March 20, 2009

It's Gameday! OSU back in NCAA Tournament

It's time to strap on those dancing shoes, because Oklahoma State officially re-enters the NCAA Tournament today.

The Cowboys, out of the Big Dance since 2005, are finally back. After a 22-11 season, the Pokes were able to earn a No. 8 seed in the East Region in the tournament. Their reward is the No. 9 seed Tennessee Volunteers (21-12), the highest seed out of a weak SEC Conference in 2008-09. The game is set for an 11:25 a.m. Central Time start and will be televised by CBS.

The Vols are coming off a 64-61 loss to Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament title game last weekend. Before that, they won five of their last six games, with the only blemish a 70-67 loss at home to Alabama.

OSU head coach Travis Ford believes this will be an interesting matchup.

"They're a very good team; they're playing great basketball right now," Ford said. "They ran off several games to get themselves into the tournament. They play a very fun style of basketball. What (Bruce) Pearl has been able to do there the last couple of years has been great. He's revitalized that program. Everybody knows they play in an aggressive, fun, exciting style of basketball."

Tennessee is led on the court by forward Tyler Smith, who is averaging 17.2 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per game. Forward Wayne Chism follows closely, averaging 13.8 ppg and 8.1 rpg. Guard J.P. Prince is putting up 10.1 ppg.

Being the typical 8/9 matchup, there doesn't appear to be a lot of differences between OSU and the UT. But there's one area where The Vol Navy has a decided upper-hand.

"Our team has never experienced this," Ford said. "Tennessee's players have been in the tournament for the past couple of years so they know what it's all about. So we've got to get our players, not just physically ready for Tennessee, but mentally ready to prepare for what the NCAA Tournament is all about. Not let outside distractions and all the other requirements that go into playing in this game - the news conferences and different things like that. We've got to stay focused on our game play and keep these guys focused."

Senior Byron Eaton can't help but to think back to the last time the two schools played. That was in Nashville in 2006. The Vols edged out the Pokes, 79-77, on a last-second tip-in. But most than just buckets was going on by the end of that one.

"They beat us and they talked bad to us," Eaton said. "The fans talked bad to us. So hopefully we can come out and get this win. Just have fun and not let anything come from the past and harm us or start doing things we don't normally do."

To win this game, the Pokes will need solid performances from Eaton, James Anderson and Terrel Harris. And if a guy like Obi Muonelo steps up in a supporting role then that could be enough to advance to round two.

"I felt like in the Big 12 Tournament I really got back in a groove of what I need to do for this team and how I can be successful and make my team more successful," Muonelo said. "And we beat a really good team in Oklahoma so that gave us some more confidence. And I really felt we should have won the game against Missouri, so I still feel like our momentum is going well into this tournament."

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