Pierson’s Ponderings

Pierson%27s+Ponderings

One of the biggest keys for a team to be successful is togetherness or chemistry. If teams are not comfortable with each other, they will struggle when they face adversity. This has been a huge factor in some teams’ seasons, as COVID has sidelined players or coaches. Day after day, teams and programs continue to get shut down as COVID becomes more problematic within the program. It affects both the players’ and coaches’ mental and physical toughness, as this has been one of the hardest years of sports in recent memory. Although some programs have been hit hard with COVID, some continue to persevere and make the best of the situation. In this week’s article of Pierson’s Ponderings, we will dive into how teams have adjusted to the virus and one of the hottest sports programs in the college world. 

COVID in sports – how have teams dealt with the highly contagious virus?

The date is March 11, 2020; the Oklahoma City Thunder are warming up to take on the Utah Jazz. A few minutes before tip-off, a team doctor comes sprinting onto the court and announces that there has been a positive test from a player: Rudy Gobert. The game is then immediately canceled and sets the NBA world in shock. Around an hour later, NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced that the NBA season would be canceled indefinitely. As the NBA gets canceled, the NCAA follows and cancels conference tournaments and eventually, the entirety of March Madness. These actions would be just the start of a colossal shutdown of the entire world. 

Now, 11 months later, the sports world has returned to some degree. Most teams are playing a somewhat normal schedule, but this season is nothing like anything in the past. Some teams go through daily testing and have installed many COVID protocols. While this keeps the players safer, it has proven to have a bad effect on teams and their chemistry. For instance, college basketball blueblood teams like Kentucky, Duke, and Michigan State have all struggled this year. Not only has this affected college basketball, but powerhouse college football teams such as Michigan, Penn State, and LSU all struggled to get a rhythm going. We will see if these top-notch programs can recover from a dreadful season. One question that sports fans are wondering is are the struggles of big-time programs due to COVID? And if so, what are the COVID protocols like?

Kentucky has some interesting COVID protocols, to say the least. For the fans, they encourage getting tested before games and undergoing full conduction of health screening. Then when they arrive at the game, they get their temperature taken and are allowed in only if they are below the required temperature. After they are let in, they go to their seats that are socially distanced from other seats. Allowing fans in stadiums has been a controversial topic, but Kentucky has decided that a small amount of fans is okay.

For the players, it is tougher. They go through daily testing and normally practice socially distanced. They have a large number of restrictions when it comes to out of basketball activities like going to restaurants and hanging out with friends or family. In games, they are required to wear masks while on the bench but can take them off if they enter the game. They also cannot interact postgame with the opposing team. These are a few of the protocols that not only Kentucky but the whole basketball world deals with on a daily basis. This could be a reason why some of the bluebloods are struggling as of right now. 

The hottest sports program in college is…. The University of Oklahoma

When brainstorming the hottest university sports-wise, it was not very hard to choose. Oklahoma has been dominating in a variety of sports while maintaining momentum in some offseason sports. Specifically, the Sooners are ranked first in men’s gymnastics, second in men’s golf, fourth in softball, fifth in women’s gymnastics, sixth in football, ninth in men’s basketball, and ninth in women’s golf. These rankings come from two days ago. There are more aspects of the sports program that are ranked, but these were just a few. Some of these programs are in season and a few are offseason rankings. Regardless, Oklahoma is showing that they are more than a football or softball school. Let’s dive into one of these programs and why they are seeing so much success.

Back in November, the Oklahoma men’s basketball team was projected to finish sixth in the conference (according to Big12sports.com), and they received no love when it came to the AP Top 25 poll. Many thought this team was not talented enough to compete with Baylor, Kansas, or Texas. After a blowout loss to Xavier, it looked like the critics were right. The Sooners seemed like a lost team that did not have an identity. They then went on to win the next three games over below-average opponents. Texas Tech was the next opponent, and the Sooners gave it their all but lost by two. As January rolled around, Oklahoma seemed like an average Big 12 team that could give a few teams trouble. But after a huge win over 17th-ranked West Virginia, the Sooners seemed poised for a big run. Oklahoma would go on to win their next five of eight games, with six games coming against ranked opponents. Oklahoma had won four games versus top 10 opponents in January: West Virginia, Kansas, Texas, and Alabama. They also made the biggest jump in the AP poll in the history of their program, jumping 15 spots. Although the Sooners were defeated Monday night by Texas Tech, Oklahoma fans have a lot to look forward to. Their gritty defense mixed with a solid offense has made the Sooners a top 15 team. 

Even though the Sooners lost their most recent game, they should have nothing to worry about. Their best player, Austin Reaves, has missed the last two games, including the Texas Tech game. Another starter, Alondes Williams, has been absent from the last two games as well. Oklahoma also played horribly on the offensive side of the floor against Texas Tech and only lost by five points. The Sooners shot 33% from the field and turned the ball over 11 times. But, they held one of the best players in the Big 12, Mac McClung, to six points and zero made field goals. This has been the key to OU’s success this season.

Oklahoma’s success has come from the defensive side, specifically as of late. Oklahoma has locked up top players from each team in recent games. McClung had 6 points, John Petty had 9 points, held Andrew Jones to 3-13 shooting, and 10 points for Ochai Agbaji. It has been the perimeter defense for Oklahoma that has lifted them to a top 10 ranking. Specifically, Elijah Harkless, Umoja Gibson, and De’Vion Harmon. All three of these defensive studs have given opposing guards and forwards issues scoring. They play up, get in your face, and steal the ball like Tennessee recruits stole money through happy meals. All jokes aside, coach Lon Kruger is one of the most underrated coaches in college basketball and deserves to be in the Coach of the Year conversation.