The University of Oklahoma and Ole Miss have a little bit of sports history at least in the arena of football. We can all surely remember Deuce McAllister running all over the Sooners in the 1999 Independence Bowl, and we definitely remember the supremely unwarranted awarding of the 2003 Heisman Trophy to OU quarterback Jason White over our beloved and absolutely perfect son Eli Manning.
But we’re not in football mode right now. We’re in the madness of March - the 68-team Bloodsport-esque tournament to award a champion, win or go home. Ole Miss’ first round opponent in the 8 seed versus 9 seed match is the aforementioned Sooners.
Oklahoma’s SB Nation blog, Crimson and Cream Machine, was kind enough to sit a spell with us and answer a few questions about this year’s edition of Sooner basketball and what Ole Miss fans can expect when Friday’s game tips off. C&C Machine’s main contributor is Jack Shields whose Q&A left me a little miffed I didn’t ask him about Boise State running back Ian Johnson to be honest.
OMTB: The narrative for this OU team seems to be that they beat expectations in the loss of Trae Young. How do you think the fan base views this narrative and are fans just “happy to be here?”
JS: The answer is complicated, to say the least. If you had told me in September that this team would go 19-13, beat Kansas in Norman and end up as a 9-seed, I would’ve been thrilled. Having said that, this is the most experienced high-major team in the nation, so some of this group’s issues have been discouraging. Leadership, effort and consistency have been lacking, which shouldn’t be the case for a team with this make-up.
Things got off to a great start for a team that was picked to miss the NCAA tournament and finish near the bottom of its league. They played with great effort and seemed to have the mental toughness to make a bit of noise during conference play. Unfortunately, that didn’t come to fruition. Christian James began to climb into his own head offensively, Jamuni McNeace never fully recovered from his injury issues, and the general effort and focus began to wane.
Are people happy that this team made the tournament in a stop-gap season? I’d say ‘content’ is probably the better word, but their path to this point has been disheartening all the same.
OMTB: Looking at common opponents, y’all were able to beat Florida 65-60 early in the year. What went right for Florida in that game that Ole Miss could potentially replicate?
JS: Honestly, the Gators shot 39 percent from the field and were outrebounded 48-34, so it’s tough to pinpoint an area at which they thrived in that one. Having said that, this is a very different Oklahoma team without rim protector Jamuni McNeace, who hasn’t been himself since early December. Florida probably would’ve won that game with McNeace being in his current state. I’d expect him to give it a go on Friday, but you might see 10 minutes of him.
OMTB: Two more common opponents were losses to Baylor (who Ole Miss beat) and Iowa State (who Ole Miss also lost to). What went wrong for OU in those games that fans can watch for?
JS: Baylor smothered OU’s offense in the first matchup (77-47), forcing the Sooners into a 29 percent shooting performance. In the second matchup, OU did quite well defending and hung with the Bears the entire time, but late offensive rebounds doomed the Sooners (as they have many times this season.
OU played pretty well in the first matchup against Iowa State in Norman before Iowa State’s best players made the late plays to put them over the top. That’s been kind of a theme throughout the season, as no one was ever really able to come up with the big bucket in close games. The second matchup was just a typical loss at Hilton Coliseum (Cyclones get hot, the crowd gets into it and it all just snowballs).
OMTB: SEC or Big XII — which conference is stronger this season in basketball?
JS: The SEC is much better at the top with Tennessee, Kentucky and LSU, but eight of the Big 12’s teams are playing in either the Big Dance (6) or NIT (2). All 10 teams have great coaches, so this conference is always going to be a gauntlet. However, there really isn’t a great team this year, so I’d have to give the slight edge to the SEC in 2018-19.
OMTB: If there’s one player Ole Miss fans need to watch for other than Christian James, Brady Manek and Kristian Doolittle who is an X factor for this team, who would that be?
JS: Jamal Bieniemy would definitely be that guy. The true freshman point guard (who is the nephew of Eric Bieniemy) doesn’t always look to score but is a fantastic distributor who takes decent care of the basketball. When he looks to score, he’s fairly effective in doing so.
OMTB: Final questions — have you been to the Grove and why was it the best place on the planet? Also, what adult beverage will you be drinking during the game?
I’ve never been to The Grove, but I’ve driven through Oxford. Believe me, The Grove is absolutely on the bucket list. As far as adult beverages are concerned, I’m a simple man. Frankly, I never really matured as a drinker after finishing my undergraduate studies, so I won’t be sipping on a nice bourbon or scotch during the game. I’ll be hosting a watch party and will likely be pounding whichever beers are in my fridge (let’s check – PBR, Founders All Day IPA, Abita Mardi Gras Bock, Rogue Dead Guy Ale and some CUHHHHHRS LAHT) and occasionally taking shots of whatever liquor people bring over. With the early start time, my pregame might involve a Bloody Mary or two, as well.
Don’t forget to go on over to the C&C Machine and see our answers to their questions - it is a certainly very entertaining read. Comment or tweet @redcuprebellion with your thoughts on this OU take on Friday’s first round NCAA Tournament game.