Unbeaten Sooners on tap for Razorbacks in Tulsa

Oklahoma guard Milos Uzan (12) leads a fast break in front of Providence guard Jayden Pierre during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/Nate Billings)

TULSA — Big 12 basketball coaches weren’t high on Oklahoma when they voted in the conference’s preseason poll in October.

The Sooners were picked to finish 12th among 14 teams in the expanded Big 12 and ranked ahead of only newcomers BYU and Central Florida.

But Oklahoma has far surpassed those low expectations going into today’s game against Arkansas at the BOK Center in Tulsa.

The Sooners are off to their first 8-0 start since the 2015-16 season and ranked No. 19 in The Associated Press poll.

Arkansas (6-3) opened the season No. 14 in the AP poll, dropped to No. 20 after a home loss to North Carolina-Greensboro and fell out entirely after losses to Memphis and No. 9 North Carolina at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

“I would say that all preseason polls are so meaningless,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “In football, basketball.

“Because you just don’t know about chemistry. You don’t know how pieces are going to fit together. Everyone’s rosters are fluctuating.

“I don’t know how anybody can have a true gauge when as coaches, we don’t really know our team, I don’t think, until the end of December. I think teams are still trying to figure things out.”

Porter Moser, who has a 42-33 record in his third season as Oklahoma’s coach, added several impact transfers who have blended well with returning players.

“I love what Coach Moser’s done,” Musselman said. “I think he’s done an incredible job.”

Top returnees for the Sooners are sophomore guards Otega Oweh, averaging 15.4 points, and Milos Uzan, averaging 8.6 points and 4.4 assists, and 6-10 senior forward Sam Godwin, averaging 8.3 points and 6.3 rebounds.

Impact transfers are junior guard Javian McCollum (from Siena), averaging 14.3 points; junior forward Jalon Moore (Georgia Tech), averaging 9.4 points and 6.3 rebounds; 6-10 junior center John Hugely (Pittsburgh), averaging 11.3 points and 5.8 rebounds; and senior guard Le’Tre Darthard (Utah Valley), averaging 7.9 points.

“I knew they were going to be good,” Musselman said of the Sooners. “I thought the transfers they got were really good players and I thought their returners were really good players, and I know [Moser] is an awesome coach.

“So that’s a recipe to have a good team. An undefeated team and a ranked team. You have to bring your A-game to compete with Oklahoma.”

The Razorbacks might be without sophomore forward Trevon Brazile for today’s game. He hasn’t practiced since spraining his left ankle in Arkansas’ 97-83 victory over Furman on Monday night and is questionable to play against Oklahoma.

But Arkansas has already shown it can beat a ranked team without a key player with its 80-75 victory over then-No. 7 Duke at Walton Arena when junior guard Tramon Mark — averaging a team-high 17 points — was sidelined.

Mark played off the bench against Furman and could be back in the starting lineup today.

“With Arkansas, what you think of is extreme length and athleticism, and playing really hard,” Moser said. “They get their athleticism into the game. They’ve got multiple scorers. But you’ve got to match their effort with their athleticism.”

The Sooners have earned their national ranking with victories over teams from the Big Ten, Pac 12 and Big East.

Oklahoma won the Rady Children’s Hospital Invitational in San Diego by beating Iowa 79-67 and USC 72-70. It beat Providence 72-51 at home on Tuesday night.

The Friars took a 42-41 lead with 14:16 left before a layup by Hugely started a 31-9 closing run by the Sooners.

“Oklahoma’s a really well-coached team with talented players. They play hard,” Providence coach Kim English said. “They have a good spirit.

“We didn’t play well, and Oklahoma probably had a lot to do with it.”

McCollum led the Sooners with 19 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals and Uzan had 17 points, 12 rebounds and 4 steals.

Oklahoma grabbed 10 offensive rebounds and scored 16 second-chance points. For the season the Sooners have a plus-9.5 advantage in rebuilding margin per game.

Arkansas outrebounded Furman 40-34, but gave up 15 offensive rebounds.

“We were supposed to dominate the glass, not barely win it, and we didn’t do that,” Musselman said. “Why that was, I’m not sure.

“But if we don’t come to rebound against Oklahoma, it’s not going to be a close contest. If somebody is as aggressive as Oklahoma going to the glass, you’ve got to defensive rebound one through five.”

This is the third consecutive season Arkansas was ranked in the preseason poll then fell out.

The previous two seasons the Razorbacks bounced back to advance to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight and Sweet 16. They also were an Elite Eight team in 2021 after a 1-5 start to SEC play.

“I know Arkansas, they do it every year,” Moser said of the Razorbacks improving as the season goes on. “They’re going to be there at the end. They’re going to be playing really, really good. And they’re an outstanding team.”

Moser said the Sooners have gradually built confidence going back to the offseason.

“I think confidence comes from preparation,” Moser said. “I think confidence comes from all the work they put in this summer.

“They invested this summer in coming together. They invested this fall in the different boot camps we did.

“We’re playing together. We space it. We share it. We’re together defensively.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but that’s what confidence comes from. It doesn’t just come from one magic win.”

Oklahoma is going for its first NCAA Tournament bid under Moser, the former Arkansas-Little Rock coach who led Loyola Chicago to the Final Four in 2018 — when the Ramblers beat Musselman’s Nevada Wolf Pack in a Sweet 16 matchup — and to the Sweet 16 in 2018.

“Where we want to go, it’s part of it,” Moser said of the Sooners dealing with higher expectations. “You’re not going to get where you want to go without some accolades and hype.

“Just can’t get too high and get too low. When you lose, you can’t get too down.

“Basketball’s a long season. There’s many opportunities, many games. You’ve got to keep grinding, get better.

“Arkansas in Tulsa is going to be a huge game for them and us. They’re really good, and so are we. I think it’s going to be a great game.”