Oklahoma basketball: Die pretty well cast on OU’s postseason

Mar 11, 2022; Kansas City, MO, USA; Oklahoma Sooners celebrates after tying the game during the second half against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at T-Mobile Center. Mandatory Credit: William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2022; Kansas City, MO, USA; Oklahoma Sooners celebrates after tying the game during the second half against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at T-Mobile Center. Mandatory Credit: William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports /

What’s the difference between a one-point win and a one-point loss? Well, if you’re an Oklahoma basketball fan, it boils down to the difference in earning a spot with the big boys in the NCAA Tournament or being relegated to the Not Invited Tournament.

Not that the Sooners wouldn’t gladly and graciously accept an invitation to continue playing in March – be it the Big Dance or the NIT — but it is every team’s season goal to end the long season playing in the NCAA Tournament against the best teams in college basketball.

Oklahoma ended a roller-coaster of a regular season with three consecutive wins. That came after a devastating stretch of 13 games in which the Sooners went 2-11 after beginning the season 12-3.

The season-ending momentum came in the nick of time with the OU men recognizing that they had work to do in the Big 12 Tournament if they were to have any chance of leapfrogging their way into the selective NCAA Tournament field.

The problem was, as the No. 7 seed in the conference tournament, the Sooners drew the Baylor Bears. The Big 12 regular-season co-champions not only were the second seed in this year’s Big 12 Tournament but also the third-ranked team in the country and a probable No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

And to add to the formidable obstacle facing Oklahoma against Baylor, the Bears had beaten the Sooners fairly comfortably twice during the regular season, as well as six consecutive times before that.

Oklahoma was not the least bit intimidated by Baylor’s impressive resume — which also included the title of reigning national champions — and came out on the second night of the Big 12 Tournament punching the highly favored Bears right in the face from the opening tip.

The Sooners scored the first seven points in the Baylor game and led for almost 18 minutes in the opening half before succumbing to a 12-2 Baylor run in the final four minutes that turned a 25-21 OU advantage into a 33-27 halftime deficit.

Oklahoma took that first half-ending punch from the conference co-champions and delivered one of its own to open the second half. The Sooners reeled off a 13-4 run over the first five minutes of the second half. OU, playing one of its most complementary games of the entire season controlled the game from there and went on to record a 72-67 upset and douse Baylor’s hopes for its first Big 12 Tournament championship.

Beating Baylor gave the Sooners their fifth win this season over a top-15 team and obviously served as a giant NCAA Tournament builder. But Joe Lunardi and his fellow prognosticators who proudly project who’s in and out of that wall-to-wall annual television spectacle known as March Madness, stiil were convinced that Oklahoma had done enough to crash the NCAA Tournament party.

The seemingly universal sentiment among the so-called college basketball experts was that the Sooners needed to defeat No. 3 seed Texas Tech in the Big 12 semifinal round to guarantee its placement in the NCAA Tournament field, and even then, it would probably only be as a 12 seed and perhaps even require a play-in game as one of the last four spots awarded.

After the first 20 minutes of OU’s Friday night semifinal against Texas Tech — another top-15 team nationally, by the way — the Sooners’ appeared to be running out of gas and found themselves trailing the bigger, stronger and most in the college basketball world would say better Red Raiders.

Porter Moser and his staff made adjustments at halftime. Instead of settling for contested three-point shots, the Sooner guards started attacking the basket more and finishing at the rim. After the Red Raiders expanded their halftime advantage to 40-26, the OU defensive tightened things up and the offensive adjustments started taking hold.

The Sooners reeled off a 14-0 run, and at the 9:34 mark in the second half, Oklahoma had cut the Texas Tech lead to a single point at 44-43. All of a sudden, we had a game again. The Sooners actually held brief leads at 45-44, 52-50 and 54-52 with 3:05 remaining.

After the Red Raiders tied the score at 54, Oklahoma would miss its next three shots from the field as well as a couple of free throws, any of which could have made the difference in the outcome.

In the end, Texas Tech was moving on to the Big 12 championship game, and Oklahoma was left to wait and wonder about its postseason fate.

The Sooners now must sit and wait to see if the NCAA Tournament selection committee believes OU has shown enough in the 2021-22 season to warrant a celebration on Sunday when the NCAA Tournament brackets are unveiled.

While the metrics of who you played and who you beat during the season, will largely be in Oklahoma’s favor when compared against other so-called “bubble” teams, what is weighing heavily against the Sooners in their consideration as an NCAA Tournament team is their 18-15 overall record.

Moser has already begun his lobbying effort, stating the case for his Sooners:

"“This team has the DNA of an NCAA Tournament team,” the Sooner head coach said in his postgame press briefing following the Texas Tech loss. “I’ve been there.“This league is like none other. There is no bottom…and we have competed every night. We’ve won those games,” he said.“I’ve been in the NCAA Tournament. I’ve advanced in the NCAA Tournament. I know what an NCAA Tournament team looks like.”"

Lunardi and CBS’ Jerry Palm both have Oklahoma on the outside looking in as one of the first couple of teams that miss the NCAA Tournament cut. If they are correct, then the Sooners are almost assured of an invite to the National Invitation Tournament, and most likely as a top seed.

While the NCAA Tournament is always going to be the preferred landing spot as a team playing in the postseason, you’ve got to ask yourself if being a top seed with most likely a couple of games to be played on your home court wouldn’t be better than going to the NCAA Tournament as one of the lowest seeded teams and having to play a much higher-seeded team in what likely would be a one-and-done experience?

Be careful what you wish for.