Was the OU basketball collapse a coaching or a player problem?

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 07: Cameron McGriff
KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 07: Cameron McGriff /

Where does the blame lie for the horrendous turnaround in the men’s OU basketball season?

How did things go so wrong, so fast? On Jan. 3 of this season, after posting a 20-point home win over Oklahoma State, Oklahoma stood 12-1 and ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press Top 25.

Since then, the men’s OU basketball program has undergone one of the most monumental collapses in the long history of the men’s OU basketball history. Oklahoma has played 18 games since the first week in January, and over that span the Sooners have won just six times. They began Big 12 play going 6-3 in their first nine games, but since then, Oklahoma has gone 2-9 against conference opponents.

What or who is responsible for the diabolical U-turn in the Sooners’ season. That is a question OU basketball fans may be asking themselves until the start of next season.

What earlier this year seemed like almost a sure thing that Oklahoma would return to the NCAA Basketball Championship after a one-year absence has slowly and painfully deteriorated to the point that the Sooners’ chances of making the NCAA Tournament field is a giant question mark.

Oklahoma City Oklahoman sports columnist Berry Tramel describes the current condition of OU basketball as “Dead Team Walking.”

As good as this Oklahoma team was playing over the first dozen games of the season, there is no question that they are not a very good team right now. It’s not far off to conclude that the OU team that won just 11 games a year ago was playing better basketball at the end of the season than the current Sooner squad. Both teams lost three of their last five games, but only one of the final three losses last season was by greater than 10 points. The final three losses this season were by 30, 23 and 11 points, respectively.

Oklahoma Sooners Basketball
Oklahoma Sooners Basketball /

Oklahoma Sooners Basketball

But how did we get to this point? Why did this season’s edition of Sooner basketball become so bad over such a prolonged period after starting out as one of the top success stories in college basketball?

You can blame it on the players and their failure to execute what Lon Kruger and his assistant coaches were preparing them for and asking them to do.

But you can also point fingers at the Sooner coaching staff, suggesting that they didn’t have the team sufficiently prepared to play and didn’t make the right adjustments to counter how teams were playing them over the second half of the Big 12 round-robin schedule.

You can also chalk up Oklahoma’s struggles to the strength of the teams in the Big 12 Conference. Top to bottom, the Big 12 is considered the strongest league in college basketball this season. There are no so-called easy victories in the Big 12. You better bring your A-game every time out, or you’re likely to lose, especially on the road.

You have to win your home games and hope you can steal a few on the road if you are going to be a serious contender in the Big 12. The Sooners did very well in the former category until late in the regular season, but failed miserably in games away from home. In Big 12 games only, OU was 7-2 at home, including wins over Big 12 champion Kansas, Texas Tech, Kansas State and TCU. Away from home, however, it was a much different story. The Sooners were 1-8 this season against conference teams on the road.

Truth be told, there is plenty of blame to go around. All of the factors we’ve mentioned, and perhaps a few more, have contributed to Oklahoma’s second-half free fall. The combination has formed into a perfect storm that few teams could have escaped unscathed. On the journey to the tourney, the Sooners find themselves headed the wrong way toward oncoming traffic.

To begin with, if you can’s score with any regularity – can you believe we’re talking about a team that still ranks No. 4 in the country in scoring offense? – and you can’t or won’t play defense, your chances of winning are greatly diminished.

Ever since OU super freshman Trae Young launched 39 shots, almost half of the Sooners’ total shot attempts – in a Jan. 20 overtime loss at Oklahoma State, the nation’s scoring and assist leader has taken fewer shots and is making fewer of them. In his last seven games, Young is averaging almost 10 points less per game than the near 30-point average he has maintained for most of the season.

It is debatable whether the Sooners will make it into the NCAA Tournament. I would predict that their chances are 50/50 at best. But regardless of where they are headed in the postseason, there is no getting around the fact that the team that was the biggest surprise early in the college basketball season remains one of the biggest surprises, but for a completely different reason.