Oklahoma basketball: Some believe OU is headed for a mid-course correction


A matter of hours before the Oklahoma basketball game at Kansas State on Tuesday night, ESPN’s Seth Wadler posted an article suggesting that the Sooners’ record and high ranking are overstated.

With perhaps the most difficult stretch of games in OU’s season beginning this week and continuing for a couple of weeks, Sooner fans are probably going to have to brace themselves for a midseason course correction and a few more losses than were the case while OU was on its impressive 10-game winning streak earlier in the season and rapid rise in the rankings.

At least that is the assessment of Wadler and the ESPN analytics department. Wadler contends that Oklahoma’s efficiency rating does not correlate to a team that is as highly ranked as the Sooners (No. 4 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25).   According to Wadler, OU’s overall efficiency rating ranks 44th-best in the country. If you adjust for the difficulty of Oklahoma’s schedule that ranking improves, but only to 19th most efficient, which is still not indicative of a top-ranked team that is considered among the elite teams in college basketball.

On Tuesday night, unranked Kansas State hammered the Sooners 87-69, handing fourth-ranked Oklahoma its worst loss of the season. The loss served as a proof point of what Wadler, and a few other Sooner non-believers, contend will weigh down OU’s ability to continue playing at a high enough level to remain in the conversation as one of this season’s elite teams.

Wadler suggests that the Sooners’ better games, which include victories over five ranked teams, including three in the top 10 at the time the game was played, are behind them and that the 2017-18 edition of Oklahoma basketball may have already peaked.

It’s true that OU played very poorly – probably as badly as this team can play – in the loss to Kansas State. You can be sure, however, that head coach Lon Kruger will use it as a teaching opportunity and an opportunity for the team to learn and grow from its many mistakes and failings from that game.

The problem with the Sooners right now is they are far too dependent on their freshman superstar, Trae Young, to have a great game every time out. If the nation’s leading scorer hits or exceeds his scoring average and delivers more assists than turnovers, it is a good bet the Oklahoma is going to be victorious. When he has an off-game, which was the case against K-State, the Sooners don’t have enough complementary scoring from the support cast to make up the difference.

Kansas State not only defended Young exceptionally well, but also made sure when he did give up the ball that the passing lanes taken away and the other OU players on the floor were not easily able to get ball back into the hands of the Sooner floor general.

You can bet that Oklahoma’s opponents going forward are going to go to school on how Kansas State defended Young and made the Sooners far too one dimensional on offense. When a team that averages nearly 94 points a game is held to 25 points under its average, there’s probably more to be concerned about than just a bad shooting night.

Another glaring issue that showed up in spades in the Kansas State game was how easily the Wildcats were able to get open looks at the basket and how easily they were able to get into the paint and to the rim for easy lay-ins and alley-oop slam dunks. This was painfully apparent in the second half when K-State widened its lead and put the game away.

Oklahoma may be No. 4 in the latest AP poll and No. 6 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, but ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, which puts more emphasis on the strength of a team going forward than on past performance, sees the Sooners as just the 26th best team in NCAA Division I moving forward. Despite this, OU’s strength of schedule is rated as the eighth most difficult, strength of record (14-3) sixth and RPI (ratings percentage index) No. 9.

Over a six-game stretch, including the loss on Tuesday at Kansas State, Oklahoma has road games at Oklahoma State and Texas, a huge home game with Kansas next Tuesday, a nonconference road game at Alabama as part of the Big 12-SEC Basketball Challenge and back home to host Baylor on Jan. 30.

The Basketball Power Index gives the Sooners a 12 percent chance to go 5-1 during this six-game gauntlet, a 27 percent chance to go 4-2, 32 percent to go 3-3 and a 20 percent chance to win two and lose 4 during that span.

Those six games represent the middle six of the Big 12’s 18-game round-robin schedule but, more importantly, they will ultimately define how good this Oklahoma team really is and whether its staying power is real or artificial.

I’m betting the Sooners will beat the odds and make a definitive statement about their staying power by the end of that critical six-game run.