One of the best players in the country is in town, but Oklahoma can’t yet worry about the possibility of facing him.
The 12th-ranked Sooners look to do their part to set up what could be a terrific matchup when they face Mississippi Valley State on Monday in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Oklahoma (1-0) is hosting one quarter of the bracket for this event, and can advance to play the winner of Monday’s first game at the Lloyd Noble Center between No. 21 Davidson and James Madison. The Wildcats feature star guard Stephen Curry, who was fourth in the country last season at 25.9 points per game.
The Sooners will first focus on beating what should be a tired Mississippi Valley State (0-2) team. The Delta Devils will be playing for the third time in four nights and enter after a humiliating 76-25 loss at Washington State on Saturday.
Oklahoma star Blake Griffin, meanwhile, tries to follow up on a stellar season debut. The forward, who opted to return for his sophomore season with the Sooners instead of jumping to the NBA, finished with 24 points and a career-high 18 rebounds in an 83-54 rout of American on Friday.
Griffin recorded his 11th career double-double, but was only 5-of-14 on free throws. He is the first Oklahoma player in 13 years to be named to the AP preseason All-American first team.
“He can shoot the ball,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “It’s something he’s worked on. … He’s really worked to expand his game to be more than just a dunker.”
The Sooners also got a boost from sophomore reserve Cade Davis, who scored 11 points to match a career high.
“One of the things Cade does every time he’s in the game - and he did this last year - he just gives you energy,” Capel said. “It just feels like a little bit of electricity, like a jolt to the team. He is very, very valuable to us, not just the fact that he makes shots.”
Heralded freshman guard Willie Warren had a solid debut with 10 points as the only other Sooner to reach double figures. Warren is the Big 12 preseason freshman of the year.
Oklahoma is participating in the NIT for the fourth time. The Sooners are 3-3 all-time, but have never advanced to New York for the semifinals.
The Delta Devils are already playing a ranked team for the second time this season after a season-opening 80-64 loss at No. 15 Arizona State on Friday. They were much worse the next night, though, managing only nine baskets in the loss to Washington State.
“It’s clear that Mississippi Valley State had an off night,” Washington State coach Tony Bennett said. “I don’t want to make too big a deal of it.”
The Sooners and Delta Devils have met only once previously, a 117-95 win for Oklahoma in 1991.