NORMAN — It’s been a while since a fresh coat of polish was put on the Bedlam basketball rivalry. Oklahoma did its last waltz in March in 2009. Oklahoma State has been on the outside looking in on the Big Dance since 2010.
The time away from the national spotlight hasn’t been healthy for either program or the rivalry that has pushed both for decades.
However, this season has brought the sense of turning tides for both. It will be on display when the Sooners (10-3, 1-0 Big 12) host the Cowboys (11-3, 1-1) at 2 p.m., today at Lloyd Noble Center.
“It feels like the stakes are a little higher,” OU forward Romero Osby said. “Every game is important, but it is Bedlam and we have it at our house for the first time this year.”
This game was once a measuring stick for both programs. These games would decide high seeds for the Big 12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament in March. If you were good enough to beat the rival, you were good enough to beat everyone else.
It got away from that recently. The Sooners have struggled, winning just 14 Big 12 games since 2010. Three of them have been against the Cowboys at Lloyd Noble Center.
Today’s edition of Bedlam is about much more than pride in OU’s case. OU doesn’t have a player on its roster who has been part of a 2-0 start in conference play. Last Saturday’s victory at West Virginia opened some eyes that the Sooners are rising this season. Bedlam — and the interest it brings — is a bigger stage.
“It would be really big,” OU guard Steven Pledger said. “We haven’t started out 2-0 in a while. It would give the whole team confidence and let’s us know we can do it.”
“It” means being a competitive team in the Big 12 Conference again. The way you prove it is by beating teams that have proven they’re at that level.
The Cowboys have shown flashes of that this season. Freshman guard Marcus Smart, who is projected as a lottery pick in the NBA draft, has reinvigorated OSU. It will come to Lloyd Noble Center after rolling TCU, 63-45, on Wednesday.
OU got to see it. The Sooners haven’t played since that conference-opening victory at West Virginia last Saturday. The time off was filled preparing for the Cowboys.
“It’s a big game for us. We consider every game a statement game as far as playing the next 17 like it’s the only one. It’s a little easier to do that for this one,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “Oklahoma State is the in-state rival and they’re a really good basketball team. We need to back up that road by protecting our home court; that’s the challenge.”
It’s the same confrontation OU and OSU teams have been facing for years. What seems to have changed is winning the in-state rivalry means more than bragging rights for the first time in years. It means a notch up in the conference standings and knowledge that winning is actually proof that either can beat quality opponents.
The Bedlam basketball rivalry once got a shiny coat of polish twice a year because it was two really good teams on the court. The victor knew it had come away with a quality win.
All indications point toward retrieving that status today.
John ShinnFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org