Team preview: Oral Roberts

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

Last season Oral Roberts finished off what it couldn't do the year before by winning the Mid-Continent Tournament and the NCAA Tournament bid that went with it.

Three starters from that team are gone, but the Golden Eagles still have the Mid-Con's top player and another that should earn first-team all-conference honors. At Oral Roberts in the Scott Sutton era, it's not a matter of rebuilding, but reloading.

"I really believe this team can be as good as the other [two] years," Sutton said.

After suffering a jarring upset defeat to Oakland (with future NBA player Rawle Marshall) in the MCC Tournament championship after a 25-win campaign in 2004-05, Oral Roberts was "left with a bad taste in our mouths," Sutton said.

Although the Golden Eagles went 5-7 before conference play began last season, most of those losses were against NCAA participants or upper-echelon programs. So come conference season, Oral Roberts had already faced its stiffest competition.

The Golden Eagles finally caught IUPUI in the final week to tie for a share of the regular season conference championship. Oral Roberts then defeated Western Illinois, Valparaiso and pesky Chicago State to claim the long-awaited MCC Tournament championship.

"It was a fun ride," Sutton said about the days leading up to the NCAA Tournament. "The community really got behind us."

The Golden Eagles' NCAA Tournament match-up with athletic Memphis wasn't so fun. But for Oral Roberts, the achievement of reaching the Big Dance for the first time since 1984 was a great measuring stick of how far the program had come.

"Memphis was a very talented team," Sutton said. "I wouldn't have been shocked if someone told me after that game that they would [go on to] win the national championship."

Perhaps the only Golden Eagle to truly match the versatility of the Memphis players was Larry Owens (12.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.3 bpg, 1.5 spg), the game's only double-double performer.

The 2006 Mid-Con Defensive Player of the Year was lost in the shadows of Green and Tutt during his two-year stay in Tulsa. But it can be argued that the 6-foot-7, 210-pound forward was as valuable as any Golden Eagle.

"I thought Owens was the best player in the league [last year]," UMKC coach Rich Zvosec said.

It's puzzling that a team's third option could be considered among the league's top players. But that was the type of player Owens came to be for Oral Roberts: an exceptional athlete with a plethora of basketball skills that elevated everyone's game.

"Larry was so active, he was a very good rebounder," Sutton said. "He was so versatile, and he could post up if you needed him to. He's the one guy we can't replace."

Sutton said that Owens, who is playing professionally in France, could be a long shot for the NBA someday if he continues to improve.

But don't get Sutton started on NBA talk -- at least not when the subject is Caleb Green (20.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.0 spg). The coach doesn't understand how the two-time Mid-Con Player of the Year doesn't get national accolades and attention.

"He's the most underrated player in the country, in my opinion," Sutton said. "When Caleb finishes here, he's going to have 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. Not many guys can say that. It still seems likes he's an unknown nationally."

When Green got the ball down low, usually two defenders collapsed. And still, the 6-foot-8, 240-pound senior forward got to the line at a phenomenal rate.

"Caleb had the most free throws attempted [308] and made [235] in the country, before [Adam] Morrison overtook him late in the year," Sutton said.

Green, who will end up as one of the top two or three scorers in Mid-Con history, should have the conference record for rebounds and free throws by December.

Green will join Mark Acres (1981-85) in the 2,000-point/1,000 rebound club at Oral Roberts and is only nine behind Acres for the school record in double-doubles (54).

"I don't know if there's a tougher guy to guard in the post than Caleb," Sutton said.

If the AP All-America honorable-mention pick doesn't get picked in the 2007 NBA draft, "I'll be very disappointed," Sutton said.

Green's sidekick and fellow senior Ken Tutt (14.2 ppg, 2.2 apg, 2.0 rpg) looks to return to form from his freshman year, when he had his highest scoring average.

"It's hard to imagine a freshman coming in and having a better season," Sutton said.

Last year, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound guard missed 10 games because of a fracture in his right foot. This affected Tutt's greatest weapon -- his three-point shot, which he has connected on at least once in all but five games in his career.

"Ken didn't shoot the ball like he was capable of early in the season," Sutton said. "But he's a weapon, he shoots from anywhere."

Despite the fact Tutt's point production has dwindled by three points per game per season, Sutton still thinks Tutt will wind up on the All-MCC first-team for the third time. Tutt finished his junior campaign strong by earning MVP honors in the conference tournament.

Last year, no team could boast of a trio like Oral Roberts had in Green, Owens and Tutt. But it was
the support personnel that put the Golden Eagles over the edge.

