Oklahoma basketball: How OU will overcome loss of Harmon vs. Mizzou

Feb 1, 2021; Lubbock, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners guard De’vion Harmon (11) drives the ball around Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Kyler Edwards (11) in the first half at United Supermarkets Arena. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 1, 2021; Lubbock, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners guard De’vion Harmon (11) drives the ball around Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Kyler Edwards (11) in the first half at United Supermarkets Arena. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /

The excitement of Oklahoma basketball making the NCAA Tournament got a major jolt early this week.

On Tuesday, 24 hours after arriving in Indianapolis for the NCAA Tournament, the Sooners received the discouraging news that they would be without starting guard De’Vion Harmon for the opening weekend of the tournament.

Of the over 9,000 COVID-19 tests conducted in the controlled environment that is this year’s version of March Madness, Harmon is one of eight that came back positive. He will miss at least the first two rounds of the tournament, which is probably irrelevant considering that should the Sooners get past Missouri on Saturday, they would be staring straight at overall No. 1 seed Gonzaga in round two.

The rest of the Oklahoma roster is expected to be available for the Missouri game, but there is no question Harmon’s absence is a huge hit to the Sooners’ win probability in the 8-9 matchup with the Tigers on Saturday.

Oklahoma Sooners Basketball
Oklahoma Sooners Basketball /

Oklahoma Sooners Basketball

Most experts straddled the fence in picking the winner of the OU-Mizzou matchup when it was first announced on Selection Sunday, some siding with the Sooners and others with Missouri, but most everyone was in agreement that this showdown of former conference foes could easily go either way.

Now that the circumstances have changed with Oklahoma’s arguably second best player out of the game, the pressure has seemingly shifted to the higher-seeded Tigers.

If Missouri, which reportedly will be at full strength for the game, can’t beat an OU team missing one of its key players, it will be a big disappointment in the hearts and souls of the Tiger faithful.

Not many of those in the know in the world of college basketball believe Oklahoma can overcome the absence of Harmon and still beat Missouri. In fact, there are quite a few who didn’t think the Sooners could win this game with Harmon on the floor.

While the momentum may have shifted slightly because of the news surrounding the OU’s Hartman, the will to win on the Sooners’ part definitely has not.

What Oklahoma will be missing in the way of production without Harmon in the lineup is 12.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game.

That is a big loss, both offensively and defensively, but this is not the first time this season the Sooners have had key players out, and in big games against ranked teams. Austin Reaves, the team’s leading scorer and All-Big 12 First-Team selection, nd Brady Manek both missed games this season because of COVID testing and contact tracing. OU was 2-2 in the games they missed.

“We’ve had other occasions where we’ve been without players and guys have needed to respond,” said OU head coach Lon Kruger in a video conference with the media earlier this week.

"“Missouri’s very good and we’ve got to have other guys step up and replace De’Vion’s minutes and points and rebounds and all that.”"

Easy to say, but the brutal truth is that replacing Harmon’s importance on the floor won’t be easy.

Kruger said the Sooners would go with a committee of Jalen Hill, Alondes Williams and Victor Iwuakor. 

Williams started the first 14 games for the Sooners, but has been coming off the bench in the last eight games after missing several games in early February because of COVID protocols. Williams averages 6.4 points a game and 3.0 rebounds and had 13 points in a close loss to Texas in OU’s regular-season finale.

Hill averages a little over 16 minutes and 4.1 points a game, but scored nine in the win over Texas and eight in the Sooners’ win over Alabama. His 6-foot, 7-inch height also helps on defense and on the boards.

If Oklahoma is going to beat Missouri and advance to play another day, four things must happen:

  • The Sooners need to make baskets and shoot better than Missouri, which means they must play strong defensively as well as on the offensive end — just like they did in beating four top-10 teams in the month of January..
  • Second-chance points have been killing Oklahoma. The Sooners must keep Missouri off the offensive glass and limit the Tigers’ second-chance scoring opportunities.
  • They must protect the ball better than they have in their recent five-of-six losing streak. Every possession counts.
  • OU needs to make its free throws when it gets to the foul line. This game is likely to be close at the end, and free throws could make the difference in winning or losing.

Without Harmon, the Sooners will be able to put more size on the floor defensively, but it won’t matter if Oklahoma isn’t able to put the ball in the basket with more consistently than it has done over its last five games, losing four of the five by a combined19 points.

The Sooners need to dig down deep, trust each other and find a way to win this game, just like they did in beating Texas and Alabama earlier this season.