Golden Eagles look for giant-killing mojo in the Southland

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Shawn Glover dribbles past Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield (AP photo)

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

During a three-year run atop the Summit League, Scott Sutton racked up some pretty impressive wins. He’s not about to let anyone, least of all his young Oral Roberts basketball squad, forget about it.

In the ’05-’06 season, ORU drubbed Southern Cal by twenty points. The next year, Sutton took his charges into Lawrence, KS and left with a stunning 78-71 upset of No. 3 Kansas on his resume. In ’07-’08, Oklahoma State and crosstown rival Tulsa felt his wrath.

In each of those seasons, the Golden Eagles went to the NCAA tournament as low-seeded auto-bid winners, and lost handily to power programs.

Then mid-major reality set in. Sutton’s team never lost more than five league games in any season since then, but losses in the Summit tourney left them outside the Big Dance, peering in. To add insult to injury, the far-flung Summit League kept adding ever more distant members, forcing the Golden Eagles to spend an unsustainable amount of money on the travel budget. When the opportunity came to join the Southland Conference a season ago, it was a fiscal no-brainer. The team never has to leave red-dirt country during conference play, and has the same single shot at making the NCAA tournament, so why not?

“It did make it a little bit easier, because you don’t have to worry about going up north and getting stuck in airports because of weather,” Sutton said. “Now we end up driving five or six hours for a lot of our trips. It has also allowed us to recruit south Texas and New Orleans more, which is great.”

(MORE: Read’s Southland Conference preview here)

Oral Roberts athletics

For Sutton and the Golden Eagles, getting that auto bid and a long-awaited return trip to the NCAA tournament has to be paramount. Nonetheless, wouldn’t a couple more marquee non-conference victories be nice? Especially if they teach David how to beat Goliath in March?

Sutton certainly isn’t ducking his opportunities. This year’s ORU slate is pretty brutal before New Year’s Day. November takes them to play at Tulsa again, then to the Little Apple to face Kansas State. Then it’s at St. Louis and at Wisconsin. In December, they visit Final Four darling Wichita State and swing on by Baylor to close out the year. For a lesser coach with a lesser team, it could be soul-crushing.

“We’re not quite as young as we look on paper,” Sutton warned. “This group ought to be able to withstand that schedule, and it’ll make us tougher and better.”

Sutton knows what he’s doing. He’s always got those wins in Lawrence and Stillwater to drag into the pregame talk, and you can bet he’ll point to future foe Gregg Marshall’s Shockers as evidence of the power of positive mid-major thinking.

“We’ve won a bunch of those games,” he said.”We mention them a lot, and it gives our guys confidence.”

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He’ll have some decent size, led by Utah transfer Shawn Glover, and he’s always done a great job of coaching up the players who come to play for him in Tulsa. The news that Missouri State transfer and Tulsa native Drew Wilson will be immediately eligible to play after applying for a hardship waiver was more good news. Throw in former Arkansas commit Dederick Lee and the Eagles have the look of a long-term contender.

“The Sutton name is good throughout Arkansas, because of my dad,” the ORU coach said, harkening back to the eleven quality years and a Final Four appearance his legendary father brought to the Razorbacks program in the 1970’s. “Dederick committed to Arkansas early, and when he decommitted, we jumped all over him. He likes that he has a chance to come in and be an impact player right away.”

Sutton expects senior forward Glover to challenge for league POY honors, and he likes the way his recruiting classes are layered behind the big man.  With point guard Jabbar Singleton leaving his hometown of New Orleans to team up with fellow freshman Lee in the backcourt, the future looks bright for the Golden Eagles.

The Southland is forewarned, for sure. But those giant programs with Final Four aspirations had better look out for Oral Roberts in November and December as well.

If all goes as planned for Sutton and Company, March could spell even more trouble for the nation’s bluebloods.

