHN ROHDE
March 30, 2017
Joe Castiglione Jr. was 2 years old when his father selected Bob Stoops to become Oklahoma's new football coach on Dec. 1, 1998. Now Stoops has agreed to allow that same kid to join the Sooners as a walk-on player.
The son of OU Athletics Director Joe Castiglione spent the previous two seasons as a student manager with the Sooners. Joe Jr. would hold up huge flashcards on the sideline during games. At practice, he assisted linebackers coach Tim Kish and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Joe Jr. would attend meetings involving coaching activities and analyze film, and would chart opponent tendencies and what plays they would run according to down and distance and field position. He would also perform traditional managerial duties, and also served as a gofer for coaches and players.
Joe Jr. would perform these duties in addition to being a full-time student, and he still managed to carry a 3.5 grade point average. Each August, he logged an estimated 70-plus hours per week with school and football. During the season, that number would dip to 50-55 hours.
No stranger to long hours and hard work, Joe Jr. will now get to spend some time on the field. How much time? Probably not much, if any. But that's not the point here.Continue reading...
BY JOHN ROHDE
March 23, 2017
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas coach Bill Self is one of this year's 14 finalists for induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Voters don’t tend to nominate or induct coaches who can’t coach. Yet seemingly every March, Self suffers the slings and arrows of sarcastic soothsayers.
“Don’t pick Kansas in your bracket,” sayeth the naysayers. “KU won’t make it past the first weekend. No one chokes in March quite like Kansas.”
With Thursday night’s 98-66 dismantling of No. 4-seeded Purdue at the Sprint Center, the Jayhawks will face Oregon in the Midwest Regional Final at 7:49 p.m. on Saturday to advance to the Final Four next weekend in Glendale, Ariz.
This will be Self’s ninth regional final of the millennium.
He coached mid-major Tulsa to the 2000 South Regional final.
He coached Illinois to the 2001 Midwest Regional final during his first season with the Fighting Illini.
Come Saturday, Self will coach his seventh regional final with Kansas.Continue reading...
BY JONATHAN WASSERMAN
NBA lead writer
March 21, 2017
NBA scouts have plenty of reasons to continue watching the final 16 teams in the NCAA tournament.
Seven prospects left in the field could potentially land in this year's lottery, including two players who'll be competing for No. 1 overall consideration.
But every year, March Madness also brings out talent that's gone overlooked during the course of the regular season. Through the first weekend, we've already seen several under-the-radar prospects break through into the 2017 draft discussion for the first time all year.
We ranked the top names still playing based on long-term NBA potential—not their current college impact.
BY JOHN ROHDE
March 18, 2017
Perhaps we all should have used chalk while filling out this year’s NCAA basketball tournament bracket.
There’s so much chalk flying around right now, you’d think we were actually watching the NCAA gymnastics championships – which would be great news for the perpetually top-ranked Oklahoma men’s and women’s teams.
Chalk picks are boring. No upsets. Nothing but favorites across the board.
According to Kevin Kaduk of The Dagger, an unfathomable 36 entries in Yahoo's NCAA basketball tournament bracket went a perfect 32-for-32 in the opening round. One other entry also went 32-for-32, but inexplicably picked only three Final Four teams and failed to pick a winner in the national championship game, taking his classroom grade from an A-plus to an Incomplete.
If these perfect pickers were Berkshire Hathaway employees for billionaire Warren Buffet, each would have received $1 million for their spotless brackets after one round. (One Buffet employee went 31 for 32 and pocketed a $100,000 top prize.)Continue reading...
BY JEFF EISENBERG
March 18, 2017
What’s the only upside to a humdrum, uneventful first round of the NCAA tournament in which teams seeded No. 4 or better went 16-0?
It should give way to a second round loaded with quality matchups.
Saturday’s second-round slate is headlined by a pair of tests for No. 1 seeds and two intriguing clashes of style between No. 4 and 5 seeds. Here’s a look at Saturday’s eight games ranked from most to least compelling:
1. 1-Villanova vs. 8-Wisconsin (1:45 p.m. CST, CBS): The reigning national champs will get a huge opening-weekend test from a Wisconsin team gunning for its fourth straight Sweet 16 appearance. The Badgers lost five of six late in the regular season to fall out of Big Ten title contention, but they’ve righted themselves in the postseason. Bronson Koenig sank eight threes two nights ago, Nigel Hayes is averaging 16 points in his last three games and Ethan Happ could be a difficult matchup for an undersized Villanova team lacking a true center. Guard play will be an advantage for Villanova, but the Wildcats really need title game hero Kris Jenkins to rediscover his shooting stroke.Continue reading...
