Oklahoma basketball: As expected, Sooners’ NCAA tourney odds improve

We all knew that the Oklahoma basketball win over 13th-ranked West Virginia was an important resume builder.

What we didn’t know was how much it would strengthen the Sooners’ chances of making it back to the NCAA Tournament for a third consecutive season.

We won’t know the ultimate answer to that question until Selection Sunday the third week in March. Between now and then there are still a lot of basketball to be played — eight more regular-season games and a conference tournament — and much can change, both good and bad, as a result.

Through 23 games, Oklahoma (15-8, 5-5) has faced three ranked teams (Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia) and a couple more (Wichita State and Texas Tech) that have been ranked at some point this season. The Sooners are 1-4 in those contests.

That’s a little shaky and far from a lock as far as inclusion in the 64-team NCAA Tournament field is concerned. After all, it was just one week ago that ESPN Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi projected Oklahoma as an 11 seed and one of the last four teams to make it into the tournament, but having to play its way in in one of the two mid-week play-in games in Dayton, Ohio.

Having to play your way into the tournament obviously is better than being left out entirely, but only slightly better. Rare is it that a play-in winner makes it past the round-one opening game two days later.

If Selection Sunday were today, Lunardi says Oklahoma would likely be a nine seed, up two spots from just a week ago. The nine line also has its challenges, because if you are lucky enough to win and advance the weekend matchup is likely to be the No. 1 seed in that region.

I’d surely rather be on the nine line if I am the Sooners than an 11 or 12 seed, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Checking in with another bracketologist, Jerry Palm, the CBS Sports version of Joe Lunardi, currently projects OU as an eight seed, but also has them “on the bubble” and with work still to do.

A week ago, Oklahoma was ranked 58th in the NCAA NET rankings, one of the measurement tools the NCAA selection committee uses in selecting and seeding the NCAA Tournament field. As a result of the win over West Virginia, the Sooners are now at No. 48.

And the latest Kenpom rankings has the Sooners at No. 43 and with the eighth most difficult schedule.

The next two and a half weeks will be incredibly telling. Upcoming games against Iowa State (on Wednesday) and Oklahoma State are winnable, and the Sooners finish out the regular season with a home game against Texas and a road contest at TCU, also winnable games given OU has already beaten the latter two teams this season.

It’s the four games sandwiched in between that will have the greatest impact on Oklahoma’s March Madness plans. Over a two-week time frame, the Sooners will play at No. 3 Kansas, at home against No. 1 Baylor, at home hosting No. 24 Texas Tech and on the road at No. 14 West Virginia. Win won of those, and Oklahoma should be a lock

The Sooners have never had to play their way in in 19 NCAA Tournament appearances and six under head coach Lon Kruger. Oklahoma has participated in 13 of the last 20 NCAA Tournaments, including two Final Four appearances and four times advancing as far as the Elite Eight.

Whether OU makes receives an at-large bid to this year’s tournament will largely depend on how the team performs over the next 17 days.