TULSA — It's a new conference and the same mission for Scott Sutton and his Oral Roberts basketball team.
The Golden Eagles left the Summit League after winning their fifth regular-season championship, moving to the Southland Conference for the upcoming season. And no different than before, ORU will seek out respect with a handful of games against teams from bigger conferences and then buckle down to try and earn an automatic trip to the NCAA tournament.
"Our main goal is to get the NCAA tournament and win the conference, like it was in the Summit," said guard Warren Niles,
"To do that, we're going to have to play defense because we can score. We're just going to have to play defense and rebound."
Just like the Summit League, the Southland has never placed an at-large team on the NCAA bracket. Oral Roberts tried to make a case last season, setting a record for most wins during the school's Division I era with 27. It still wasn't enough, and a dreadful stretch during a 54-53 loss to Western Illinois in the conference tournament semifinals dumped the Golden Eagles into the NIT.
This season, it'll be the Southland's automatic bid that ORU is chasing as the preseason favorite in a poll of the league's coaches.
"We won't change anything up," said Sutton, who led Oral Roberts to the NCAA tournament in 2006 through 2008. "I think the league, just from the outside looking in, is probably more of an athletic league. The Summit, for the most part, you knew going in you were going to face some size. It seemed like everybody had a true center. This league, you'll probably face more 6-6, 6-7 athletes that are having to play the (center) position. But that's not going to change how we play."