Lutz go, Lutz go: Fast-paced coach might be just what OSU basketball needs

Lutz go, Lutz go: Fast-paced coach might be just what OSU basketball needs

The school known for the better part of a century as a bastion of defense and ball control has hired a get-out-and-run coach.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Apr 4, 2024, 6:00am CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Apr 4, 2024, 6:00am CDT

(Berry Tramel produces two newsletters every week. To receive his newsletters, go here.)

STILLWATER — Steve Lutz is not a household hoops name. Seems likely that 99 percent of OSU basketball fans never had heard of Lutz until it became somewhat obvious the Cowboys would be searching for a coach this spring, and even then, Lutz’s profile was barely a blip on the radar until the last week or so.

Spend most of your career as an assistant coach, then put in three years as a head coach at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi or Western Kentucky, and the witness protection program could offer scant more anonymity.

But Thursday at Gallagher-Iba Arena, Lutz will be introduced as the fifth OSU basketball coach since Eddie Sutton retired 18 years ago(!), and for a guy who has finished .500 in either the Southland Conference or Conference USA in two of his three seasons, Lutz is generating a decent amount of buzz among the Loyal & True.

Why? His teams play fast.

The school known for the better part of a century as a bastion of defense and ball control — accurate in the Henry Iba era; overstated in the Sutton years, when the Cowboys often would score quite efficiently — has hired a get-out-and-run coach.

And that sounds quite enticing to many a Pistol Pete patron.

“Having gotten used to OSU basketball the last few years, where they’re standing around, taking a bad shot with a couple of seconds left, it’s a welcome change,” said 41-year-old Cowboy fan Justin Phillips of Bixby. “It’s exciting. Quick pace. Up and down the court, looks like they’ve got some in-your-face, man-to-man d(efense).”

Here are the pace numbers from Lutz’s three seasons as head coach, based on warrennolan.com:

2023-24

  • Western Kentucky ranked No. 1 nationally in tempo, with 75.3 possessions per 40 minutes.
  • OSU, in a season when Mike Boynton was trying to get the Cowboys to play faster, ranked 195th, 68.2 possessions per 40 minutes.
  • Texas Christian led the Big 12, 70.8 possessions per 40 minutes, which ranked 59th nationally.

2022-23

  • A&M-Corpus Christi ranked 38th in tempo, 70.9 possessions per 40 minutes.
  • OSU ranked 181st, 67.8 per 40 minutes.
  • TCU led the Big 12, at 70.8, tied for 43rd nationally.

2021-22

  • A&M-Corpus Christi ranked 24th in tempo, 72.0 possessions per 40 minutes.
  • OSU ranked 131st, at 68.8.
  • Kansas led the Big 12 at 69.5, ranking 93rd.

James Engel, a 29-year-old OSU fan who lives in Chicago, said he’s heard that Lutz’s offense is “more free-flowing; I think that’s kind of exciting. At least it’ll be watchable. Obviously, with Boynton, our offense was tough to watch at times.”

That describes much of the Big 12. The league’s two best teams, Houston and Iowa State, were known for their defensive prowess and occasional offensive lapses. An uptempo team will stand out in the Big 12 and perhaps have an edge.

“The faster pace sets you a little bit apart, other than TCU, from the best of the Big 12,” said OSU fan Bill Shrum, 68, of Stillwater.

“We lost the energy. All you gotta do is go to a game this year. Even the players, they played hard, no fault of the players or the coach. But you didn’t see all the energy. A faster pace, it gets your adrenaline going a little bit. Boynton always talked about he wanted to play fast, but it never seemed to materialize.”

OSU fan Carter Postier, 26, of Little Rock, Arkansas, pointed out that the Big 12 ranked near the bottom of the 32 Division I conferences in tempo this season.

“If you bring in the uptempo play, it gives you more chance for immediate success,” Postier said. “And that could play into his immediate success at other places as well. We’ll see if he can sustain that, because he hasn’t had to do it more for more than two years.”

I’ve long argued that style of play was less important at OSU than most locales. The Cowboys’ glory days came under Iba and Sutton, so 56-47 victories were not just common, but celebrated. Gallagher-Iba roared just as loudly when OSU would lead Kansas State 32-11 at halftime as when the Cowboys would reach triple digits.

But the banality of college basketball reaches all outposts. The sport is harder than ever to watch, and with the transfer portal bringing instability to rosters, style of play becomes an even bigger part of the entertainment experience. Familiar faces are the spoonful of sugar that helps a 56-47 final go down. When familiar faces are in short supply, you want the ball going in the basket and the players streaking down the court.

“This guy’s not exciting,” Shrum said of Lutz. “But I get excited about the potential of his style. I’m ready for GIA to get rocking. I think it’s a good solid hire. I don’t think he’s a flash in the pan. I think he will win games. I think we’ll get back to the NCAA.

“It’s all talk right now. But he has past teams that have tried to live his talk.”

Who knows how fast Lutz’s Cowboys can play in the Big 12? This is a league in which coaches have a stranglehold. You can run, but you can’t hide.

Still, just the idea that the Cowboys might look different is rather exciting. OSU basketball has been beaten down for quite a while. One NCAA Tournament appearance under Boynton. One NCAA Tournament win since Eddie Sutton’s retirement.

“A good change of pace,” Engel said. “I do think we needed to try something different. You’re more likely to get some wins that way than just a standard offense. Having an identity’s a good thing.”

Go back and read that last sentence. Having an identity is a good thing.

For decades under Iba and 15 years under Sutton, OSU basketball had a distinct, ferocious identity. But since then, OSU basketball has had no identity at all.

If Steve Lutz can change that, Cowboy athletic director Chad Weiberg will have made a good hire.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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