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Sooners seeking a March reboot

Oklahoma forward Brady Manek (35) talks with head coach Lon Kruger during a timeout on March 1 at Oklahoma State. [AP Photo/Brody Schmidt]
Oklahoma forward Brady Manek (35) talks with head coach Lon Kruger during a timeout on March 1 at Oklahoma State. [AP Photo/Brody Schmidt]

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — OU coach Lon Kruger hopes the NCAA Tournament provides a chance for the Sooners to reset.

Instead of playing a team that’s intimately familiar with the Sooners, they’ll face one who has to put in a crash course to prepare for a game next weekend.

Instead of moving quickly from game to game, Kruger’s team is getting some rare downtime and time to practice.

OU improved quickly in early January and into February, taking the college basketball world by storm with a trio of consecutive wins over top-10 opponents and eventually elevating to No. 7 in the country. All of the sudden, Final Four talk didn’t seem too outlandish.

But the Sooners enter the tournament having dropped five of their last six and now the question becomes can they win a game in the tournament?

“I like our team a lot,” Kruger said. “This group’s done an amazing job when you think back in November where we were at, the progress we’ve made, what they did with the great streak in January to early February. Tough finish, but they bounced back.”

The Sooners will be in the tournament for the seventh time in Kruger’s 10 seasons — and would’ve been safely in the field a year ago had the tournament not got washed out due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

OU and 67 other teams will learn its NCAA Tournament spots beginning at 5 p.m. Sunday on CBS.

“This group will be excited about what happens on Sunday and be excited about the next opponent, without question,” Kruger said. “Deservedly so. I’m proud of them.”

The Sooners were in position to get a No. 2 seed before their recent swoon.

Now, they’re likely in the 7-8 range, putting them in not only a first-round game against a team with a similar resume, but setting them up for a second-round game against a top-two seed should they get past the first round.

“It all comes down to … putting a whole game together,” Brady Manek said after Thursday’s loss to Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament.

That has been a problem for the Sooners recently, as they’ve shown flashes of the team that soared early, but too many times they dug themselves into a hole and too many times they struggled in the closing minutes.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, as of Saturday afternoon, had the Sooners as a No. 8 seed, matchup up against Florida in the first round and potentially No. 1 overall Gonzaga in the second. The Bracket Matrix, a composite of bracket projections, puts the Sooners as the final No. 7 seed.

“We’re down right now and we gotta come back,” Manek said.