"We had three tremendous players," Sutton said. "But there were very good role players around them."

That group included departed Jonathan Bluitt (7.1 ppg, 4.1 apg, 1.9 rpg) and Mickey Michalec (6.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.0 bpg).
Bluitt, a 5-9 point guard, finally got his chance to run the team after program staple Luke Spencer-Gardner finished his storied career.

Chris Riouse (7.8 ppg, 1.0 rpg), a 6-foot-2 guard, and Eric Fowlkes (2.6 ppg, 1.5 rpg), a 6-foot-4 swingman, were the other players in last year's senior class.

Riouse had one of college basketball's most impressive games, from a scoring standpoint, against Oakland on Feb. 9. He went 10-for-17 on three-pointers to finish with 32 points in only 23 minutes.

Juniors Yemi Ogunoye (2.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg), a defensive-minded 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward who started 17 games, and Moses Ehambe (4.5 ppg, 1.2 rpg), a sharp-shooting 6-6, 215-pound swingman, along with multi-dimensional 6-foot-7, 205-pound sophomore guard Marchello Vealy (3.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg) anchor the group of returning role players.

"Yemi's very versatile, he can handle the ball," Sutton said. "He's long and athletic. He's not a tremendous scorer. There's not one thing he does great. Moses is a great shooter. He'll fill the role vacated when [Riouse] graduated. We need him to be more consistent, and we think he will with more playing time. ... Marchello is as talented a kid as we've got. He's a great rebounder. He's got a knack for scoring. We just need him to be a little more consistent."

Pencil in junior newcomers Adam Liberty (2.4 ppg, 2.9 apg, 2.4 rpg at Wichita State in 2004-05) and Shawn King (20.6 ppg, 12.6 rpg, 7.1 bpg) as starters at point guard and center, respectively.

Liberty, a cousin of Bluitt, teamed with former Kansas player and current New Mexico guard J.R. Giddens for a 2003 state high school championship in Oklahoma.

Liberty is the perfect point guard -- athletic and with great floor vision, he can penetrate effectively and is a lockdown defender.

"He's very hungry. He has great experience," Sutton said. "Adam gives us size and quickness at the point. Because of his size, he'll have a much better time defending the point [than Bluitt]. I don't know if there's anyone quicker with the ball in the league."

The 6-foot-2 Liberty has the unenviable task of following the program's No. 1 (Spencer-Gardner) and No. 2 (Bluitt) players in all-time assists.

King, a 6-foot-10, 220-pounder from Carl Albert (Okla.) State is a shot-blocking machine that can "change the game on the defensive end," Sutton said.

King was considered by some recruiting analysts as one of the nation's top junior college centers last year.

Kelvin Sango (14.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.0 apg, 2.2 spg),
a 6-foot-3, 200-pound sophomore guard from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, can play all three perimeter positions.

"Kelvin is high energy," Sutton said. "He's similar to [Owens] in how he plays, but is four inches shorter. He's a tremendous driver. He gets to the basket. He'll play at lot for us."

Sango was a junior when Green was a senior on the 2003 6A state championship team at Memorial High in Tulsa.

Red-shirt freshmen Sylvester Spicer (7.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg), a 6-6, 230-pound forward from South Oak Cliff High in Texas, and Daren Jordan (20.0 ppg, 5.0 apg), a 5-foot-11, guard from Phoenix's Trevor Browne High School, provide depth.


Green and Tutt have been entrenched in their starting spots for what seems like half a decade. King and Liberty had the other two spots locked up the minute Michalec and Bluitt saw their eligibility expire.

The fifth? It doesn't really matter, because a by-committee approach will fit nicely as Sutton goes big or small, slow or fast, depending on his needs on a given night. Oral Roberts should go nine deep this year.

Finding the right chemistry with a handful of holdovers and a handful of newcomers is Sutton's priority when practice begins.

"There are a lot of question marks," he said. "So much is going to be made on how much these [new] guys can assume roles."

With the most home games -- including a BracketBuster game -- of Sutton's eight-year tenure, the Golden Eagles don't mind trekking to Allen Fieldhouse for the second game of the season. Especially not Sutton, who will reunite with Kansas coach Bill Self, who Sutton coached for at Tulsa.

The wins will continue for this program. But for the first time since 2003-04, the Golden Eagles won't be the obvious choice for top team in the Mid-Con.

Still, with UMKC's Dee Ayuba suffering a knee injury during the summer, Oral Roberts and IUPUI seem like the teams to beat.

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 326 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2006-07 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).