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January 14, 2014

Sooners ranked for first time since 2009

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When Oklahoma travels to Manhattan, Kan., to battle Kansas State it will not only be as the top scoring team in the Big 12 but as one of the 25 best teams in collegiate men's basketball.

The Sooners finished tied with UCLA for the No. 25 spot in the Associated Press' top 25 poll on Monday. OU's first appearance in the poll since Nov. 23, 2009, comes just two days after the Sooners defeated a top 10 Iowa State team at Lloyd Noble.

SCOOPHD: SOONERS HEAD TO MANHATTAN RANKED NO. 25


Video by Eddie Radosevich

It's the first time any of the OU players have enjoyed being recognized as an elite program, including its two seniors, Tyler Neal and Cameron Clark.

"First time in four years," Clark said. "It feels pretty good. We're just trying to keep working, just to climb up the polls."

While the ranking is nice, the Sooners will have to try not to lose it a day after they earned it against the Wildcats at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum. Kansas State, which was ranked earlier this year, will be hungry for a win following an 86-60 loss to rival Kansas in Lawrence, Kan.

KSU leads the Big 12 in scoring defense, giving up a stingy 59.8 points per game. OU hasn't been held under 64 points this season and ranked up among the top 5 scoring teams in the nation.

The Wildcats are led in the by junior Thomas Gipson, a 6-foot-7, 265-pound forward who could give OU problems in the post. Gipson averages 11.8 points and 6.3 boards per game.

The Sooners gave up a ghastly 52 points in the paint against Iowa State. It'll be sophomore forward Ryan Spangler job to defend Gipson, and Spangler's looking forward to it.

"It'll be fun," Spangler said. "He's strong, bigger than me, but I'll just have to use my strength and quickness and get around him."

To beat Kansas State, the Sooners will need to continue to get steady contributions from their starting five, out-hustle the Wildcats on the boards and play defense. When the Sooners hit all three of those goals, they win games.

All five of OU's starters average at least 10 points per game. Spangler leads the team in rebounding with 9.2 boards per game and five Sooners average at least 3.5 boards per game. Their defense has been spotty, though.

"Defending is the best thing we need to get better at," Spangler said. "Our shooting is going to come, and we'll get it done. But defense, we've given up so many points all year. We're trying to work on it. We just gotta keep people away from the rim."

The Sooners have failed to keep all three of the Big 12 teams they've played under 50 percent shooting and haven't shot better than 45 percent in any of those games. Oklahoma needs possession, needs to get out and run, needs to take more shots than its opponents to be competitive.

"We always try to do that, but Kansas State is very good at not allowing that," Kruger said.

But so far that strategy has worked more often than it has not. Still, the level of competition in the Big 12 is greater than OU's non-conference schedule.

The talent in the conference this year is greater, and that makes every game, especially games on the road, tougher to win.

"Way back in October not much was known about it," said Kruger about the Big 12. "Obviously, the teams during the non-conference portion of play showed that they're much better than what was expected early. Now it could be argued that it is the top conference in the country very easily."



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