Oklahoma basketball: Two in-season lapses cost Sooners spot in Big Dance

Feb 12, 2022; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners forward Tanner Groves (35) moves against Kansas Jayhawks forward K.J. Adams (24) during the first half at Allen Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 12, 2022; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners forward Tanner Groves (35) moves against Kansas Jayhawks forward K.J. Adams (24) during the first half at Allen Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports /

A little over a week ago, the chances that the men’s Oklahoma basketball team would make this year’s NCAA Tournament were none and done.

After three straight Sooner wins to end the regular season, however, there are a few folks outside of Norman, Oklahoma, who believe a crack in the door may have opened. It’s probably a l-o-o-o-o-n-gshot at best, but where’s there’s an opening, as slight as it might be, there’s always hope.

It’s a much better possibility that the Sooners will receive a postseason invite to the National Invitation Tournament, or as some NCAA Tournament-bound fans like to remind us, the NIT acronym stands for the ‘Not Invited Tournament.”

The hardcore truth is Oklahoma’s NCAA Tournament worthiness tailed off precipitously once the Big 12 schedule tipped off.

The new-look Sooners, featuring nine newcomers on the 2021-22 roster, turned some heads early on in the season, racing out to a 10-2 record during the nonconference portion of the schedule, including two wins over top-15 teams. OU then won two of its first three Big 12 games, including a win over then 11th-ranked Iowa State, to improve to 12-3 overall.

At that point, the Sooners were sitting in what would be the No. 26 spot in the Associated Press Top-25 rankings. And ESPN Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi had Oklahoma on the No. 8 line in his NCAA Tournament projections. Things were looking good for Porter Moser’s Sooners, who were picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 Preseason Poll conducted by the league coaches.

Following the win over Iowa State on Jan. 8, however, the Sooners prevailed just once — a 72-62 road win at West Virginia on Jan. 26 — over a stretch of eight games. OU snapped that extended skid with a solid 15-point win at home over then No. 9 Texas Tech.

Nevertheless, at that point in the season, Oklahoma had gone from a 2-1 start to the Big 12 season to 4-7 in the conference and dropped to 14-10 overall.

Sooner fans were hoping the resounding win over a very good Texas Tech team would be a turning point in the Sooners’ season. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case.

OU followed up the win over Texas Tech with four consecutive losses. In fairness, it’s probably pertinent to point out that three of the four games were against ranked opponents — Texas, Kansas and Texas Tech — and three of the four were on the road.

The final leg in the four-game losing streak was the most telling of all.

Oklahoma was in Lubbock, Texas, for a rematch with a Texas Tech team it had beaten 70-55 two weeks before. The Sooners trailed by seven points, 29-22, at the half despite shooting just 36 percent.

OU actually shot better in the second half, but the Red Raiders scored 10 unanswered points to start the half and later completed a 19-0 run while shooting nearly 70 percent from the field. The Sooners committed 21 turnovers in the game and no Oklahoma player scored more than eight points.

It was by far Oklahoma’s worst performance of the season by far and, for all intents and purposes, was the final nail in the coffin regarding the Sooners’ NCAA Tournament hopes.

After the Texas Tech loss, OU was at .500 overall (14-14) after beginning the season 4-0, and 4-11 and in ninth place in the Big 12 standings.

The only sliver of postseason hope remaining for Oklahoma was to win its last three games and then win a game or two in the Big 12 Tournament. Maybe then, the NCAA Tournament selection committee would the Sooners to have a tournament-worthy resume. But even that was a big “if.”

Well, the Sooners managed to pull off the three wins to end the regular season (the first time all season they had won as many as two consecutive conference games). That’s probably still not enough, and they are matched against No. 2-seeded Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament.


Despite the highs — four wins over top-15 teams — and the lows — having to play in the Big 12 and 12 games against seven ranked teams, including two teams ranked No. 1 — there is still a slim-to-none chance, but a chance, nevertheless for Oklahoma to make it into the NCAA Tournament.

The Sooners are No, 42 in the NCAA NET rankings and No. 37, according to KenPom. The selection committee places significant weight on a team’s NET ranking in filling out at-large bids for the tournament.

In general terms, teams ranked 40th and below usually make the NCAA Tournament field. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projects Memphis and Iowa State, the two teams ranked immediately ahead of Oklahoma in the NET rankings, to make it into the tournament, as well as TCU, which is ranked four spots back of the Sooners in the Net rankings. Lunardi projects both Iowa State and TCU on the No. 8 line in the tournament bracket.

That said, however, Oklahoma should probably set its sights on the NIT tournament. This will be the first time in the last three years the NCAA Tournament has been held, and second in the last eight, that the Sooners have not been part of March Madness.

OU has been to seven postseason NIT tournaments in its history, the last time in 2004 under Kelvin Sampson. The Sooners defeated LSU in the first round before losing at Michigan.

It could be worse. The Sooners could have missed out on postseason action all together. In which case, the Big 12 Tournament matchup with Baylor might have been the final game of the season for the Crimson and Cream.

It may not be the goal they started the season with, but the fact that the Sooners are likely playing on into mid-March and perhaps beyond is much better than the alternative. We tend to forget that this team started the season with a new head coach and practically an all-new roster of players who had never played together before.

That should help put things in perspective for this Oklahoma basketball season.