NORMAN — There’s been a perceived cold war between the Big 12 Conference and the schools that have left the league in the last two years.
Texas has vowed to keep Texas A&M off its schedule in every sport. Kansas has done the same with Missouri. Rivalries that go back more than a century are stuck in limbo after the Aggies and Tigers left the Big 12 for the SEC.
Oklahoma, however, hasn’t waited long to smash the ice. It will face Texas A&M at 1 p.m. today in the All-College Classic at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
If the Sooners are committing a faux pas, no one informed coach Lon Kruger. He didn’t know OU would be the first Big 12 school to face Texas A&M since the split and he didn’t seem to care.
“We like playing against people that are good people and work hard at it,” he said.
In truth, what the Sooners get from today’s game is to continue what evolved into grueling basketball rivalry over the last decade.
Last season’s three meetings were displays of the way these teams have played. The Aggies rallied to win at home in overtime. The Sooners hung on for a one-possession victory in Norman. The decider was the first-round meeting at the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Mo. Texas A&M rolled to a 62-53 victory than ended OU’s season.
That last meeting still irks the Sooners for several reasons. The biggest reason being that the loss ended their season.
“It was a game where we didn’t really play like we wanted to,” OU guard Cameron Clark said. “We’ve had to time to improve on things since. We need to show them that.”
Changes have been made since that last meeting. The additions of forward Amath M’Baye and freshmen guards Buddy Hield, Je’lon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins add an element that was not present nine months ago.
Above all else, the Sooners (6-2) need to win. Today, is their last chance for a resumé-building non-conference victory for the NCAA Tournament. They whiffed after swings against No. 14 Gonzaga and Arkansas. The Aggies (7-1) lack one, too, as they move toward SEC play next month.
Both teams’ rationale for playing is to play a neutral site game against a team from a major conference. The history they have between each other is a bonus.
“They’re an old Big 12 team now. It would mean a lot to beat them and leave a bad taste in their mouth. That’s the biggest thing we’re looking forward to,” OU guard Sam Grooms said. “We want them to feel what we felt in March.”
Old feelings have a way of lingering around. It’s true, the Sooners and Aggies are no longer conference rivals. But it’s going to take several years from past games’ memories to fade. Some of those will come up today.
It always happens when teams with long histories meet.
“It’s a rivalry,” OU forward Romero Osby said.
The conference logos on the jerseys don’t change that.
John ShinnFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org