Oklahoma basketball: Can Sooners get the wins they need to dance in March?

Mar 17, 2022; San Diego, CA, USA; A general view of the March Madness logo at midcourt during practices before the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament at Viejas Arena. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 17, 2022; San Diego, CA, USA; A general view of the March Madness logo at midcourt during practices before the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament at Viejas Arena. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports /

Oklahoma basketball has had a number of opportunities this season to be sitting much prettier than it is now. But as of late, the Sooners have looked very much like a team deserving of a 2-8 conference record.

The Sooners opened the Big 12 season losing four of their first seven Big 12 games by a combined total of 10 points. They won twice in the first seven games, but those contests were also extremely close: by five over last-place Texas Tech and one over West Virginia.

Oklahoma’s last three losses have all been double digits as the Sooners have been outscored 243-174 in those three contests. The Sooners fell behind by double digits early and never led in any of those games.

This is a time of the season when you want to be playing your best basketball and getting better not worse. Yet the OU men are ill equipped to handle the adversity that has been coming their way by droves in recent weeks.

The Big 12 is by far the best conference in college basketball this season. Six Big 12 teams are ranked in the top 20 in both the Associated Press Top 25 and the Coaches Poll. All 10 Big 12 teams rank in the top 71 of the NET rankings (Oklahoma is No. 61).

As of Monday, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has eight Big 12 teams making the NCAA Tournament and says four of the six are legitimate top-four seeds. Oklahoma and Texas Tech are the two outliers and will probably remain that way barring a minor miracle.

The Sooners’ roster is a nice complement of good but not great basketball players, but in all candor they lack the talent level, athleticism and overall toughness to compete at a high level in a conference as strong as the Big 12. And OU has demonstrated it is not able to handle adversity when things aren’t going its way early and late in games. When the shots aren’t falling at the offensive end, that frustration tends to mount and unfortunately starts impacting other mental and physical aspects of the Sooners’ game.

It’s almost like a line of falling dominoes, and once it starts, the Sooners struggle recovering from it.

To have a realistic chance to make the NCAA Tournament field the Sooners are going to have to win at least four of their remaining eighth games. And to be brutally honest, it’s difficult to fathom where those win would come from.

Oklahoma’s next four games are against No. 14 Baylor on Wednesday, No. 9 Kansas on Saturday, and No. 12 Kansas State and No. 5 Texas next week. Although stranger things have happened (a la the Sooners remarkable 24-point win over then-No. 2 Alabama), I don’t see the Sooners’ prevailing at Baylor or at Texas, both of which are playing very well right now.

OU historically has not been able to beat Kansas State in Manhattan. Although the upcoming game (Feb. 14) will be at Lloyd Noble Center, K-State is playing at a very high level this season in its first season under former Baylor assistant Jerome Tang, and I don’t see the Sooners being able knock off the Wildcats either at home or especially away this year.

Those four probable losses will make it imperative that Oklahoma finishes out the regular season with four straight wins. Sorry, Sooner fans. Not this season.

OU’s final four games are against Texas Tech at home (Feb. 21). The Sooners won by five at Tech earlier this year, and they should be able to hold serve at home against the only team in the conference with a worse record than OU’s. The Red Raiders currently stand at a surprising 1-9 in league play. But this win is far from a guarantee.

Then it’s a three-game gauntlet of No. 11 Iowa State (there), at Kansas State and Senior Day at home against No. 17 TCU, which hammered OU 79-52 in the first game this season, to finish out the regular season. Tell me how many of those games in which the Sooners might come out on top?

You can do the math yourself, but I’ll save you the trouble and the anguish. OU is looking dead in the face of a probable 3-15 conference record and a probable 9 or 10 seed heading into the Big 12 Tournament and a likely one-and-done…season over.

You have to go all the way back to the 1968-69 under John MacLeod that the Sooners won as few of three conference games in a season. That team was 3-11 and finished in eighth place in the Big Eight. The overall record of the 1968-69 OU team was 7-19.

It certainly doesn’t look promising the rest of the way for OU men’s basketball. That should raise some serious questions in the offseason about where the program is headed and a head-coaching seat that is starting to get a lot warmer for Porter Moser.