Contemplate these two scenarios: Would you rather earn a NCAA tournament berth and lose in what amounts to a non-competitive game in the first round, or win a first-year tournament of which not many outside of Tulsa were aware?
Of course, we're talking about Oral Roberts University and the University of Tulsa from a season ago. The Golden Eagles trounced the competition en route to another Summit League championship.
Its reward? America's hottest team, Big East champion Pittsburgh Panthers. An 82-63 score was disheartening for a squad that figured to be due.
"The NCAA is so difficult because when you're a 13, 14 or 15 seed -- you're playing one of the top teams in America. It almost takes a perfect game to upset them. We need to take the next step and hopefully get a better seed.
"Hopefully with the respect that we've been given, we've improved our seed every year, hopefully we can continue that. I'll never apologize for getting to the NCAA tournament but it is a goal of ours and a goal of mine to get past the first round," said ORU men's basketball coach Scott Sutton.
On the other end of town, the Golden Hurricane is just looking to dance. The College Basketball Invitational was a startup tourney a season ago. No one knew quite what to expect.
Solid crowds and a tremendous learning experience were the two things TU men's basketball coach Doug Wojcik took away.
"The place was rocking. You kind of rekindle the Missouri Valley days. So I think it excites the fanbase and excites everybody who's working to make us better," he said.
This year the stakes are higher. ORU is coming off three-straight NCAA tournament appearances. The Summit League's teams are improving. Can ORU defend the Summit League crown with an eye toward making waves in the NCAA tournament?
Conference USA coaches think enough of TU to pick them to finish third in a preseason poll. You know what this means? Nothing, preseason polls are worthless.
But they create coffee pot gossip and that's a good thing.
Both TU and ORU are gearing up for a clash on Saturday, Nov. 15. The teams tip off their respective seasons against one another in the Mayor's Cup.
The game takes place at the Reynolds Center, 11th and Harvard. Both athletic departments understand the difficulty in drumming up support for a college basketball game in the midst of football season. The cross-town rivalry is the perfect idea.
"It's always big. It's a special game. It's a great rivalry we have with the University of Tulsa. As a coach, as a player, it's a lot of fun to be a part of," said Sutton. He admitted that, with it being the first game of the year, it's a bit odd.
The teams usually battle after a few easy home victories are in hand. This year, both will be tested in the first game of the season.
"I think it's great. It's our home game and we were able to work it out with them that we wanted to open the season with them," said Wojcik. His TU team travels to Oklahoma State five days later for another intrastate rivalry game.
TU leads the series 28-15 overall. However, since 2003 ORU has captured the Mayor's Cup four out of five times.
Perhaps one day the crowd buzz will mandate a shift to the BOK Center. The teams and arena could offer up $5 tickets and pack the facility to the rafters.
This could generate the requisite buzz both teams search for early in the season. Just a thought. Now on to individual team breakdowns.
Paging Gene Simmons
The University of Tulsa hired a real gem four years ago. Doug Wojcik's pedigree was unquestioned. Defense, rebounding and assist to turnover margin were the key items he stressed.
He uses the same philosophy today. Now he has a few blue-chip prospects filling the paint, launching three's and driving the lane, making plays.
Senior stalwarts Ray Reese and Sam Mitchell have started every game during Wojcik's tenure. Reese's powerful body allows him to play fantastic on-ball defense. His shooting acumen is matched only by his attitude.
"I want to win every game no matter what it is. I want to win. It could be video games. I want to win," said Reese.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound forward wants to finish his career on the right note. "I think the NCAA is the next step for us. We're trying to do everything to get to that point."
Three juniors join the two seniors, providing stability to the young team. Bishop Wheatley is a four-year player who red shirted one season.
Ben Uzoh and Jerome Jordan will be household names across America by season's end. The Hurricane will go as far as Uzoh and Jordan take them.
Uzoh is the all-around best player on the floor most nights. "Even though he would never say he's the best player. I'm going to sit here and tell you he is. Now, he knows it's his time. His ball skills have really improved," said Wojcik.
Coach attributes much of Uzoh's off-season improvement to a trip overseas where he played alongside some kids from Memphis.
"I think he's got great characteristics to be a leader in whatever he chooses to do. I've always felt that the personality of the team... you have to have your best players sort of dictate things.
"He's making people around him better and that's a great characteristic," coach said about Uzoh.
His partner in crime is the 7-foot monster on the blocks. When Jerome Jordan arrived in Tulsa he had few basketball skills. His short stint playing high school ball was his only experience in the sport.
The first few years were marked with promise. Last year started out much the same. The writing was on the wall but results were slow to follow.
Coach hears the comments and sees the predictions. He's a bit slower to anoint Jordan the next big thing in T-Town hoops lore.