BY JOHN ROHDE
March 16, 2017
TULSA -- In the last 11 seasons, Kansas has been a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament seven times, which is more than any other program and that same span.
The Jayhawks’ impressive run of top seeds began in 2007 and they faced the winner of a play-in game between Niagara and Florida A&M. Niagara won to advance into the 64-team bracket, and three days later summarily got thrashed 107-67 by KU.
In those days, there was only one play-in game with the last two No. 16 seeds battling to become a sacrificial lamb as the No. 64 seed in the bracket.
In these days, there are four “First Four” play-in games in Dayton, Ohio. The last four No. 16 seeds battle for two spots, as do the last four at-large berths.
When the “First Four” made its debut in 2011, No. 11-seeded play-in winner VCU went 5-0 rather than the normally required 4-0 to advance to the Final Four, where it lost to Butler in a national semifinal at Houston.
In 2012, South Florida won its play-in game as a No. 12 seed, then posted an opening-round upset over No. 5-seeded Temple.
In 2013, La Salle won a play-in game as a No. 13 seed and upset No. 4-seeded Kansas State in the opening round, then got to the Sweet 16 with a victory over Mississippi.
In 2014, No. 11 play-in winner Tennessee destroyed No. 6 UMass 86-67, while fellow No. 11 play-in winner North Carolina State nearly won, losing to No. 6 Saint Louis in overtime.
In 2015, No. 11 Dayton survived a play-in game on its home court against Boise State 56-55 and then eliminated No. 6 Providence in the opening round before losing to Oklahoma.
In 2016, No. 11 seed Wichita State won its play-in game and promptly eliminated No. 6 Arizona.
A team that gets to face a play-in winner initially was portrayed as a huge break for whoever awaited the victor, but VCU obliterated that theory the first time the “First Four” was ever staged. Since then, a No. 4, No. 5 or No. 6 seed has been victimized every year.Continue reading...
BY JOHN ROHDE
March 15, 2017
From the jump, the 2017 NCAA Tournament will begin with an upset.
The No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup has become the tournament's most magnetic opening-round game, and we won't have to wait long for an upset.
The first two games in this year's tournament are No. 5 vs. No. 12 showdowns Thursday with No. 5 Notre Dame facing No. 12 Princeton at 11:15 a.m. CT and No. 5 Virginia against No. 12 UNC-Wilmington at 11:40.
Here are the all-time records since the tournament's 16-seed format began in 1985:
History shows No. 5 vs. 12 has the exact same overall record as No. 6 vs. No. 11 (8246), which mathematically defies the odds.
It's also worth noting that No. 8 vs. No. 9, viewed as the opening round coin-toss game, is dead-even at 64-64, so I suppose the selection committees deserve a pat on the back for that.
The No. 12 seed posted its first upset the same year the seed made its tournament debut when Penn defeated No. 5-seeded Washington State 62-55 in 1980. (Officially, the NCAA defines a tournament upset as "when the winner of the game was seeded five or more places lower than the team it defeated.")
As captivating as the 5-12 matchup has been, however, no No. 12 seed has ever advanced to the Final Four. Missouri came the closest, losing to No. 2-seeded Oklahoma 81-75 in the 2002 West Regional final at San Jose, Calif.
This year could bring the tournament's first opening-round sweep for No. 12 seeds. The No. 12s previously won three of four against the No. 5s in 2002, 2009, 2013 and 2014.Continue reading...
So many websites. So many games. So many decisions to make while filling out your NCAA Tournament bracket.
Feeling a little water-logged from hours of swimming on the web since this year's 68-team field was announced Sunday?
Looking for a site with all the NCAA Tournament information you need? The absolute necessities and the simple basics -- a printable bracket with the sites, dates, starting times, TV networks, plus quality insight on every opening-round game?
Tired of being lured in to all those "click bait" sites that require hitting "NEXT" page after page after page, which definitely is no fun when 68 teams are involved?
CBS Sports, USA Today, Yahoo! and ESPN are all terrific sites for the tournament. But when it comes to March Madness, I've found it best to go directly to the source.
That source is the NCAA.
So, look no further. The best website for NCAA Tournament nuts and bolts is ...
BY JOHN ROHDE
March 12, 2017
As a point of reference, here is the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s official seeding list No. 1 through No. 68 for this year's field:
Top 10 mistakes made by this year's tournament selection committee:
10. Syracuse deserved a bid … Nah, just kidding. The top team to not get an at-large bid was Illinois State (27-6), which was No. 69 in the committee’s overall seeding for the 68-team tournament. However, the Redbirds’ RPI ranking of No. 33 was higher than 15 teams that received at-large bids.
