Oklahoma basketball: Primer on Sooners’ NCAA Tournament history

Mar 24, 2019; Columbia, SC, USA; A general view of Colonial Life Arena in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament between the Oklahoma Sooners and Virginia Cavaliers. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 24, 2019; Columbia, SC, USA; A general view of Colonial Life Arena in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament between the Oklahoma Sooners and Virginia Cavaliers. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports /

Since the Billy Tubbs era of Oklahoma basketball in the ’80s and early ’90s, the Sooners have been a regular participant in the NCAA Basketball Championship.

When No. 8-seed Oklahoma (15-10) take the court on Saturday against No. 9 Missouri (16-9) it will be the Sooners’ 33rd NCAA Tournament appearance.

Current Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger is one of now three college coaches (Kruger, Tubby Smith and Rick Pitino) to have taken five different NCAA Division I teams, including OU, to the NCAA Tournament. This will be his seventh trip to March Madness in 10 seasons with the Sooners, with whom he is 7-6 in NCAA Tournament action, including reaching the Final Four with Buddy Hield and Company in 2016.

The very first NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship was held in 1939 in Evanston, Illinois, and Oklahoma was one of the Final Four teams. Eight teams qualified for the NCAA Championship that season. Behind All-American Jimmy McNutt, the Sooners defeated Utah State 50-39 in the Elite Eight round, but weren’t able to get by eventual national champion Oregon in the national semifinals, losing 55-37.

Eight seasons later, in 1947, Oklahoma posted a 24-7 record and made their second appearance in the Final Four under head coach Bruce Drake. This time the Sooners and National Player of the Year Gerald Tucker won their first two tournament games, but only narrowly, by a combined three points, but that was good enough for the champions of the Big Six Conference to advance to the national championship game against Holy Cross.

The national championship game in the 1946-47 season was played at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Holy Cross, led by the tournament’s most outstanding player, George Kaftan, and a freshman guard named Bob Cousy, who went on to an NBA Hall of Fame career with the Boston Celtics, defeated the Sooners 58-47.

OU has been to more Final Fours than all but two current Big 12 teams

Oklahoma has been to three other Final Fours in program history, most recently in 2016, under three different head coaches.

Tubbs took the 1987-88 Big Eight-champions and No. 1-seeded Sooners to the final game, where heavily favored OU lost to the No. 6-seeded Kansas Jayhawks in a game that many Sooner fans will never forget. Oklahoma, 35-4 that season, the most wins in program history, and with All-Americans Stacey King and Mookie Blaylock, has never been in a better position to win its first national championship in basketball than it was that season.

Overall, Tubbs led Oklahoma to nine NCAA Tournament appearances in 14 seasons at the helm, including one Elite Eight (1984-85) and two Sweet 16 teams (1986-87 and 1988-89).

Kelvin Sampson took 11 different Oklahoma teams to the NCAA Tournament in 12 seasons, including seven consecutively from 1997 to 2003. His 2001-02 Sooners, led by Hollis Price and Aaron McGhee, advanced all the way to the Final Four before losing to Indiana in the national semifinals.

Under Sampson, Oklahoma made it to the Sweet 16 (1998-99) once (1998-99) and the Elite Eight once (2002-03).

In addition to Oklahoma’s 2016 Final Four appearance, the Sooners have also advanced as far as the Sweet 16 in 2014-15 under Kruger.

Only two current Big 12 teams have more NCAA Tournament appearance and more trips to the Final Four than the Oklahoma Sooners: Kansas and Texas, with 45 and 39 overall appearances, respectively, and Kansas with 15 Final Four appearances and three national championships and Oklahoma State with six trips to the Final Four that produced two national titles.

Before Tubbs arrived at Oklahoma in 1980, the Sooners had been to the NCAA Tournament in basketball four times. In the 40 seasons that the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has been held since then, OU has been awarded a tournament bid 29 times, including this season.

Oklahoma’s 32 previous NCAA Tournament appearances have resulted in 10 Sweet 16s, 9 Elite Eights, 5 Final Fours and 2 runners-up finishes.

The Sooners own an all-time record of 42-32 in 74 NCAA Tournament games. Their .568 winning percentage is better than every current Big 12 team except Kansas, with a .697 win percentage in NCAA Tournament action, which not only is the best in the Big 12 but one of the best in the country.