College Basketball Talk’s Top 25: Xavier, Syracuse, Texas A&M are big winners

AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.
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At this point in the season, I think it is still too early to solely base rankings off of on-the-court results. That’s why you’re going to find North Carolina higher in this poll than likely anywhere else on the internet. Until we see what the Tar Heels look like with Marcus Paige — which, mind you, could happen on Tuesday night when they host Maryland — I’m not sure I’m ready to drop them, even for a team that looks as good as Michigan State or Kansas.

The biggest risers of the week: Xavier and Syracuse, who both won big tournaments over the Thanksgiving holiday. They also both happened to knock off rivals in the process, as the Musketeers blew out Dayton while the Orange knocked off UConn.

1. Kentucky (6-0, LW: No. 1): Kentucky got a real scare over the weekend, as Tyler Ulis hyper-extended his elbow against South Florida. He appears to be just fine.

2. Maryland (6-0, LW: No. 2): The Terps have not looked great early on this season, but they’re going to get a real test on Tuesday when they visit UNC.

3. North Carolina (5-1, LW: No. 3): Here’s to hoping Marcus Paige is healthy when Maryland comes to visit this week.

4. Michigan State (7-0, LW: No. 4): Denzel Valentine has been sensational this season, but the most impressive part of Michigan State’s win over Providence on Sunday was that they did it while Valentine was in foul trouble and struggling to shoot the ball.

5. Kansas (4-1, LW: No. 6): The Jayhawks had a pretty good week. They won Maui, they blew out a good Vanderbilt team, Wayne Selden showed up and Cheick Diallo got eligible. I hope Bill Self bought some lottery tickets.

6. Villanova (6-0, LW: No. 5): I really like the Wildcats this year, I do, but I dropped them a spot for two reasons: 1. I thought Kansas was better entering the season and the Jayhawks looked terrific this week in Maui, before Cheick Diallo played, and 2. Villanova hasn’t beaten anyone of note yet. Next Monday they get Oklahoma. We’ll know then.

7. Iowa State (5-0, LW: No. 7): The Cyclones are 5-0 with wins over three high-major programs, but their best win may be the win over Chattanooga. I think we’ll really get a feel for how good this team next month, when, in a 12-day stretch, they get Iowa, Northern Iowa and Cincinnati on the road.

8. Oklahoma (4-0, LW: No. 8): The Sooners put a whooping on Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon, the kind of performance that made it very clear Oklahoma is a contender this season and Wisconsin is not. Buddy Hield has been terrific, but so has big man Ryan Spangler.

9. Duke (6-1, LW: No. 10): The loss to Kentucky continues to look like the aberration in Duke’s early season schedule, as they rolled over Utah State and Yale this week. The big news: Luke Kennard has finally found his rhythm, as he scored 22 points and went 4-for-5 from the floor on Sunday.

10. Virginia (5-1, LW: No. 11): Virginia has won four straight since their loss at GW, scoring at least 80 points in every game and never giving up more than 66. It’s not the stiffest of competition, but it should go to show you (like I said at the time) that the loss at GW said more about GW than Virginia.

11. Xavier (7-0, LW: No. 21)
12. Purdue (6-0, LW: No. 15)
13. Vanderbilt (5-1, LW: No. 16)
14. Miami (5-1, LW: No. 9)
15. Syracuse (6-0, LW: UR)
16. Texas A&M (6-1, LW: UR)
17. Gonzaga (4-1, LW: No. 17)
18. Oregon (5-0, LW: No. 25)
19. Cincinnati (7-0, LW: No. 20)
20. Baylor (4-1, LW: No. 22)
21. Butler (4-1, LW: No. 23)
22. UConn (4-2, LW: No. 18)
23. Providence (6-1, LW: UR)
24. West Virginia (6-0, LW: UR)
25. SMU (4-0, LW: UR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 12 Cal, No. 13 Arizona, No. 14 Indiana, No. 19 Notre Dame, No. 24 Wichita State

WEEKLY AWARDS: Denzel Valentine’s big week, Kansas makes a statement

Denzel Valentine
(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

In the title game of the Wooden Legacy, a game that was billed as a matchup between the two best players in college basketball — Valentine and Kris Dunn — Valentine was downright bad …

… by his standards. He finished with “just” 17 points, six assists and five boards. I say “just” because, in the previous two games of the tournament, the Spartan superstar averaged 30.5 points, 10.0 boards and 8.0 assists. He’s been, hands down, the best player in college basketball this season, and that didn’t change this week.


