Think your favorite college basketball team has bad luck?
Well, look on the bright side. At least you’re not Lon Kruger, king of the bad beat this season.
“There have been so many,” Kruger said earlier this week in a phone interview. “We actually had three in a row that really got us there midseason. We led Iowa State by six with 40 seconds to go, we were up three shooting free throws with 12 seconds to go at Texas, we were up four here against Oklahoma State late and we get the offensive rebound and just throw it away. We have had a lot of games like that, where you look back and say, ‘If only.’ ”
Throw in the fact that Oklahoma was in the Final Four less than a year ago, and its tumble to the bottom of the Big 12 standings (9-18, 3-12) seems all the more painful.
It has taken a rotten string of events combined with subpar basketball for OU basketball to drop so far so fast.
Everyone knew it would be hard for Kruger to replace superstar Buddy Hield and forward Ryan Spangler this year, but few thought he would also have to replace Jordan Woodard. The team’s lone senior starter and best overall player missed a string of games early and was recently ruled out for the season with a torn ACL. A young roster has played hard in his absence and pulled out some big wins, such as an 89-87 upset at West Virginia. Too often, though, they have lost close games.
“That’s been the common refrain,” Kruger said. “When you get in those last three or four minutes you have to be tougher and stronger with the ball, and you have to finish opportunities we haven’t done a good enough job with that. We can hang in there, but we can’t quite finish. We just have to keep working at it and keep getting better.”
Of Oklahoma’s 18 defeats, 11 have come by single digits. The losses have worn on Kruger, but he has tried to downplay them with his team.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Hey, if we flip those losses to wins it would be a much different outlook,’” Kruger said. “But every team could say that this time of year. You prefer winning games, for sure, and yet our objective is pretty much the same as it is every year. We want to get better and learn how to compete at the Big 12 level. That’s something this group has grown with, but hasn’t gotten over the hump.”
This isn’t your typical last-place team. At the least, it plays everyone tough, throwing upset scares into opponents who are favored.
K-State coach Bruce Weber expects a challenge when the Wildcats take on the Sooners at 5 p.m. Saturday at Lloyd Noble Center.
“They have a lot of individual talent and they continue to battle,” Weber said. “They just have lost a lot of close games. It’s not going to be an easy game by any means.”
Weber and Kruger can relate when it comes to narrow losses. Eight of K-State’s 11 losses have come by single digits, including four by a single possession. It will be fascinating to see how each team reacts should Saturday’s game come down to the final moments.
The Wildcats will be fighting for the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners will be fighting for pride in hopes of finishing the season strong.
With most of the roster coming back and highly regarded point-guard recruit Trae Young coming in, they could be setup for a bounceback year.
“We really like the group we have coming in and the group we have coming back,” Kruger said. “But we aren’t thinking about next year yet. We are looking to win games these next three weeks.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett
Kansas State at Oklahoma
- When: 5 p.m. Saturday
- Where: Lloyd Noble Center, Norman, Okla.
- Records: KSU 17-11, 6-9 Big 12; OU 9-18, 3-12
- Radio: 1480-AM, 102.5-FM, 107.9-FM
- TV: ESPNU
Kansas State (17-11, 6-9): The Wildcats need every victory they can muster to strengthen their argument for an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament. They appeared to be on their way to making the bracket at this time last month, but losing 7 of 9 has put them on the edge of the bubble. K-State might actually welcome this game being on the road. The Wildcats have won two of their past three road games while losing four straight at home. Iwundu has been on a tear, averaging 15 points and 9.3 rebounds in his past six games.
Oklahoma (9-18, 3-12): The Sooners could be featured in a bad-luck meme. No team, it seems, loses more close games than Oklahoma. Seven of their 12 conference losses have come by single digits. Losing top scorer Jordan Woodard for the season hurt. But the Sooners have been playing hard ever since. In their last three games, they beat Texas, led late at Oklahoma State and narrowly lost at Baylor. This isn’t your typical last-place team.
RPIs as of Friday: K-State 59, OU 169.