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March Madness: What is Oral Roberts?

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The first major basketball headlines of March Madness in 2021 belong to Oral Roberts, which upset No. 2 seed Ohio State on Friday.

And if your first response to the headlines was … What? Who? Where? … you’re probably not alone.

Twitter users asked the question on everybody's minds after Oral Roberts upset Ohio State.
Twitter users asked the question on everybody’s minds after Oral Roberts upset Ohio State.

We dug up some basic answers, so you can be prepared when Oral Roberts takes on Florida in the second round Sunday.

Where is Oral Roberts?

Oral Roberts University is located on a 323-acre campus in Tulsa, Oklahoma, toward the south of the city, just off the Arkansas River.

Its total enrollment, undergrad and postgrad, is roughly 4,000 students, with fewer than 3,000 undergrads.

Why is it called Oral Roberts?

The university is named after – you guessed it – Oral Roberts, a 20th century Christian televangelist. He was heavily involved in the Charismatic Christian movement, and was one of the more recognized religious leaders of the mid-1900s in the U.S.

According to the school’s website, “the university was founded [in 1963] as a result of the evangelist Oral Roberts’ obeying God’s mandate to build a university on God’s authority and the Holy Spirit.”

What is notable about Oral Roberts University?

Oral Roberts, as you might’ve guessed, is a private religious university. Christianity is a significant part of campus life. 

The school is perhaps most well-known, though, for this massive statue that depicts praying hands:

Tulsa Oklahoma Praying Hands at Oral Roberts University pray, praying. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Tulsa Oklahoma Praying Hands at Oral Roberts University pray, praying. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Is the men’s basketball program any good?

Not particularly – until now! 

Friday’s upset of Ohio State was Oral Roberts’ first NCAA tournament win since 1974, and just its sixth appearance in school history. It plays in the Summit League, and had some decent teams under former head coach Scott Sutton, but hadn’t made the NCAA men’s tournament since 2008.

Who is the team’s star player?

Oh, only the leading scorer in all of Division I men’s basketball.

Max Abmas, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, led the nation with 24.2 points per game. He scored 29 on Friday – but actually wasn’t the team’s high scorer. Kevin Obanor, a 6-foot-8 junior, had 30 points. (The rest of the team scored a combined 16.)

Who’s the coach?

Paul Mills, who spent 14 years as an assistant under Scott Drew at Baylor, before taking the Oral Roberts job in 2017. He played role in building Baylor up from a Big 12 cellar-dweller into a burgeoning men’s basketball power.

His time at Baylor also gave him NCAA tournament experience. He went to the Dance seven times with the Bears. Perhaps that experience was useful in his first March Madness game as a head coach.

His religiosity also clearly fits at Oral Roberts.

“I listen to Psalm 118 before every game,” Mills said after the upset of Ohio State. “And it says, ‘Give thanks to the lord, for he is good.’ ”

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