Welcome back to the NCAA Tournament, Cowboys and Sooners.
It's been two long years since Oklahoma State made the field and three longer years since Oklahoma did. But on Sunday, we learned that both of you survived the selection process, impressing the judges and moving on to the big show.
So, you think you can dance?
Now that you're in, Cowboys and Sooners, are you going to stick around awhile?
Not to get greedy or anything, but it seems like it's been so long since either team made the tournament that it'd be a bummer if both were out before next weekend. We want to see you dance for awhile.
There's never been a better year to do it.
No team in this dance has a perfect routine. Each and every team in the tournament has flaws, including the No. 1 seeds. Louisville, Kansas, Indiana and Gonzaga occupy those top spots, but three of the four have at least five losses. None has been a dominator.
Gone are the days of John Wooden at UCLA and Patrick Ewing at Georgetown and all those players everyone loved to hate at Duke. Heck, even the supremacy of Kentucky last season seems long ago and far away.
Can anybody really dance anymore?
That question begs another — why couldn't the Cowboys or the Sooners dance for awhile?
OSU has a dance card that is manageable.
As the No. 5 seed in the Midwest Region, the Cowboys open against Oregon. The Ducks weren't seen by bracketologists as a bubble team, but they got a bubble seed. Even though the Ducks notched regular-season wins against UCLA and Arizona, then won the Pac-12 Tournament, they did lose eight games. That included losses to fellow tournament teams Cincinnati, Colorado (twice) and California (twice), but it also included clunkers against UTEP and Stanford.
Beat Oregon, and St. Louis likely awaits OSU.
“No one on our team is a quitter,” Cowboy big man Michael Cobbins said. “Everybody is a competitor. No one likes to lose. No one wants to get embarrassed on TV. So, we go out and play our hearts out.”
Why couldn't the Cowboys dance into the Sweet 16?
OU has a more uncertain dance card.
For starters, the Sooners are the No. 10 seed in the South Region. They will face No. 7 San Diego State, a team that will be favored but that has been almost as up and down as OU has been. The Aztecs were picked to win the Mountain West during the preseason and were 16-5 at one point. But they finished the season 6-5, including being manhandled by New Mexico in the conference tournament.
Say this for the Aztecs: Their coached knows how to dance. Steve Fisher took Michigan to three NCAA title games, winning the 1989 championship.
Then again, the Sooners have a coach who also knows a step or two. Lon Kruger is the first coach to take five different programs to the dance.
But still, the Sooners finished the season like a team that's about to be tapped on the shoulder and asked to leave the dance floor. Blew a huge lead at Texas. Suffered an embarrassing loss at TCU. Floundered against Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament.
Momentum isn't exactly on their side.
“The opportunity to play, that's the most important thing,” Kruger said. “Just to be in the field and having an opportunity to play.”
He's right, of course. Anything can happen in this tournament, and this year, that's more the case than ever before.
Listen, neither of these teams is going to be confused with the Tony Allen and John Lucas Cowboys or the Blake Griffin or Hollis Price Sooners. That was golden era of hoops in our state, times when we used to have squads that regularly danced all the way to the Elite Eight and the Final Four.
But after a couple years of no Cowboys and no Sooners in the NCAA Tournament, this feels like the good days. It's grand fun having OSU and OU back in the show.
How far will they dance? How deep will they advance?