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Lon Kruger knows how tough it is to win in the NCAA Tournament

Kruger coached the Florida Gators to the 1994 Final Four. For 20 years, he’s been trying to get back. And Kruger hasn’t come close.
by Berry Tramel Published: March 19, 2014

/articleid/3944983/1/pictures/2379684">Photo - OU coach Lon Kruger watches his team practice Wednesday in Spokane, Wash. 
                  Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
OU coach Lon Kruger watches his team practice Wednesday in Spokane, Wash. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

Kruger coached Kansas State to a regional final in 1988, then Florida to that 1994 Final Four.

“When you go and then you don’t go the next couple three years after that, I remember it felt more empty having been there,” he said. “Time’s kind of made that a little less obvious, but still that’s the feeling. Everyone wants to go. Not as coaches as much, but having been there, you know what it means to your players, what it means to your fans and how special it is. You want your players and fans to experience that as often as they can.”

Beating North Dakota State would do wonders for the Sooners. It would be a reminder of what this program once did and could do again.

“I think that to keep building this program, we need a win and to get more wins,” said OU center Ryan Spangler.

For better or worse, college basketball is a post-season sport. Status and reputation are determined in March. The regular season really doesn’t matter.

Heck, beating North Dakota State would be a morale boost just to win a tournament game. Kruger’s teams are 0-3 in the Big 12 Tournament, along with that loss to San Diego State.

Kansas City and then the NCAA are “a bigger stage,” said OU senior Tyler Neal. “A lot of March is experience. Simply put, in the past 5-6-7 years, since Blake and those guys, we haven’t had a lot of post-season experience. So that’s what we’re trying to build.”

The Sooners have a proven coach in Kruger. His NCAA Tournament record isn’t shabby; 15-14. That’s better than Sampson’s 11-11 NCAA record with the Sooners, and most everyone accurately remembers Sampson as a good March coach.

But a good coach isn’t enough. Not in March. Not when you’re a 5-seed playing a hungry 12-seed. Not when you’re in the tournament that allows for no mulligans. Not when you’re in an odyssey that can eat the lunch of even Lonnie Kruger.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at

by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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