Horning: Sooners' lackluster presence precedes poor shooting against Jayhawks

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

OU head coach Lon Kruger gives instructions to his team during the Sooners' game against Kansas, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, at Lloyd Noble Center.

Tulsa's BOK Center will soon host a budding border rivalry.

Oklahoma announced a two-game, neutral-site series with Arkansas on Wednesday. The first meeting is scheduled for Dec. 12, 2020, and then the following season on Dec. 11, 2021.

Both games will be played at BOK Center, which the universities hope will become the site of a college basketball staple.

Tickets for both contests will be split evenly between OU and Arkansas, and fans will be divided at the halfcourt line.

Think OU-Texas football. Just without the corny dogs.

"We're very excited to partner with the University of Arkansas and BOK Center in creating a new basketball series which we believe will develop into a fantastic pre-holiday tradition," OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said in a release.

"Our goal is to turn this border rivalry into a weekend-long event that brings together two passionate fanbases and creates an atmosphere second to none. The setting is a world-class venue located approximately halfway between the two campuses."

The series pits OU coach Lon Kruger against Arkansas skipper Eric Musselman, who was an assistant on Kruger's Atlanta Hawks staff from 2000-02.

Considering OU and Arkansas' proximity to one another, the series makes plenty of sense as a nonconference matchup for both schools. Kruger said it was originally discussed as a home-and-home agreement but the neutral-site event came together once his former coworker took over the Razorbacks.

"We talked about starting a series with Arkansas just home-and-home," Kruger said during a Zoom call on Wednesday. "That never did quite develop. When Eric Musselman came in [to Arkansas], we kind of hit him up with, 'What about this possibility?' and kicked back and forth a couple different options but ended up both sides feeling pretty good, pretty excited about the final site being in Tulsa every year."

Musselman, once head coach of the Golden State Warriors (2002-04) and Sacramento Kings (2006-07), landed the Arkansas gig after leading Nevada to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and a 110-34 record over four seasons.

In his first year with the Razorbacks, he brought on assistant coach Chris Crutchfield, who was an original member of Kruger’s first OU coaching staff in 2011.

Crutchfield departed the program following the 2018-19 season for the Razorbacks. Although, there's no hard feelings from Kruger.

"I thought Crutch was exactly what Muss was looking for," Kruger said, "and the more Muss and I talked about it, it was a good opportunity for Crutch to go over there and have a big impact and kind of broaden his network, if you will. It turned out well. They had a good season. Crutch did a great job."

OU and Arkansas' last meeting came Nov. 23, 2017, in Portland, Oregon, for the Phil Knight Invitational. The Razorbacks won 92-83, handing the Sooners their first loss of the season before then-freshman Trae Young blossomed into one of college basketball’s biggest stars. Rising senior Brady Manek is the only remaining player from that OU squad. 

The programs have met five times over the past decade and 28 times overall, dating back to 1939. Arkansas leads the all-time series 16-12, while OU's last win against Arkansas came Dec. 10, 2011, winning 78-63 at Lloyd Noble Center.

OU's other nonconference games for the 2020-21 season include games at Central Florida, which visited Norman last season, and a neutral-site clash with Washington in Las Vegas for the Pac 12 Coast-to-Coast Challenge.

The Sooners will face an additional SEC program in the annual Big 12-SEC Challenge, and they'll reportedly visit Xavier as part of the Big East-Big 12 Battle.

OU will also participate in the 2020 Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, which is slated for Dec. 22, 23 and 25 in Honolulu, Hawai’i. Aside from the Sooners, the field includes Arizona State, Hawai’i, Saint Mary's, San Diego State, Seattle University, Temple and Western Michigan.

"Every year we’ve had challenging schedules," Kruger said. "They’ve been very good for us as it relates to preparation for Big 12 play and as it relates selection into the NCAA Tournament.  We’ve benefitted greatly from success in nonconference play. This schedule difficulty-wise will rank right there with most of the others, I would think." 

Joe Buettner is a sports reporter for the Norman Transcript. You can contact him at (405) 366-3557 or jbuettner@normantranscript.com.

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