Oklahoma basketball: It’s all or nothing for Sooners in NCAA Tournament play

The recent history of Oklahoma basketball in NCAA Tournament appearances has been one of feast or famine.

The OU men’s basketball program has made 30 NCAA Tournament appearances, and 25 of those appearances have come in the last 35 years. Before that Sooner basketball was essentially a placeholder on the calendar between fall football and spring football.

Billy Tubbs coached eight OU NCAA Tournament teams in his 14 seasons as the Sooners’ head coach. Four of those teams earned a No. 1 seed in the tournament, and the 1987-88 team played in the national championship game. losing to Danny Manning and the No. 6-seeded Kansas Jayhawks, a team Oklahoma beat twice during the regular season.

Tubbs’ 1989 NCAA Tournament team made it to the second weekend, but almost became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16, when the Sooners squeaked by East Tennessee State 72-71. Instead, Virginia, the No. 1 overall seed in this year’s tournament became the first No. 1 to loss to a 16 seed, losing by 20 points to Maryland-Baltimore County.

Kelvin Sampson took nine consecutive Oklahoma teams to the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners advanced to the Final Four in 2001-02 under Sampson and two Elite Eights. Six of Sampson’s 11 NCAA Tournament teams, however, did not make it out of the first game, including his first four OU teams. After suffering four consecutive first-round exits, Sampson drew a lot of fire as a coach who could get a team to the tournament but couldn’t win when he got there.

Interestingly, Sampson first tournament game as the Oklahoma head coach was in his first season in Norman. The Sooners lost in their opening tournament game that season to a Manhattan team coached by current ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla.

In his seven seasons as the Sooners’ head coach Lon Kruger has taken five OU teams to the Big Dance. His 2015-16 team, featuring Buddy Hield and two other three-year starters, made it through two weekends and all the way to the Final Four, where the Sooners lost big to eventual national champion Villanova.

Kruger, however, also has been on the OU bench in three one-and-done NCAA appearances, including the loss in round one this year to No. 7 Rhode Island.

There have been a few exceptions, but it almost seems as if the Sooners either make it to the Sweet 16 round, or get bounced in their first tournament game.

The Big 12 has been fairly consistent in recent years, sending between five to seven teams to the NCAA Tournament every season. This year, the conference was represented by seven teams, including a No. 1 (Kansas), No. 3 Texas Tech, No. 5 West Virginia and No. 9 seed (Kansas State), all three of which advanced to the round of 16 over the weekend.

Oklahoma was one of three Big 12 teams, along with No. 6 TCU and No. 10 Texas, who was eliminated in NCAA first-round action.

The Big 12 is 8-3 after the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, with the second best winning percentage among all conferences. The four conference teams who have moved on to the Sweet 16 equals the number from the ACC, the most of any conference.

The Big 12 has all four regions covered heading into the second weekend. No. 1 Kansas is still alive and will face Clemson in the Midwest Regional semifinals; Kansas State will meet Kentucky in the South Regional; Texas Tech is matched up with Purdue in the East Regional, and West Virginia goes up against No. 1 Villanova in the East Regional.