March Madness Preview

It's NCAA Tournament time again, a three-week basketball pageant that comes around every March to remind us what a national playoff looks like. The NCAA lists 326 colleges as playing Division I basketball. Sixty-five teams are invited to their tournament -- 20 percent of the total -- which is a shocking display of evenhandedness. For me, the best part of the tournament is watching a small college beat a top-20 team. They won't win the tournament -- this is real life -- and they're competing against corporate universities, but small colleges can go far enough into the tournament to give the rest of us a good ride. With that hope in mind, and since no San Diego team was invited, I've been going through the brackets looking for somebody to root for.

Didn't take long to settle on Oral Roberts University (ORU). Oral Roberts is the 14th seed in the East Region and will play the 3rd seed, Washington State, Thursday in Sacramento. I like this game as an upset.

ORU plays in the unknown Mid-Continent Conference alongside IUPUI, UMKC, and Centenary. Forget that and so what. What is interesting is that Oral Roberts beat Kansas at Kansas last November. The Final USA Today/ESPN Men's Basketball Coaches' Poll has Kansas ranked number 2 in the nation. They're the number 1 seed in the West Region, and Oral Roberts beat them at their place. Of course, that was four months ago. Then, ORU beat Seton Hall 76-74. But, Seton Hall had a lousy year. I probably should mention that ORU lost to Georgetown, Arkansas, and BYU. On the other hand, they stomped Panhandle State 91-41. Looks like a wash to me.

Oral Roberts has two players who could start on any team. Senior Caleb Green is a 6'8" forward. He's a three-time conference Player of the Year and holds the record for rebounds (1181) and career points (2490). He's averaged 20.8 points per game for the past two years.

Senior Ken Tutt is a 6'1" guard, has been Mid-Continent Tournament MVP, two-time conference first team selection, and so on. ORU's coach is Scott Sutton. He's young (36) and hungry. He's the son of Eddie Sutton, who coached Oklahoma State for 16 years, and the brother of Sean Sutton, who inherited the Okalahoma State coaching position from Dad.

In terms of overview, I know zip about Oral Roberts University. I knew the founder was an evangelist from the "give me your money" branch of Christianity. The founder once threatened that God would take him home if his followers did not pony up 8 million dollars pronto. I liked the direct, specific nature of his blackmail, but never asked the essential question: "What's up with ORU?"

Well, according to U.S. News & World Report's 2007 America's Best Colleges report, Oral Roberts University is ranked as the 51st best in the "Universities-Master's (West)" category, ten positions behind San Jose State. San Diego State University is ranked in the "National Universities, fourth tier" category, whatever that means. Part of what it means is that SDSU is not listed in the top 124 schools in "National Universities," which puts it behind New Jersey Institute of Technology (124), University of San Diego (105), and University of California San Diego (38). Still, SDSU made it into the National Universities fourth tier...although, sadly, the four tier is so lame, so far down the food chain, that colleges are listed alphabetically rather than by rank.

Okay, here is your Oral Roberts University primer: It was founded in 1963. It is a charismatic Christian university located in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Undergraduate student body numbers 3349. Tuition, fees, room and board will run you a substantial $23,730 per year. They have an endowment of $0 and operate on the semester system. The university offers 61 undergraduate majors, 14 master's programs, and two doctoral degrees. ORU's largest majors are business administration, mass media communications, and pastoral Christian ministry.

The school's website has a page with an "Ethnicity Table," which, I assume, measures undergraduate students. The White, non-Hispanic slice of the pie is 60 percent. Black, non-Hispanic is 20 percent, which is 19 percent higher than I would have guessed. Hispanic, by the way, is 4 percent. Female students are 58 percent of the total. Males are 42 percent. And a hell of a basketball team.

One last thing. In 1974, when Oral Roberts University had a student population of -- what do you think, 600? -- they made it to the NCAA Tournament and played their way to the final eight.

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