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Next Up - Oklahoma

N&O
| NYPost | Newsday
|

W-S
| H-S | NewsOK.com
(reg) | New
Bern
| Charlotte
| GoDuke
| SoonerSports

We'll admit that a few years ago, we figured Kelvin Sampson
was about where State fans thought Herb Sendek was: hacking his way
through a tough conference without much hope for long-term success, at least by
the standards of elite teams like, say, Kansas. Since
then, we've realized the errors of our ways. Oklahoma is a tough
customer in the Big 12 and anywhere else, including, of course, Madison Square
Garden.

This is a team with the potential to do damage. We love Drew
Lavender, and at times, being 5-7 is an advantage. Against Duke, for
instance, who else besides Sean Dockery can really guard him? J.J. Redick?
Unlikely. Daniel Ewing? Possibly, but at nine inches taller, he's at a bit of a
disadvantage when the game is anything but vertical. Lavender has a
challenge getting shots off against taller players, but he's a really solid
point guard who caused a bit of a sensation in summer camps as a high schooler,
but scared a lot of people because he's so short for a basketball player.
Be assured, the kid can play. He can also shoot, and is just about as good from
the line as J.J. Redick.

Starters PPG RPG APG
Taj Gray 14.0 7.0 1.7
Kevin Bookout 13.7 6.1 0.7
Jaison Williams 9.9 31. 2.9
Drew Lavender 9.8 1.5 4.3
Terrell Everett 12.4 4.3 4.7

We're also impressed with Kevin Bookout, who is a really
intense, solid player, and big at 6-8 and 259. And Taj Gray was voted the pre-season newcomer of
the year in the Big 12. He's 6-9 and 235, so Shelden Williams and Shavlik
Randolph will have their hands full.

Oklahoma will also likely start Jaison Williams, a 6-3 senior,
and Terrell Everett, a 6-4 junior.

Oklahoma reminds us somewhat of N.C. State, where Kelvin Sampson was one of
the leading candidates, theoretically anyway, to replace Herb Sendek when the
mob wanted a scalp. They play a fairly methodical offensive game and a
very rugged defense.

They have had some off-the-court issues this year, with sophs Drew Lavender
and reserve Brandon Foust getting a one-game suspension for missing curfew, and
fellow soph guard Lawrence McKenzie trying to use a fake ID at a bar.

Foust has some other issues going on: he was suspended for the Coppin State
game, only got two minutes vs. Purdue, and was left at home for this game.
Sampson didn't say much about it, saying only that he was dealing with
"personal issues."

Those things aside, Oklahoma's strategy seems pretty obvious: get Williams
and Randolph in foul trouble and let Bookout and Gray work Duke over.
Bookout can take the ball outside, too.

To make matters more difficult for Duke, Oklahoma has defended the three
point shot pretty well, limiting opponents to .256 from behind the line (Duke
comes in at .333). The teams are almost identical in their own shooting,
at .392 for the Sooners and .391 for Duke.

Oklahoma is also a deep team, with 10 guys averaging double-figure minutes,
although one of those is Foust, so take that down to nine.

Opponent-wise, OU has played Washington (they lost) and that's about
it. Cal State Northridge, High Point, Minnesota, Coppin State, Purdue -
it's not exactly Murderer's Row.

For Duke, this is a game for Oklahoman Shelden Williams to shine. And
this is a game, too, where Shavlik Randolph could begin to make a bigger
impact. Redick and Ewing, offensively, are well-known commodities by
now. But really, the key could be the matchup between the diminutive
Lavender and defensive demon Sean Dockery. In the words of Al McGuire, cut
of the head and the body dies.

For Duke, this is the sort of game traditionally loved under Mike Krzyzewski:
a marquee December matchup on Saturday afternoon with a tough non-conference
opponent on national TV. Win, and you know your team is headed in the
right direction. Lose, and you get a guideline on how to strengthen your team
for March.

All things considered, win or lose, it's a great situation to be in.