Oklahoma basketball: For snubbed, disparaged Sooner men it was NCAA or Bust!

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

What was so devastating for the 2023-24 men's Oklahoma basketball team and their fans was not just that the Sooners were left out of 86th annual NCAA Basketball Championship, but that they missed out by just one spot.

And when you examine the resume of several of the teams that were awarded the final tournament at-large berths ahead of Oklahoma, it is even more egregious and difficult to understand.

The Sooners were ranked by the NCAA Tournament selection committee as No. 69 out of the 68 teams that received bids to participate in this year's tournament. In the language of ESPN's resident Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi, Oklahoma was the first of the "first four teams left out."

A very good case could be made that OU should be in, but they aren't and the decision of the NCAA basketball selection committee is final.

As one of just five NCAA Division I teams that finished the season 16-0 in Quad 2, 3 and 4 wins and with a 20-12 overall record in the best conference in college basketball, head coach Porter Moser contends that the Sooners' body of work was worthy of being one of the 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament.

It's true that OU was 4-12 in Quad 1 games and just 2-11 against teams in this year's NCAA Tournament field, but Moser's argument is that the only teams besides Oklahoma to go undefeated against everyone else were Houston, UConn, Purdue and Auburn, All but Auburn (a No. 2 seed) are No. 1 seeds in this year's tournament.

Moments after the full tournament field had been announced on CBS network television and the brutal reality of the situation painfully hit home to the Sooner players and coaches who had assembled on the club level of Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium to watch the bracket-reveal show live, the mood of gathering instantly changed.

"There was disbelief and dismay, heartbreak and anger throughout," was the way 247Sports writer Tom Green described the reaction to the news. And it put Moser in the difficult situation of attempting to explain to the Sooner players why they had been left out of the NCAA Tournament, when he himself was having a hard time wrapping his head around the exclusion decision.

"The raw emotion in that room was so real," Moser told reporters on Tuesday. "These unbelievable young men -- the tears, hugging each other, the disbelief, the anger, the range of emotions was raw.

"Trying to find the words to explain to them (the Sooner players), I had none. I couldn't -- I don't know why the metrics, why we weren't included."

Oklahoma head coach Porter Moser

The reason selection committee chairman Charles McClelland offered for why Oklahoma was the first team out of the NCAA Tournament was that the Sooners were victims of the unprecedented number of bid stealers (5) from conference championship tournaments. That certainly didn't help the Sooners' chances, especially when OU, in the opinion of some bracketology experts, was projected the day before the final bracket was revealed as one of the last four teams to make the tournament.

But then how do you explain teams like Virginia and Michigan State making this year's tournament field over Oklahoma?

It would appear the brand history of those two schools was the overriding reason for their inclusion in the 68-team field this year. Here's why: Virginia was one of the last four teams to make it into this year's tournament. But the Cavaliers made it in despite Oklahoma having a higher NET rating (46 to 54) and more Quad 1 wins (four to two). Virginia was 21-2 against Quad 2, 3 and 4 opponents, while the Sooners were 16-0.

And what about Michigan State earning a No. 9 seed? The Spartans did have a higher NET ranking than Oklahoma (24 to 46), but OU had more Quad 1 wins (four to three) and Michigan State was just 16-5 in Quad 2-4 games.

As the first team to be left out of this year's NCAA Men's Tournament, by rule, Oklahoma would have been the No. 1 overall seed in the 32-team National Invitation Tournament (NIT). The Sooners had participated in the NIT in Moser's first season at OU in 2021-22. That team was 18-15 and also missed out on the NCAA Tournament. As the second team left out of the NCAA Tourney that season, the Sooners were one of the two No. 1 seeds in the 2022 NIT but lost in the second round.

After learning the devastating news about this year's NCAA Tournament, Moser posed the difficult question, "Do you want to play in the NIT?" to his team. The answer was unanimous. The players voted to decline the NIT invitation. And as it turns out, the Sooners weren't the only team to opt out of an NIT invite. St. John's, Pittsburgh, Indiana and Memphis also declined to participate.

No one on the current Oklahoma roster had ever participated in the NCAA Tournament. That had been their goal all of the 2023-24 season, and since Dec. 1 they had been led to believe by bracketology experts and others in the media that they were in good position to make the tournament this year. In their collective heart and minds, the NIT was never an option.

There are some conspiracy mongers who believe that Moser should be replaced or might even be looking to move on himself. I don't believe either is true. His teams have played hard, they are competitive, and it's also important to point out that he has had to start practically from scratch every season.

Now that Oklahoma's season has come to an end, Moser needs to place immediate attention on retaining everyone on the current roster. Only Le'Tre Darthard, Rivaldo Soares and Maks Klanjscek have exhausted their eligibility. You can bet that the Sooner head coach will also be getting a head start on the transfer portal, which officially opened on Monday.