Oklahoma basketball: Third-seeded OU has tough Big 12 Tourney matchup

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 10: Abdel Nader #2 of the Iowa State Cyclones shoots controls the ball against the Oklahoma Sooners during the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Basketball Tournament at Sprint Center on March 10, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 10: Abdel Nader #2 of the Iowa State Cyclones shoots controls the ball against the Oklahoma Sooners during the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Basketball Tournament at Sprint Center on March 10, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

Austin Reaves’ buzzer-beating shot to record his 40th and 41st points of the game against TCU on Saturday was the difference between the Oklahoma basketball team earning a No. 3 seed in this week’s Big 12 Tournament or falling to No. 7 in the bracket.

Had the Sooners lost to TCU on Saturday, which until the final three minutes appeared to be almost  a certainty, they not only would have been saddled with the No. 7 seed in the conference tournament, but would not have been afforded a first-round bye and had to play No. 10 Kansas State on Wednesday, with a date with No. 2 seed Baylor awaiting the winner in the quarterfinal round on Thursday.

That’s all water under the bridge, however, but that does not make Oklahoma’s path in the Big 12 Tournament any easier. The Sooners will face the No. 6 seed, West Virginia, in the final game of the quarterfinals at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri, on Thursday. If they are able to get by West Virginia, Oklahoma would advance to a semifinal matchup, most likely against top-seed Kansas.

Oklahoma is 12-9 all-time against West Virginia, but the Sooners are just 1-3 against the Mountaineers on a neutral floor, Two of those losses against West Virginia on a neutral court were in the Big 12 Tournament (2016 and 2019).

Sooner fans will quickly recall a year ago at this time when No. 10 West Virginia defeated No. 7-seeded Oklahoma 72-71 in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament. A made three-point shot by OU senior Christian James as the final buzzer sounded appeared to have sent the game to overtime. But the officials subsequently ruled that James had his foot on the three-point line, making it a two-pointer, preserving the win for the Mountaineers.

And that’s not the only Big 12 Tournament game with West Virginia in recent memory in which Oklahoma has had its heart ripped out because of an official review. A fraction under two seconds remained in the 2016 Big 12 Tournament semifinal game between the Sooners and the Mountaineers. West Virginia led by two points, 69-67. OU was still breathing, but down to its last gasp.

Buddy Hield received the in-bounds pass from Ryan Spangler on the far baseline, took a couple of dribbles and let loose a shot from just across half court. It seemed like an eternity as the ball soared high in the air on a path to the basket.

As the ball banked off the backboard glass and dropped swiftly and cleanly through the net, the arena went absolutely berserk. West Virginia players stood motionless in shock and disbelief, while the Sooner bench stormed the court and the OU faithful in attendance instantly erupted in celebration. For the moment, Oklahoma had won the game, 70-69, on Hield’s miracle shot.

The only question that remained was: Did the Oklahoma superstar and national player of the year get the shot off in time? The game officials went to the video monitor at the scorer’s table and judiciously reviewed clips of where the game clock was when the ball actually left Hield’s right hand. Moments later it was ruled that the ball left Hield’s hand a fraction of a second late.

So with that dramatic, indelible backdrop, the Sooners prepare to take on West Virginia for the third time this season, this time in the quarterfinal round of the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship.

Scouting report

Oklahoma swept this year’s regular-season series with West Virginia, winning 69-59 in Norman and 73-62 in the rematch at West Virginia several weeks later. Can the Sooners make it a three-peat in Kansas City on Thursday? Sure they can, but not the way OU played for three-fourths of the game at TCU on Saturday.

The Sooners cannot afford to play from behind against West Virginia, especially not the 19-point hole they dug for themselves on Saturday. The Mountaineers were once projected this season as a No. 2 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament and own a better overall record (21-10) than the Sooners. Simple math tells us they are far from pushovers.

West Virginia is bigger and plays more aggressively than OU is accustomed to playing, especially the way the Mountaineers go after rebounds and 50-50 balls.

In the Sooners’ two wins over West Virginia this season, the Sooners shot better than 45 percent from the field both times while holding the Mountaineers under 35 percent. West Virginia. The overall rebounding battle was relatively even, but West Virginia dominated OU on the offensive glass. Fortunately for the Sooners, the Mountaineers were not able to convert a number of those second chances into points.

Another factor the Sooners are going to need to overcome in order to survive to play another day in the Big 12 Tournament is history. Oklahoma has gone one-and-done each of the last three years in the conference tournament and has been knocked out in its opening game in six of the eight seasons under head coach Lon Kruger. The Sooners are 2-8 in Big 12 Tournament games under Kruger.

Bottom line

The early line on the Oklahoma-West Virginia second-round game in the Big 12 Tournament has established West Virginia as the favorite. At least one national sports analytics service earlier this week gave Oklahoma a 36 percent chance of defeating West Virginia for a third time this season. That seems surprisingly low to me, especially considering that the game is being played on a neutral court and in a location that is much closer to the Oklahoma campus than West Virginia’s.

The formula for an Oklahoma victory is the same as it’s been all season long: Make shots, play good defense, limit the opponent’s second chance opportunities and keep them off the free-throw line and avoid turnovers on offense. OU is 16-1 this season when its shoots a higher field goal percentage than its opponent.

If the Sooners are able to check off all of those boxes, odds are they will win their Big 12 Tournament game against West Virginia. History may not be on OU’s side, but the players who created that history are largely gone, on both sides.

These are different teams and a different time. Oklahoma gets it done and advances to face Baylor in Friday’s semifinals.

Oklahoma 65, West Virginia 61