Win or lose, Oklahoma men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger will make history during the Sooners’ opening game in the NCAA Tournament.Kruger will become the first person to coach five schools in NCAA Tournament games when the Sooners (20-11) meet San Diego State (22-10) in a Friday matchup in Philadelphia (8:20 p.m., TBS).“It wasn’t a career path we planned early on. But I’ve enjoyed every stop,” Kruger said during Monday’s conference call with Big 12 coaches. “I’m excited for this group of players … finally being able to play in the postseason.”The Sooners, who lean on four seniors in their primary nine-player rotation, are back in the postseason for the first time since 2009. Kruger, in his second season at OU, led Florida to the 1994 Final Four and has posted a career mark of 14-13 in NCAA tournament games at Kansas State (1987-90), Florida (1994-95), Illinois (1997-98, 2000) and UNLV (2007-08, 2010-11).Kruger won at least three tournament games in each of his previous stops heading into his March Madness debut at OU.“Lon has a history of being successful in the NCAA Tournament,” said Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, whose NCAA-bound team posted a 2-1 mark against the Sooners this season. “He does a great job of putting those guys in position to be successful.”Preparation challengeKansas State (27-7), the No. 4 seed in the West Region, has a Friday game in Kansas City, Mo., against the winner of Wednesday night’s Boise State-LaSalle contest. Wildcats coach Bruce Weber said players will deal with tendencies of both teams in Tuesday and Wednesday workouts before gathering with coaches to watch the Boise State-LaSalle game. After it ends, Weber said coaches will finalize their game plan during a late-night session that will carry into Thursday morning.“It creates a little extra work for our scouts,” Weber said if facing a play-in opponent. “But we had three Saturday/Monday turnarounds in (Big 12 play) this year. I told our team then, ‘This is our preparation for the NCAAs.’ I think we’ll be ready.”Not banking on KansasDespite being the top seed in the South Region, Kansas (29-5) is not a universal choice among oddsmakers as the team most likely to leave Cowboys Stadium on March 31 with a Final Four berth. That honor belongs to third-seeded Florida (26-7), based on odds released Monday by Bovada Sports Book.Florida (3/2) edged Kansas (7/2), No. 2 seed Georgetown (5/1), No. 4 seed Michigan (7/1) and No. 5 seed Virginia Commonwealth (14/1) as the website’s favorite to win the South. Kansas coach Bill Self said Monday his team has responded well since its three-game losing streak in February, an eight-day slide he called “the most important stretch” of the Jayhawks’ season because it helped them deal with adversity.“I don’t think you can have a totally smooth season and then perform when things start getting tough,” Self said, referring to the NCAA Tournament. “To accomplish what we have, I’m not sure we would have done that without going through that stretch in February.”Challenging matchupOklahoma State coach Travis Ford admitted he was surprised when the Cowboys (24-8), the No. 5 seed in the Midwest Region, drew a Thursday game against Oregon (26-8), a No. 12 seed despite winning the Pac-12 Tournament. Ford called Oregon “one of the best 12 seeds I’ve ever seen. They’re a very good team.”Texas in CBITexas (16-17) plays at Houston (19-12) in Wednesday’s opening-round matchup in the College Basketball Invitational (8 p.m., AXS TV). Longhorns coach Rick Barnes said his team should “want to play as long as we can” in efforts to finish with a winning record and to support point guard Myck Kabongo, who missed the team’s first 23 games because of an NCAA suspension. Asked if he thought Kabongo, an NBA prospect, would return for his junior season, Barnes said: “I have no idea. Every kid has got to do what they think is best for them.”Baylor ready for NITBaylor coach Scott Drew said the Bears (18-14) have “plenty of motivation and intensity” heading into Wednesday’s NIT matchup against Long Beach State (8 p.m., Waco) despite being left out of the NCAA field.“The disappointment of not making the NCAA is always hard on everybody that’s playing in the NIT,” Drew said. “At the same time, the excitement kicks in. Everyone knows (if) you lose, it’s the last time you put on the jersey.”In its last NIT appearance, Baylor reached the 2009 championship game. Drew has credited that postseason success with helping the Bears reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and 2012.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch