PITTSBURGH — Oklahoma is looking for a reset on a season that started so promisingly but crashed and burned over the final eight weeks.
Rhode Island is trying to keep its upward path intact in its second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
The programs meet Thursday at PPG Paints Arena in a first-round matchup that offers plenty of intrigue.
For the No. 10 seed Sooners, the selection committee gave them a chance to salvage what could’ve been a disastrous fall from grace.
In mid-January, Oklahoma was soaring. The Sooners were ranked No. 4 nationally and had the unquestioned best player in the country in freshman point guard Trae Young.
But then the Jan. 16 game at Kansas State happened and things cratered.
Oklahoma went 4-11 from that point and went from being discussed as a possible No. 1 seed to having to sweat it out on Selection Sunday as the at-large teams were ticked off one by one.
Christian James was on the Sooners’ 2016 Final Four team and said this team — despite its issues — is capable of making a deep run.
“We’ve got to grind out these next couple of games,” James said. “It’s been rough. It’s been tough on the road. All it takes is one game. I still believe in this team.”
The Sooners haven’t won a game away from home since Dec. 30.
Young said he pays attention to the talk —
“I know our team has a big chip on our shoulder,” said Young, who leads the nation in scoring (27.4 points per game) and assists (8.8). “Me personally, I have a tremendous chip on my shoulder. I’ll be ready to play.
“Not a lot of people think we should be in, which is fine. The people who make the decision that we should be and that’s what matters.”
For seventh-seeded Rhode Island, the trip to Pittsburgh is a return to the site where the Rams won the Atlantic 10 Tournament last season to clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.
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This season, the Rams were safely in the field before the tournament and the only drama Sunday was whether their loss to Davidson in the championship game would cost Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley’s brother Bobby’s Arizona State team a berth in the tournament.
It didn’t as the Sun Devils were picked as an at-large.
“It’s going to be fun,” Rams star guard Jared Terrell told the Providence Journal. “It’s the NCAA Tournament. It’s something you’ve got to get up for.”
While Rhode Island’s struggles recently haven’t been as pronounced as Oklahoma’s, the Rams are also coming off a rough stretch where they dropped four of their last eight.
But like Oklahoma, the Rams said they’re energized by the tournament.
“Now it’s just all elation,” Dan Hurley told the Providence Journal. “It’s excitement. You get to play on the biggest stage college basketball has to offer.”