Oral Roberts bidding for return to NCAA tournament

Wednesday, November 1st 2006, 10:31 pm
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ The key word for Oral Roberts this basketball season is experience.

The Golden Eagles have experienced players, including a pair of three-year starters in Ken Tutt and Caleb Green, a two-time Mid-Continent Conference player of the year. They have experienced coaches: Scott Sutton, beginning his eighth season, is the longest-tenured NCAA Division I coach in Oklahoma, and his three assistants _ Tom Hankins, Conley Phipps and Corey Williams _ have been with him since the beginning, making the foursome the longest-tenured staff at any Division I school in the country.

Then there's the experience the Golden Eagles enjoyed last season of playing in their first NCAA tournament in 22 years. Oral Roberts received a No. 16 seed and lost to No. 1 seed Memphis in the first round, but at least ORU made it. In 2005, a last-second shot in the conference tournament final cost the Golden Eagles a spot in the big dance.

Oral Roberts, coming off a 21-12 campaign, opens this season on Nov. 10 at Loyola Marymount. ORU is a consensus pick to win its third straight Mid-Con title, and Sutton and his players freely acknowledge the season will be a disappointment if they aren't again in the 65-team NCAA tournament field.

And this time around, they'd like to stay a bit longer.

``If we can win some (regular-season) games we can and should win, and get a better seed, I think this team has a chance to win a game or two in the NCAA tournament,'' Sutton said. ``That's our goal. I don't have a problem with saying that if we don't get there it will be a disappointing season. A lot of things can happen with injuries and things like that, but if we stay healthy it'll be disappointing if we don't get there.''

That might be a dangerous psychological approach to take if the Golden Eagles weren't a veteran-laden squad. Sutton believes his players understand why he's talking about the NCAA tournament even before the season begins.

``We're used to high expectations,'' Green said. ``We try our best to live up to them. Going to the tournament was a big deal for this program. Every year that me and Ken have been here we've progressed. This program is headed in the right direction.''

Green and Tutt are the primary reasons for Oral Roberts' recent run of success. Green, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward out of Tulsa Memorial High School, has received honorable mention on The Associated Press' All-America list the past two seasons and is on the preseason watch list for the Wooden Award, given annually to the nation's best player.

With 1,805 career points and 874 career rebounds, he's on pace to join Marc Acres _ who later played in the NBA _ as the second player in ORU history to reach 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. He also has a realistic shot at breaking the Mid-Con's career records in those two categories.

Tutt, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound shooting guard from Garland, Texas, has 235 career 3-pointers and is ninth on the school's career scoring list with 1,468 points. He's twice been a first-team All-Mid-Con selection and was the league tournament most valuable player last season.

If Tutt and Green both reach 2,000 points, they'll become the seventh set of teammates in Division I history to reach that milestone together.

Sutton thinks Adam Liberty, a junior transfer from _ and former starter for _ Wichita State, will step in for the departed Jonathan Bluitt at point guard, and that another newcomer, Kelvin Sango, and returnee Moses Ehambe should give the Golden Eagles plenty of backcourt depth.

In the frontcourt, Sutton raves about 6-foot-10 center Shawn King, a junior college transfer whom the coach believes will offer a major defensive presence. Yemi Ogunoye, a 6-foot-9 junior, has a 72-inch wingspan, started 17 games for Oral Roberts last season and likely will be the other starting forward, along with Green. Sophomore Marchello Vealy, a former prep state player of the year in Oklahoma, will provide depth.

The Golden Eagles' schedule includes trips to Kansas, Georgetown, Arkansas, Tulsa and Brigham Young, as well as a neutral-site game against Seton Hall and home games with Akron and Lamar.

``It will be disappointing if we don't win 20-plus games,'' Green said. ``Not making the tournament would be devastating.''