What the Oklahoma men's basketball has been able to do in the last three seasons has been quite remarkable.
This was a program that was in terrible shape in Jeff Capel's final season in 2010-11. In just two years, new head man Lon Kruger had the Sooners in the NCAA tournament for the first time since Blake Griffin was assaulting the rims at Lloyd Noble Center.
However, you could say Kruger has done an even better coaching job this year. The Sooners weren't expected to do much this year—an NIT berth seemed like the most likely scenario. Yet here the Sooners are at 15-4 and ranked for the first time in four years.
Surely Kruger and the Sooners would appreciate it if the rest of Sooner Nation took notice.
Attendance has been a problem at men's basketball games for several years, and there are several reasons for that. First, the product on the court was simply not good. After the Sooners' went to the Elite Eight during Blake Griffin's sensational season, OU dropped off and dropped off hard. In just two seasons, Oklahoma went from 30-6 to 14-18 and Capel was shown the door.
Second, Lloyd Noble isn't a great place to experience a basketball game. It's hard on the eyes and doesn't hide its age well. It has nothing that would be considered a modern amenity, especially in this age of spaceship-like arenas.
But those excuses don't hold water today. The product the Sooners are putting on the floor this season is much improved and a lot of fun to watch. Wednesday's game against TCU was my first time to see OU in person and while that game wasn't a great indication of how fun the Sooners can be, they still put up 77 points on an off night.
Lloyd Noble still isn't great, but it's not the pits either. Plus, if you're coming to a game because you love basketball, you probably don't care what the arena is like. Sure, you'll take note of the deficiencies but those won't stop you from coming back. If they do, that's just silly.
The Cotton Bowl was a dump before it was renovated prior the 2008 OU-Texas game, but the attendance never suffered. Why? Because people cared about the game much more than the venue.
Technically, attendance is up for the Sooners this year. Last year, OU averaged 9,890 fans per home game; this year the Sooners are at 10,339. Obviously, those are the numbers of tickets purchased, not actual butts in the seats. Still, the Sooners are 18th among this week's AP top-25 in average attendance this season. However, five of the seven teams below OU have arenas with smaller capacities than Lloyd Noble.
Unfortunately for the Sooners, the estimated actual attendance of games this season paints a much bleaker picture. This year's average attendance stands at 4,815, a low number for any major school, much less a Big 12 program ranked in the top 25.
Kruger and the Sooners deserve better than that. Excuses only go so far before it becomes a thing of apathy. It shouldn't be an issue of price either. OU single-game tickets are as cheap as $10 with a $5 increase for Kansas and Oklahoma State. You can't tell me there aren't 12-13,000 people within 30 minutes of Norman that are available to go to a game for two and a half hours?
Look, I understand football is king in Oklahoma. That's not going to change anytime soon. But that doesn't change the fact Kruger's crew deserves much more support in the stands than they're currently getting.
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