Does anyone really care about Oklahoma basketball?

AUSTIN, TEXAS - JANUARY 08: Brady Manek #35 of the Oklahoma Sooners battles for position with Jericho Sims #20 of the Texas Longhorns at The Frank Erwin Center on January 08, 2020 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TEXAS - JANUARY 08: Brady Manek #35 of the Oklahoma Sooners battles for position with Jericho Sims #20 of the Texas Longhorns at The Frank Erwin Center on January 08, 2020 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images) /

Twenty-four hours ago, the men’s Oklahoma basketball team had a good chance of moving into a third-place tie in the Big 12 standings with one regular season game left to play.

A pretty heady achievement, all things considered. The Sooners were picked to finish eighth this season in the annual preseason poll of the conference coaches.

Instead, on Wednesday Lon Kruger’s guys found themselves tied for fifth and in danger of dropping one more spot if they come up short at TCU on Saturday. Sixth place has been OU’s average conference finish over the last five seasons, although that number is actually boosted by a third-place finish and a tie for second in 2015-16 and 2014-15, respectively.

The Sooners have been to the NCAA Tournament six times in Kruger’s eight seasons as head coach, and advanced all the way to the Final Four in Buddy Hield’s senior season in 2015-16. It’s still unclear whether they will make it back to the Big Dance this season.

Oklahoma has not been one of the better Big 12 teams in recent seasons, and that goes not only for the men but for the OU women as well. The last three seasons, the men have not finished higher than a tie for seventh in the final league standings, and the Lady Sooners have been mired near the bottom of the standings for two straight seasons.

In all honesty, it’s hard to get excited about a sport and a team that competes in the dead of winter and wins about half of its conference games — and less than that recently — especially when you also have a football team that is a a longtime national contender and regularly competes for championships.

Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, the football facility at OU, holds 82,000-plus fans and last season recorded its 129th consecutive sellout (going back to the opening game of the 1999 season, Bob Stoops’ first as head coach).

Oklahoma Sooners Basketball
Oklahoma Sooners Basketball /

Oklahoma Sooners Basketball

If you’ve been to a home game at Lloyd Noble Center this season — other than the home dates for Kansas, Baylor and this week for Texas — you would have noticed the arena not nearly full. Oklahoma has one of the smaller basketball venues in the Big 12, so when the crowd averages around seven or eight thousand for a game in an arena that holds close to 12,000 when it is full, it is a noticeable difference. It is also a readily apparent to the team and, like it or not, a reflection on the performance.

It’s true that it is easier for students, families and fans to attend Saturday football games once or twice a month in the fall than it is basketball games during the week and on bitter cold Saturdays in the winter months, and we also have to acknowledge that Oklahoma is and always has been a school where college football takes center stage.

That is the opposite, say, for a school like Kansas or Duke, that prides itself on being a premier basketball institution.

Oklahoma fans are relatively normal in that they are fickle about where they throw their fan support: They are passionate and highly devoted, but they come out in big numbers in support of a winning team. And there’s also this: Oklahoma football has a much richer tradition and longer record of success than Sooner basketball. That’s just the way it is, and it will never change.

It’s not that Oklahoma has not had success in basketball. Their have been some exceptional teams and players that wore the Sooner uniform over the past four decades, and OU has some very good players today (no other Big 12 team has as many as three players in the top 10 in the league in scoring) and one of the most respected and winningest active head coaches in college basketball.

So what is the problem? Why doesn’t the basketball program draw the same amount of relative interest and fan support as OU football? Time of year maybe? Not as much national attention or long-term success and fewer individual superstars? The brutal truth is that college football at a school like Oklahoma is infinitely more popular than basketball — or any other sport, for that matter.

A week ago, we wrote an article about Oklahoma’s historical basketball success at the national level, citing the Sooners’ five Final Four appearances and twice as a national runner-up. Only Kansas and Oklahoma State can boast more Final Four appearances among current Big 12 members than OU.

Oklahoma has 14 regular-season conference championships to its credit, one-fourth as many as its football brethren, but still something that the school its students, almuni and fans can take great pride in.

It’s not that no one cares about Oklahoma basketball, It’s just that Sooner fans care more and have a higher degree of loyalty to Oklahoma football.

That’s just the way it is.