9. Vanderbilt became the first team ever with 15 losses to get an at-large bid. Not only that, the Commodores are a No. 9 seed and face No. 8 seed Northwestern, which is making its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchups are supposed to be intriguing. Maybe this one should be decided by SAT scores.
8. Michigan State had 14 losses, was seeded No. 40 overall, which equates to the final No. 10 seed, yet the Spartans somehow were given a No. 9 seed in the Midwest Regional. Not good news for No. 1-seeded Kansas.
7. Middle Tennessee State, where former Oklahoma State guard and Oklahoma City University coach Win Case serves as an assistant to head coach Kermit Davis, deserved an at-large bid rather than an automatic berth at No. 12. No harm done, however. At least we now know which team to pick in the obligatory No. 5 vs. No. 12 upset special when the Blue Raiders face Minnesota in the South Regional. In fact, every 5 vs. 12 matchup potentially could be upsetting. Ranking the other three in terms of likelihood: UNC-Wilmington over Virginia in the East; Princeton over Notre Dame in the West; Nevada over Iowa State in the Midwest.
6. Speaking of OSU, the Cowboys deserved better than a No. 10 seed. Yes, they’ve lost three straight, but they were against Iowa State (twice) and Kansas. OSU was ranked No. 35 overall by the committee, which equates to the third No. 9 seed. So what happened?Continue reading...
BY JOHN ROHDE
Alex Brown is in his 30th year as an athletic trainer at Oklahoma, and don’t dare ask him to rank his most memorable moments with the men’s basketball program. Such determinations are difficult when you have worked with three Final Four teams, three national players of the year, eight All-Americans and advanced to 21 NCAA Tournaments.
“All my favorite moments usually are road wins, but NCAA Tournament wins are always special,” Brown admitted. “Just going to the NCAA Tournament is special. My favorite day of the year is Selection Sunday.”
Brown also doesn’t share locker room banter, which falls under privileged information. “Hey, I can’t tell everything,” Brown said with a laugh before adding, “You’ll have to wait for my book.”
Nor should you ask Brown to reveal his most challenging moments as an athletic trainer. “There’s too many to mention,” Brown said.
The HIPAA Privacy Rule protects an individual’s health records and information, but many medical moments happen in plain sight and the Sooners have endured some doozies:Continue reading...
BY JOHN ROHDE
March 5, 2017
This season’s All-Big 12 men’s basketball awards will be revealed today, starting at noon. Voting was done by conference coaches, who were not allowed to vote for their own players.
Listed below are the correct answers. Let’s see how close the coaches are to getting it right.
You will notice a whole lot of Kansas listed here, but such things tend to happen when you’re ranked No. 1 nationally, own a 28-3 overall record, finish 16-2 in league play and win your 13th consecutive Big 12 regular-season title by four games in what the Sagarin Ratings calculate to be the nation’s top-ranked conference.
G – Frank Mason III (Kansas)
G – Monte Morris (Iowa State)
G – Jawun Evans (Oklahoma State)
F – Josh Jackson (Kansas)
F – Johnathan Motley (Baylor)
G – Jevon Carter (West Virginia)
G – Naz Mitrou-Long (Iowa State)
G – Devonte' Graham (Kansas)
F – Jeffrey Carroll (Oklahoma State)
F – Jarrett Allen (Texas)
Player of the Year: Frank Mason III (Kansas)
Newcomer of the Year: Manu Lecomte (Baylor)
Freshman of the Year: Josh Jackson (Kansas)
Coach of the Year: Bill Self (Kansas)Continue reading...
BY JOHN ROHDE
March 3, 2017
Kansas and Oklahoma State are the only two teams to already have clinched their seeds for the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament next week at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
It just so happens these same two teams close out the regular season by meeting at 5 p.m. on Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
By virtue of winning their 13th straight Big 12 regular-season crown, the No. 1-ranked Jayhawks (27-3 overall; 15-2 in Big 12) have locked the No. 1 conference tournament seed while the surging Cowboys (20-10; 9-8) have secured the No. 5 seed. Heading into Friday night's Iowa State at West Virginia game, no other Big 12 seeds had been determined.
OSU will play the No. 4 seed at 11:30 a.m. next Thursday. KU will follow that contest by facing the No. 8 vs. No. 9 first-round winner around 2 p.m. If the Cowboys and Jayhawks both win, they’ll meet in a tournament semifinal at 6 p.m. Friday.
So, with next week’s schedule already locked in place for the Cowboys and Jayhawks, why does Saturday’s game in Stillwater even matter? Plenty of reasons:Continue reading...