After Oklahoma’s game against Mercer last December, coach Bob Hoffman saluted the Sooners on their victory. It was OU’s second big win of the season against the RPI. Mercer is a scarily good squad, not so much in the form of talent as much as coaching, scheming. Hoffman gets the best out of his players.
Last year, they were giant killers. They won at Alabama, Florida State and Tennessee in 2012-13. All three of those teams were good enough to beat OU then. If Mercer had won one more game in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament, the Bears would have been dancing in the NCAA tournament. But they didn’t. Florida Gulf Coast did, and we all got Dunk City. Their loss was our gain.
The Bears had capable scorers, capable defenders in 2013, but no one good enough on the night they played at Lloyd Noble to stop Ryan Spangler. He scored 20 points and cleaned the glass for 13 rebounds — including five offensive boards — that night. It wasn’t a surprise to Hoffman. He knew all about Spangler.
“When I saw him in high school, I thought he was one of the best rebounders in the country,” Hoffman said. “He could pursue the ball and rebound out of his area, and he doesn’t tire when he rebounds. He gets back quick.”
If you ask Spangler what makes him such a great rebounder, he’ll smile at you with a somewhat quizzically look as if to say “Don’t you know? Doesn’t everybody know?” and then give the same answer he’s given since he first arrived at OU a year ago. He’ll give you the same answer he gave when the only way you could watch him play for an entire year was by showing up to a Sooner practice. He’ll give you the same answer he gave when he battled Romero Osby and Amath M’Baye in the post day after day.
On Saturday after Oklahoma beat No. 9 Iowa State — one of the last unbeaten teams in college basketball at the time — Spangler’s play lifted the Sooners once more. He was asked why he was such a great rebounder.
“I think I am good at seeing where the ball is going to come off, and a lot of it is just hustle,” he said. “I just put my mind to it. If I can help the team win in any way, that is what I am going to do, and that helped the team.
During his post game presser, Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg didn’t mince words about why he thought his team got shellacked. The reason was as clear as the dawn on the Oklahoma plains.
“Well, we got our butts kicked on the glass,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. They beat us 22-2 in second-chance points.”
He knew the biggest reason for them getting whipped like a slow thoroughbred at the downs was the big tough man in the middle of his athletic bunch of Cyclone players. There was nothing else to it. This is where I believe how good Spangler has been for the Sooners this year takes on a larger meaning.
I’ve found the folks in your corner are always going to say something nice about you to other folks. They might tear you a new hole in your rear the size of a moon crater in private, but by and large, they’re not going to disparage you in a public forum. They’ve been rooting for you the whole way. Why in the wide world would they change that habit for, say, a reporter’s tape recorder?
It’s the folks who don’t necessarily have anything to lose on you that are most likely to tell a different story — at least when they’re using their government name. Folks talk about other folks their close to all the time under the guise of anonymity. Happens in politics every day. But the consensus among most collegiate coaches and players that have played against Spangler falls in line with what OU coach Lon Kruger has said all year, said for the past two years.
“He’s a great rebounder,” Hoiberg said. “He does a great job of wedging and using his body in there. He doesn’t have great explosiveness but he was the difference underneath today because of his ability to get them second-chance opportunities.”
“It just seemed like the ball kept bouncing his way,” said Iowa State forward Dustin Hogue. “He’s a big physical guy and we didn’t take enough initiative to get a body on him. With that being said, he’s a good rebounder, and we didn’t do a good job of keeping him off the glass.”
If the season ended today, Spangler would be recognized as one of the best rebounders in the league. He ranks second in the Big 12 in boards per game (9.2) — just a fraction of a rebound behind Hogue (9.3) as it turns out — and there have been a few teams who haven’t been able to keep him off the glass.
But that 9.2 boards per game average doesn’t come close to Blake Griffin’s single-season school record 14.4 boards per game at Oklahoma. It is a full rebound shy of cracking the top 10* rebounding season in Norman.
*Wayman Tisdale averaged 10.3 and 10.2 boards per game in 1983 and 1985, respectively, and he holds the ninth and tenth spots in that category.
Spangler barely breaks the top 50 in boards per game — he ranks No. 43 — for the 2013-14 season. I suspect there will be quite a few more teams that have a hard time boxing him out. Besides, every time Spangler wins a rebound, every time he doesn’t get chased off the glass, he gives OU an opportunity to win. That’s all anybody can ask for. A chance to win.