"Expectations are up. What will dictate things is how his teammates play around him. I think he'll always be a presence defensively for us. He's too big and his timing is too good not to be.
"I think he'll rebound the basketball and make free throws. What will he average per game - both points and rebounds - hard to say. I think he can improve on the four plus blocks from last year.
"Jerome wasn't as strong and as quick last year. I think he will be this year," said coach.
Jordan hails from Kingston, Jamaica. He leisurely strolled about the halls of the Reynolds Center during media day. Some of the players seemed overwhelmed at the experience. Are they giving the best possible answer? Not Jordan.
"I think everybody has to change and have a little bit of a mean streak to them once they get on the court to be a good basketball player," said Jordan.
These players all sing team goals. Coach Wojcik is one of the few coaches to mention individual success through team concept. Novel idea.
"Maybe try to lead the nation in blocks," said Jordan before slipping in the team concept. "Other than that, just go out and play hard every day and win as many games as we can.
"You pretty much have to be in the right place at the right time and just have good reflexes and good timing. I'd rather block a shot (than dunk)," said the 7-footer.
Can TU close the Memphis gap this year? The Tigers lost superstars to the NBA. They don't rebuild, they reload.
"We did a very good job in here last year and held them to 56 points -- we just have to score more than 41," said Wojcik with a smile.
Players to watch: Keep an eye on sophomore Glenn Andrews and freshman Joe Richard.
Visit www.tulsahurricane.cstv.com for schedule and ticketing information.
Fly like an Eagle
The Golden Eagles reek of excellence. It starts at the top with head coach, Scott Sutton. This will be his 10th season leading the team from the bench.
This will, however, be the first season in the past five years or so that ORU will not trot out a huge inside presence. Caleb Green and Shawn King are gone. Coach doesn't seem as worried as others.
"Marcus Lewis is a true low-post presence. A guy who can really score around the basket," said Coach Sutton. Lewis is a wide body at 6-foot-8, 265 pounds. The senior is a great all-around player. A throwback post player.
Christmas presents come in all shapes and sizes. For ORU, it's another low-post player. "The second semester we have a kid coming in named Kevin Ford who sat out last year after transferring. He'll bring us size. He'll bring us athleticism. With those two guys we feel pretty good about the second semester. We're going to have a good inside presence," assured Sutton.
Senior guard Kelvin Sango is the leader. The young kids look to him for guidance. Coach looks to him for stability and defensive prowess.
"This is a huge year. I can't wait to play. I'm determined and ready for the first game. I'm trying to get back to the NCAA. I'm ready," Sango said.
The ORU squad seems poised to start TU's season with a loss. "I always look forward to playing TU every year. You know that's our rivalry game. We've got to get the Mayor's Cup. I can't wait to play them. It's going to be an exciting game with a lot of people there," Sango said.
When the "Bad Boys" Detroit Pistons were terrorizing the NBA, their sixth man was affectionately known as the "Microwave."
Robert Jarvis was a replica for the Golden Eagles a year ago. This year, he'll likely start rather than igniting from the bench.
The 5-foot-11 (I don't think so) guard makes Ken Tutt's release look slow. The dreadlocked one launches the kind of three pointers that make a coach cringe... until it tickles the twine.
"We feel like we have some returning guys like Robert Jarvis and Marcus Lewis that could have special years for us, but we're really going to have to depend on some new guys.
"You never know fully what to expect until you get them for some extended time. I like the potential of this team. I think this team - by January and February - we'll be a very good basketball team. Until then we're probably going to struggle a little bit," said Sutton with a hint of honesty not typically associated with coach speak.
A topsy-turvy start to the season could add excitement to the home stretch. Can the Eagles survive the early stages and rebound strong and find themselves in the Big Dance once again this year?
"In basketball the most important thing is how you're playing late in the year," said Sutton.
No Oklahoma State on the Golden Eagles schedule this year. Whew. However, the squad travels to Chapel Hill for a showdown with powerhouse North Carolina in mid-December.
Visit www.orugoldeneagles.com for schedule and ticket information.
Pass the Ball
OU and OSU get their own love next week. The Thunder gets no love. And the Tulsa 66ers? You'll have to wait and see.
In the meantime, just consider giving basketball a tryout this November. Sure, this is the most exciting football season these parts have seen in eons. Sure there is a good chance all three state schools are playing in New Year's Day (or later) bowls.
Sure, we have three of the most electric offenses in the nation playing each Saturday. Wait, what was my point?
"We are going to destroy TU by 35 points on November 15," said Sutton.
"When we're finished with ORU, they'll have to cancel the rest of their season we'll beat them so badly," said Wojcik.
Yes, I made those last two quotes up. Neither coach made either of those remarks. But it was only an attempt to generate a little buzz for the Mayor's Cup. Did it work? Guess we'll find out November 15.
Share this article: