Oklahoma basketball: Are Sooners really out of the woods for NCAA bid?

NORMAN, OK - MARCH 2: Oklahoma Sooners guard Trae Young
NORMAN, OK - MARCH 2: Oklahoma Sooners guard Trae Young /

Oklahoma basketball has been a tale of two seasons this year in college basketball.

The first part was the nonconference portion of the schedule in which the Trae Young-led Sooners compiled a 9-1 record, including wins over two top-25 teams. The Sooners actually won their Big 12 opener, coming from behind in the closing minute to defeat TCU, which at the time was ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press Top 25.

What no one suspected, as the calendar turned to a new year, was that this would be the top of the mountain as far as the OU men’s basketball season was concerned.

Since Jan. 1, Oklahoma has won just eight times in 19 games. For those of you who might be mathematically challenged, that calculates out to a 8-11 record over the second half of the season.

That is hardly a resume for a team truly worthy of a spot in the NCAA Tournament, especially considering that two of those 11 losses were by 30 and 23 points. And those two forgettable outings occurred in two of the Sooners’ final four games.

Many college basketball experts believe OU’s 21-point home win over Iowa State in the regular-season finale on Friday, coupled with the Sooners’ win at home over Kansas State the week before, secured a place for Oklahoma in March Madness.

If that is accurate, and it won’t become official until the fat lady sings on March 11 (Selection Sunday), it can be attributed to two factors:

  • The Sooners are one of just two NCAA Division I teams with six “quadrant” wins. That is NCAA Basketball Committee talk for wins over teams ranked among the top 25 in the country. That includes four wins over teams in the top 10 at the time the game was played.
  • Oklahoma competes in the Big 12 Conference, the most difficult and demanding league in college basketball, according to RPI (Ratings Percentage Index), BPI (ESPN Basketball Power Index) and any other source you might reference.

The Sooners were 14-2 and ranked No. 4 in the country in the AP poll the week of Jan. 15, and ESPN “Bracketology” guru Joe Lunardi had them projected as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Fourteen games and 10 losses later, Oklahoma has tumbled precipitously from the ranks of the nation’s top teams. In fact, the Sooners would be No. 39 today if either the Associated Press or USA Today Coaches polls ranked teams that high, and that’s merely because they received a single vote in both polls.

Oklahoma Sooners Basketball
Oklahoma Sooners Basketball /

Oklahoma Sooners Basketball

As of Saturday, Lunardi has Oklahoma as a 10 seed and receiving one of the last four byes awarded to at-large teams (teams that do not win their conference championship). What that means is, the Sooners are one step away from having to play their way into the NCAA Tournament in one of the four games played on either Tuesday or Wednesday night preceding the official tournament tipoff.

That is how close OU currently sits to not making the tournament field, despite all their early season success and having one of the game’s best players this season, and that is scary stuff for Sooner fans to ponder.

Texas, which swept its two-games with Oklahoma this season, and Baylor, which handed the Sooners one of their worst losses in this up-and-down season just two games ago, are both projected as 11 seeds, according to Lunardi. Both of those teams are seeded higher than Oklahoma for this week’s Big 12 Men’s Championship.

A hate to be a contrarian and take exception to what the real experts are saying, but I believe the Sooners are anything but a lock to make the NCAA Tournament.

For one thing, the NCAA selection committee does not look favorably about losing trends like Oklahoma has been on since the turn of the year. Nor does the committee typically give a pass to teams with a losing record in their conference.

I believe the Sooners need at least one more win, which would have to come on Wednesday night in the Big 12 Tournament, to feel comfortable about their NCAA postseason bid. And that won’t come easy. OU will face Bedlam rival Oklahoma State in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament. The rival Cowboys have already beaten the Sooners this season and on Saturday completed a season sweep of Kansas, which no team has done this century.

Moreover, Oklahoma State has to win its game with Oklahoma to have any chance of making the this year’s NCAA Tournament field.

Let’s hope Lon Kruger’s guys realize they are playing for their postseason lives as well when they go up against their in-state rivals on Wednesday in the Big 12 Tournament. Lose that game, and you can turn your sights to the Not Invited Tournament.