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November 13, 2008

Notebook: Oklahoma could face early test

Maybe the game won't show up on too many radars, but it's intriguing nonetheless.

Not only were American and Oklahoma - who meet Friday night in Norman - NCAA tournament teams last season, but they were both in the East Regional and played at the same first-round site in Birmingham, Ala.

The sixth-seeded Sooners won their first-round game, while the 15th-seeded Eagles put up quite a fight against Tennessee before succumbing.

Each is picked to win its conference this season. American is the favorite in the Patriot League, while Oklahoma received the top spot in the Big 12 preseason poll for the first time.

That is where the similarities end. The Sooners are a bigger, stronger team than the Eagles. They will run much of their offense through 6-foot-10 sophomore power forward Blake Griffin, who is a difficult matchup for anyone, much less the American frontcourt, which goes 6-8, 6-6 and 6-5.

Griffin shot 100 percent from the field in OU's two exhibition wins. That's not a misprint. He made all 16 of his shots in the Sooners' routs of Division II teams Panhandle State and Cameron.

"Griffin is just a beast," American coach Jeff Jones told Rivals.com Thursday morning shortly before boarding a plane for Oklahoma. "He's so good. He can handle it, he can pass it, he plays very, very hard. He presents all kinds of problems, not just for us but for anybody."

But OU could have its hands full, too. Eagles guards Garrison Carr (5-11) and Derrick Mercer (5-9) are quicker than hummingbird wings. Jones runs Carr off more screens than Toshiba produces.

"Garrison and Derrick are very excited and the team overall is excited but with the understanding that we're facing a very challenging opponent," Jones said. "Mercer, Carr, (Brian) Gilmore and (Jordan) Nichols - our most experienced guys - really look forward to these kinds of challenges. We scrimmaged Richmond and Virginia Tech. They love playing schools from bigger, more prominent leagues. We're anxious to see if we can compete."

Carr is one of the nation's leading 3-point threats. He ranked fifth nationally in 3-pointers per game (4.1) last season. He hit six against Tennessee in the first-round NCAA loss en route to 26 points.

"One person can't guard him," Vols guard Chris Lofton said that day. "He comes off eight or nine screens. I had to take a break in the first half. I was dead."

Sooners five-star freshman point guard Willie Warren will have the unenviable task of chasing Carr and/or Mercer for much of the night. It should be an interesting matchup.

Jones said he's familiar with Warren from having watched him on the AAU circuit, but that obviously his players haven't seen the highly touted Warren.

"He's just a verstatile player," Jones said. "He can score, shoot it off screens, standing. He can take you off the dribble. When he gets it going it can be a long night.

"Garrison will have to do a good job on the defensive end. And we're counting on him to carry our offense, too."

Trivia question

Who holds the Oklahoma single-game record for field-goal percentage (minimum 10 attempts)? (Answer at the end of the column.)

Spark for the Spartans

You can bet Tom Izzo had Michigan State a bit more focused for its two exhibitions this season after its shocking 85-82 double-overtime loss to Division II Grand Valley State (Mich.) a year ago.

The Spartans went 2-0 with an average winning margin of 52 points. They scored 118 points in the first game and 112 in the second.

The depth is incredible. It's not inconceivable to believe Izzo could employ a 10- or even 12-man rotation.

One revelation for MSU has been the play of sophomore guard Durrell Summers. He averaged 4.9 points and 2.5 rebounds last season, but it certainly looks as though he'll play a more prominent role this season. Summers scored 30 points in just 16 minutes off the bench in the 118-57 thrashing of Northern Michigan in the first exhibition. He got the start against Lake Superior State (Mich.) and followed with 18 points in 19 minutes.

Summers shot a sizzling 69.2 percent (18-of-26) in the two games, including 5-for-10 from 3-point range.

"I think he will play a big role because he can defend and he is great rebounder and he has improved his shooting and gotten better with the ball," Izzo said. "He has made great strides, and I am expecting big things from him."


Sports Illustrated released its college basketball preview issue this week, and it utilized six regional covers. On each cover are a men's player and a women's player from the same team. The featured pairs are: Courtney Paris and Blake Griffin of Oklahoma; Briann January and James Harden of Arizona State; Rashanda McCants and Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina; Ashley Barlow and Kyle McAlarney of Notre Dame; Shavonte Zellous and DeJuan Blair of Pittsburgh; and Maya Moore and Hasheem Thabeet of Connecticut. Three Big East pairings? Doesn't sound so regional. Meanwhile, no one from the SEC. You'd think Tennessee would have been a good choice, given the success of both of its programs. And what about the Big Ten?

USF announced the signing Wednesday of high school prospect Jordan Dumars, the son of Detroit Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars. Jordan Dumars plays at Detroit Country Day, which produced Chris Webber and Shane Battier. Interesting first name his dad gave him.

The Big East announced Wednesday that senior associate commissioner John Marinatto would replace the retiring Mike Tranghese as commissioner effective July 1. Marinatto joined the league in 2002. "I believe I have a rather unique perspective of this conference in terms of its genesis and evolution and as a result have a passion when it comes to its future," said Marinatto, a Providence alum. "You cannot know where you are going unless you understand and appreciate where you are from. I truly believe the next decade will be the best for this conference."

Arkansas State coach John Brady will begin his new job in a familiar place. Brady, a former LSU coach, takes the Red Wolves to open their season at Ole Miss on Friday. Brady's Tigers went 4-7 against the Rebels in Oxford.

Trivia answer

Alvan Adams made all 11 of his shots in a 91-66 victory over San Diego State on Jan. 5, 1974.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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