Oklahoma basketball: Sooners’ deliver direct hit on NCAA Tourney bubble status

As of last Friday, Oklahoma was one of the last four teams in the projected 2020 NCAA Tournament field, according to ESPN “Bracketology czar Joe Lunardi.

In his Feb. 7 “Bracketology” update, Lunardi had the Sooners as an 11 seed and having to play their way into the final 64-team tournament field by winning a midweek game.

That will likely change after the Sooners’ convincing upset victory over 13th-ranked West Virginia on Saturday. Oklahoma’s 10-point home win over the Mountaineers was the signature win the Sooners have been missing to this point in the season, but it may just be a temporary reprieve if they aren’t able to add on at least one more top-25 win in the remaining nine regular-season games.

Lon Kruger’s crew had come close in a couple of other games recently against top Big 12 teams, losing by four points at No. 1 Baylor and by eight at Texas Tech in a contest that was much closer than the final score indicated. Against West Virginia on Saturday, the Sooners finally got over the hump and completed the job.

“Anytime you beat a ranked team, that’s great for the resume standpoint,” Kruger told reporters, including sports columnist Berry Tramel of The (Oklahoma City) Oklahoman, in his postgame press conference after the West Virginia win.

The new NCAA NET ranking system has Oklahoma ranked 48th in the country, that’s an improvement of 10 spots. Before the win over West Virginia, the Sooners were ranked 58th nationally.

The NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET), now in its second season, replaced the RPI ranking system and takes into account more measurement criteria than game results and strength of schedule.

Beating West Virginia definitely strengthens OU’s chances of making this season’s NCAA Tournament, but the Sooners still have more work to do if they want to feel totally secure about receiving an at-large bid.

Kruger has taken the Sooners to the NCAA Tournament in six of the eight seasons he has been at Oklahoma, including a Final Four appearance in 2016. OU has been to the tournament in each of the last two seasons, but has been no higher than a nine seed.

With Saturday’s win, Oklahoma evened its conference record at 5-5 but the schedule the remainder of February is the most treacherous stretch of the season, with four of the nest six games against the top four teams in the Big 12.

The Sooners stay home this week for a mid-week game against Iowa State before having to go to Allen Field House to take on No. 3 Kansas on Saturday.

It’s back home to entertain No. 1 Baylor the following Tuesday. Then a Bedlam road battle at Oklahoma State precedes back-to-back games against Texas Tech and West Virginia the week of Feb. 24. The game with the Red Raiders of Texas Tech is in Oklahoma City, and you can be sure West Virginia will be looking to make good on its road loss at OU when the Sooners visit Morgantown.

Show me a more difficult six-game February schedule than what faces the Sooners going forward, and I’ll show you a team that is almost guaranteed not to go undefeated between now and the end of the month.

Oklahoma is probably going to have to win at least three of those games and pick off another quad I win over a ranked opponent before the Sooners can feel totally comfortable about playing beyond the regular season.

The road map for Lon Kruger’s guys is crystal clear; it’s the Sooners’ postseason plans that still remain a bit murky, even with a big resume boost courtesy of West Virginia.

There’s still work to be done.

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