By KEVIN LONNQUIST
Big 12 Insider
Lon Kruger might be the quietest successful coach in college basketball. His career in the game has been a bit nomadic, starting with UT-Pan American, moving to his mater, Kansas State, and then stops at Florida, Illinois, UNLV and now Oklahoma.
The 60-year-old’s career has spanned four decades. But one thing stays the same; he makes programs better. Kansas State went to the tournament in each of his four years. Florida made the 1994 Final Four. Illinois danced in three of four years. After a failed experience in the NBA with Atlanta, he rightfully returned to college in Las Vegas. UNLV enjoyed its most successful run since Jerry Tarkanian with four NCAA Tournament appearances in seven seasons.
Then Kruger went to Norman, OK in 2011 and inherited a scandal-ridden mess left by Jeff Capel. Understandably, the Sooners struggled to a 15-16 record last year.
Not this year.
Oklahoma is 14-5 and tied for second in the conference at 5-2. Kruger’s program enters a pretty defining stretch here in the next 10 days. The Sooners play host to No. 18 Kansas State Saturday, play at Iowa State on Monday and then host Kansas Feb. 9.
Should this program find a way to net two wins, it really enhances its chances of returning to the tournament.
Kruger, now 508-328 in 27 seasons, just has that calming effect on a program. He makes the murky waters seem clear. Kids play for him and his teams usually play their best basketball around this time of the year. For example, senior forward Romero Osby is having an all-Big 12 conference season averaging 14 point and six rebounds per. Only four times has he missed double figures scoring. Only five times has he grabbed less than five rebounds.
The Sooners have converted 70 percent at the free throw line in 10 of their last 13 games. They also aren’t beating themselves, committing 12.6 turnovers. That’s the Kruger influence. Some would think that Oklahoma’s return to Big 12 legitimacy is one of the bigger stories of the season.
For Kruger, that’s just the way it is and his track record.
BIG 12 WEEKEND
The Red Raiders have lost their Big 12 games by 14 points or more.
Oklahoma State (14-5, 4-3) at No. 2 Kansas (19-1, 7-0)
3:00 p.m. Saturday (Big 12 Network)
The Skinny: The Jayhawks have struggled offensively but opened up a two-game lead in the conference title race. Senior guard Travis Releford has been in double figures for 16 straight games.
Oklahoma State has won two straight games and needs a big win to improve its NCAA resume.
Kansas State rebounded nicely from the loss at Iowa State by drubbing Texas, 83-57.
Baylor (14-6, 5-2) at Iowa State (14-6, 4-3)
7:00 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2)
The Skinny: Both teams are coming off of heartbreaking losses in the middle of the week. Baylor lost to Oklahoma, 74-71. Iowa State lost to Oklahoma State, 86-84.
Baylor would like to keep a share of second place. But the Cyclones need the win and protect their home floor.
Texas is averaging 64.7 points. TCU is at 54.7… Yikes!
NEWS & NOTES
• Big Monday returns to Morgantown, W VA where Texas visits West Virginia. ESPN may be bracing for a ratings nightmare with two teams who are both out of the Big 12 race and likely not in position to appear in the postseason.
• In the first 35 conference games played through this past Wednesday, three have gone to overtime and another 17 have been decided by 11 points or less. Expect the trend to continue this weekend.
BIG 12 BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS
During the Big 12 conference basketball season, Rattle and Hum Sports unveils its power rankings. We also provide our postseason tournament projections.
1. Kansas – Games at Iowa State and at Oklahoma still loom.
2. Oklahoma – Sooners have already equaled 2011-12 win total.
3. Kansas State – Wildcats in Norman Saturday.
4. Baylor – Tough home loss to Oklahoma Wednesday; test at Iowa State Saturday.
5. Oklahoma State – Cowboys earn huge home win against Iowa State.
6. Iowa State – Cyclones now in win one, lose one mode.
7. West Virginia – Only one player averaging double figures.
8. Texas – This is just a nightmare of a season.
9. Texas Tech – Red Raiders average less than 11 assists per game.
10. TCU – Winnable game in Austin Saturday? Unlikely .
Projected NCAA Tournament teams: Kansas, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor
NIT Tournament teams: Oklahoma State, Iowa State