  • Ben Bentil, Providence: Kris Dunn is the guy that is going to get all the national praise, but it was Bentil’s emergence that was critical for the Friars. He averaged 21.7 points and 6.0 boards in three games in the Wooden Legacy, carrying PC when Dunn was battling foul issues.
  • Wayne Selden, Kansas: The highlight of Selden’s week was scoring 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting in the Maui title game win over No. 19 Vanderbilt. For the week, he averaged 19.3 points and shot 12-for-17 from three.
  • Justin Robinson, Monmouth: Robinson averaged 25.7 points in three games for Monmouth at the Advocare Invitational. The Hawks beat No. 17 Notre Dame and USC in the process, only losing to Dayton by three.
  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina: Remember when Justin Jackson was struggling? He averaged 21.5 points, 9.0 boards and 5.0 assists in wins over Northwestern and Kansas State. That came on the heels of a 25-point performance in the loss at Northern Iowa.
  • Henry Ellenson, Marquette: Ellenson notched three straight double-doubles for the Golden Eagles this week, which included 16 points and 11 boards in a win over Ben Simmons and LSU.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas headed out to Maui as a team that many weren’t really sure what to make of. They looked good against Michigan State for 30 minutes, then they blew that game as Denzel Valentine went bananas. They had as much depth as anyone in the country, but Brannen Greene was suspended, Cheick Diallo was ineligible and Wayne Selden was the most notable of a handful of talented players that had been somewhere between inconsistent and ineffective this year.

That all changed in Maui — well, other than Greene’s suspension — as Kansas rolled over Chaminade, UCLA and Vanderbilt to bring home the tournament title. Blowing out Chaminade was to be expected. But beating down a talented UCLA team? Dominating a very good Vanderbilt squad? That’s the Kansas we’ve been hoping to see show up for a few years now. The question is whether or not it’s sustainable, and at least on paper, it appears to be. Selden’s shooting percentages will come back to earth, but his raw numbers are less important than his confidence and aggressiveness. Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham are going to continue to take pressure off of each other in the back court. Perry Ellis isn’t going anywhere.

I questioned whether or not Kansas was truly one of the nation’s elite when the season started. I think they answered that question for me.


  • Xavier: The Musketeers not only won the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, they blew out in-state — and former Atlantic 10 — rival Dayton in the finals.
  • Syracuse: The Orange are going to be a factor in the ACC this season. How much? I don’t know. But after winning the Battle 4 Atlantis by knocking off No. 18 UConn and No. 25 Texas A&M, it’s clear they’re going to be involved all season.
  • Northeastern: The Huskies picked up a road win against No. 15 Miami on this buzzer-beating jumper.
  • Arkansas-Little Rock: The Trojans picked up their second huge road win of the year, going into Tulsa and knocking off the Golden Hurricane. They’re now 5-0 on the season, having also won at SDSU.
  • Tournament winners: West Virginia knocked off Richmond and San Diego State to bring home the Las Vegas Invitational title, No. 24 Cincinnati beat Nebraska and George Washington in the Barclays Center Classic and Marquette knocked off LSU and Arizona State to win the Legends Classic.


Tuesday: No. 2 Maryland at No. 9 North Carolina, 9:30 p.m.
Wednesday: Butler at No. 24 Cincinnati, 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday: Louisville at No. 3 Michigan State, 7:15 p.m.
Wednesday: No. 13 Indiana at No. 6 Duke, 9:15 p.m.
Saturday: No. 11 Arizona at No. 10 Gonzaga, 3:15 p.m.