Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tony Crocker is the Difference Maker for OU

At this point in the season, everyone knows about Blake Griffin. Rim-rattling dunks. Rebounding machine. Strong as a bull.

He is a man amongst boys, and the best player in the country. No one is doubting that. He has the ability to carry his team to and through Ford Field, bringing a national title to Norman.

But he cannot do it alone.

The biggest question mark coming into the season was OU's perimeter play. Were the Sooner guards going to shoot it well enough that teams had to respect them, preventing defenses from collapsing on the big fella inside.

For the majority of the season, the answer was a resounding yes. Willie Warren played his way into the lottery. Tony Cropcker was burying threes at a tremendous clip. Austin Johnson looked nothing like, well, Austin Johnson. Oklahoma was playing like a legitimate national title contender.

That all changed when Griffin got his concussion. Willie Warren was benched because of attitude problems (he was apparently buying into the hype that he was a lottery pick; there were also rumors that he and Johnson were squabbling over a girl they were both dating). Tony Crocker lost his stroke, and Oklahoma lost four of six, including a first round date with OK State in the quarters of the Big XII tournament.

This led many, including myself, to question how good OU really was. Was anyone going to pick a team oin turmoil to make a run in the dance?

The Sooners made all of us doubters look foolish Friday night as they ran through and beat up Tourney darlings Syracuse.

It wasn't Blake Griffin that did it. His 30 and 14 actually brought down his tournament averages.

It was the three guards, specifically Tony Crocker. Warren and Johnson both had decent games, combining for 15 points, 11 assists, and 3-8 shooting from deep. But it was Crocker that made the difference. He finished with a career high 28 points, hitting six of his first eight threes and scoring eight in an 11-3 run that closed the half, giving OU a 13 point lead.

If Oklahoma is going to get that kind of performance from their guards, they are right back in the national title picture.

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