Expect a Miracle?

The words displayed on the baseline at the Oral Roberts arena say a lot about what people need to know about the university, the basketball program, the attitude at one of America's best-known evangelical meeting points: ``Expect A Miracle.''

OK, so maybe it's a bit irreverent to be looking for miracles on a basketball court. Then again, this is the NCAA tournament, and the basketball program has, of late, been one of the best things going at the troubled campus in Tulsa, Okla.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Pittsburgh –8.5 point spread favorites (View College Basketball odds) for today’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 66% of bets for this game have been placed on Pittsburgh –8.5 (View College Basketball bet percentages).

The 13th-seeded Golden Eagles (24-8) make their third straight trip to the tournament Thursday, when they'll face fourth-seeded Pitt (26-9) in the first round of the South Regional.

Oral Roberts is an 8 1/2-point underdog against a team on a major roll, with a five-game winning streak that includes the Big East tournament championship.

Some say the Golden Eagles will need - well, who are we kidding here? - a miracle to advance.

``I mean, it's a major challenge, man,'' ORU guard Moses Ehambe said.

It's no small thing for a school like Oral Roberts - founded by the famous televangelist whose autobiography is, in fact, titled ``Expect a Miracle'' - to become a regular at the NCAA tournament.

But making it and actually sticking around for a while are two different things. Coach Scott Sutton, son of 800-game winner Eddie Sutton, is a realist when it comes to such things.

``If we want to elevate our program, we need to have success in the NCAA tournament,'' Sutton said. ``Again, we have a great, great challenge tomorrow. But it would mean an awful lot if we could pull an upset.''

And not only for the basketball team.

The school has been wracked of late by embarrassing reports of hemorrhaging debt and scandal.

Three professors filed a suit accusing former school president Richard Roberts of misspending school funds to pay for massive shopping sprees, trips to the Bahamas for his family and more at a time when the university faced more than $50 million in debt.

Roberts resigned as president in November amid the accusations, and repeatedly has denied wrongdoing.

Quite often at schools with big sports programs, the sports drag the school's name through the mud. In this case, basketball has been lifting ORU out.

``When that stuff was happening, Coach told us to keep our nose out of it, concentrate on the season,'' Ehambe said. ``That stuff that happened, we love the Roberts, they're wonderful people. We don't pay any attention to it. We just play games and win. That's what we're here to do.''

This next win won't come easily.

Pittsburgh has overcome season-ending injuries to starters Levance Fields and Mike Cook, along with redshirt freshman Austin Wallace, and has had to transform into something of a new team as the season has progressed.

The work has paid off, and now Pitt finds itself playing its best basketball in March instead of February, as had been the case during several of the last seven years - each of which has resulted in a trip to the NCAAs, but none of which has seen Pitt move beyond the third round.

Sam Young averaged 20 points and seven rebounds at the Big East tournament to lift Pitt to four wins in four days.

As is always the case when the Panthers are playing well, much is made of their physical, bruising style, something instilled by coach Jamie Dixon and made necessary from playing in what's widely regarded as the roughest conference in the land.

``I think that gets overplayed some by our opponents,'' Dixon said. ``I think they usually say that after a game or something. But I don't think we're that physical. I think we just try to play hard. Sometimes we bump into a few guys, and there seem to be some reactions.''

Sutton isn't buying it. He knows what a tall task Oral Roberts has to beat a team like Pittsburgh.

To prepare, the coach has directed his reserves to ``do whatever they wanted to do to the starters'' in practice.

``Grab 'em, hack 'em, push 'em,'' Sutton said. ``That's basically what they've done the last three days. I don't know if it will work or not. But it was about the only thing we could try.''

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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