KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The odds are long, but Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger and junior forward Romero Osby have experienced improbable conference tournament runs.
Winning four games in four days is extremely difficult for lower seeds that don't receive a first-round bye.
But it has happened.
The Sooners open the Big 12 Tournament Wednesday night against Texas A&M. With a win they would face No. 3 Kansas, which won its eighth straight conference title and owned huge second-half leads in both OU games.
To reach Friday's semifinals the Sooners, then might have to upset No. 12 Baylor, with No. 5 Missouri the favorite on the other side of the bracket.
“Teams that have to play four in four days are not as good as the other teams to start with,” Kruger said. “Then you add to that the fatigue factor. You have to have everyone healthy and have everything fall into place. It's indicative why it doesn't happen very often.”
Cinderella stories are rare, but 16 Division I teams have won four games in four days to secure the conference's automatic NCAA Tournament berth.
During Osby's freshman season at Mississippi State, the Bulldogs won four games in four days, highlighted by wins over No. 20 LSU and a win over Tennessee in the finals.
“That's our goal this week, to do the same thing, go in there and win but take it one game at a time,” Osby said. “We're not going to look past Texas A&M. It starts with them. ... But a lot of the teams in the Big 12 have locks.”
The similarities between OU and that Mississippi State pretty much end at Osby, though.
The 2009 Bulldogs were 19-12 overall, 9-7 in conference play.
The Sooners are 15-15 overall, 5-13 in league play.
“But we had a similar season,” Osby said. “We've lost some games we could have won. (At the SEC Tournament) we played together, played smart, defended, got key rebounds, shared the ball. That's what we hope to do here.”
Kruger's Cinderella story at Illinois was more similar to OU, but it didn't produce a silver-slipper-ending like Osby at Mississippi State.
The Illini were 11-17 overall, 3-11 in league play heading into the 1999 Big Ten Tournament.
Then Illinois won that many league games in three days. Each win was a monumental upset.
It started with a 33-11 lead en route to a win over No. 23 Minnesota. In the quarterfinals, Illinois dominated No. 17 Indiana, 82-66.
In the semifinals, Illinois upset No. 11 Ohio State, which would play in the Final Four. After the game, Buckeyes coach Jim O'Brien called Illinois the best last-place team in America.
“It was a very young team that continued to improve all year,” Kruger said. “We got on a little bit of a roll in the tournament, made shots and our confidence went up. I'm sure the ... teams that have done it gained some momentum day to day.”
The run ended in the title game against No. 2 Michigan State, which also advanced to the Final Four.
To duplicate the 1999 Illinois team's shocking run, the Sooners must play solid for 40 minutes, an element that's been missing all season.
“This team has had stretches where they're good enough,” Kruger said. “But we've also had stretches that we can't overcome, whether it's a breakdown defensively or not shooting well one night or (lack of) rebounding one night. We just haven't been consistent.”
One advantage for lower seeds is they can play with a nothing-to-lose attitude.
“It's possible. It can be done,” said forward Andrew Fitzgerald. “The New York Giants were a wild card and went on to the win the Super Bowl. As a team we have the right mindset to do it. We just have to go do it as a group.”
A six-game losing streak snuffed out OU's shot at playing in the NIT. But the Sooners have played better the past two weeks with wins over Oklahoma State and Texas A&M and solid road performances at Baylor and Texas.
“If you go into our locker room you still see guys hungry to win,” said point guard Sam Grooms. “We've never lost hope. I tell people you can't get too high, you can't get too low. It's how you respond to things. This team continues to work hard on getting better.”
More than half of the four-tournament-wins success stories were from Conference USA and the SEC, where there are fewer land mines to navigate, not a bracket stacked with Kansas, Missouri and Baylor.
But it has been done 16 times.
“There have been teams like us but got on a run in the tournament,” Grooms said. “Once they get the momentum they go with it and do something that nobody thought they could do. That's our goal.”
Four on the floor
Sixteen teams in Division I men's basketball history have won four games in four days to win their conference tournament and earn the automatic NCAA Tournament berth.
Year Team (conference)
1985 Auburn (SEC)
1997 Marquette (Conference USA)
1999 UNC-Charlotte (Conf. USA)
2000 Arkansas (SEC)
2000 Saint Louis (Conference USA)
2001 Iowa (Big Ten)
2004 Xavier (Atlantic 10)
2006 Syracuse (Big East)
2006 Xavier (Atlantic 10)
2008 x-Georgia (SEC)
2008 Pittsburgh (Big East)
2009 Mississippi State (SEC)
2010 Houston (Conference USA)
2011 Ark.-Little Rock (Sun Belt)
2011 y-Connecticut (Big East)
2012 Western Kentucky (Sun Belt)
x-won four games in three days
y-won five games in five days
Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.
TV: KOCB-34 (Cox 11)
Radio: KOKC-AM 1520
Three things to know
* The Aggies rallied to win 81-75 in overtime six weeks ago. OU held on 65-62 last Saturday in Norman.
* Romero Osby has shot 76 percent (19-for-25) and averaged 21.0 points in two games against A&M.
* Elston Turner has averaged 17.0 points in two meetings against OU; David Loubeau 15.5.
Texas A&M (13-17)