Oklahoma basketball: Sooner men struggling to get over the hump

Nearing the halfway point of the Big 12 schedule, you can sum up the men’s Oklahoma basketball conference season by the cliche, “so close, yet so far.”

Six of Oklahoma’s seven Big 12 games have been decided by five or fewer points., three by three or less. In the Sooners’ seven games against Big 12 opponents, including the 72-56 loss to Oklahoma State, OU has scored 469 points to 485 by its conference opponents. That is an average score of 69.3 to 67.0 in favor of the Sooners’ opponents.

Players will tell you it is incredibly more frustrating to lose by two or three points than it is to lose by double digits. Unfortunately, the Sooners are becoming poster children this season for one-possession losses and failure to finish games despite holding leads or tied with under five minutes to go.

“We’re obviously just really mad and frustrated,” said senior forward Jalen Hill after the Baylor loss, a game, like so many this season, the Sooners probably should have won.

“We’re playing our butts off out there. We’re competing, and we just can’t find a way to win. That’s obviously frustrating.”

The Sooners better find a way quickly or things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better.

By practically every measure, the Big 12 is far and away the best basketball conference in the country this season. With six teams ranked in the both the Associated Press and Coaches Poll Top 25s this week and four in the top 11, it’s fairly evident that there isn’t an easy game any night in the Big 12, and that is part of the Sooners’ problem.

Oklahoma has shown it can compete with the very best in the Big 12. The Sooners have shot the ball well and played good defense for the most part, holding their opponents to an average of just 64 points a game. But they just haven’t been able to make the plays they need to in crunch time to get over the hump and end up on the right end of the outcome.

Offensive rebounds in particular and rebounding in general — the Sooners are dead last in the Big 12 in both departments — has been a major concern, especially in conference play. When you combine that with a high number of turnovers, the residual effect is limited OU opportunities at both ends of the floor.

This could be a very trying week for the Oklahoma men. Tuesday night they play No. 11 TCU at Schollmeier Arena in Ft. Worth. The Horned Frogs are coming off of a 22-point blowout on the road at Kansas, so you know they are going to be pumped up, and on Saturday the Sooners are at home to host Alabama, which this week moved into the No. 2 spot in the country.

The five games after this weekend are at home against Oklahoma State, which beat the Sooners by 16 points a week ago, then to West Virginia, which defeated TCU by nine earlier this month. Then comes a gauntlet that includies Baylor in Waco, Kansas in Norman and a red-hot Kansas State bunch, also at OU.

There is no rest for the weary in this league, which means the Sooners are going to have to dig down a little deeper in the tank before the hole they are slowly digging for themselves totally consumes them.