Oklahoma basketball: Should OU men be worried about NCAA Tournament bid?

William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN's Joe Lunardi, the next best thing to the NCAA Tournament selection committee at determining the 68-team field in the annual championship circus known as March Madness, has had the Oklahoma basketball men comfortably in field for most of the season.

In recent weeks, however, the Sooners' safety net of making it back to the prestigious postseason tournament has been stretched thin. After beginning the season 13-1 and rising as high as No. 9 in the Associated Press college basketball top 25 have gone 7-11 since then, including losing five of their last seven games. That is not a trend that impresses or gets the benefit of the doubt from the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

Despite the Sooners' struggles over the second half of the conference schedule, they are currently ranked No. 46 in the NCAA NET rankings, which is one of the primary tools the NCAA Tournament selection committee relies on as it evaluates teams for both inclusion and seeding in the tournament.

On Feb. 12, after a 66-62 win over Oklahoma State, OU's overall record was 18-6, and at that point in time, the Sooners were considered a virtual lock to make the NCAA Tournament. Lunardi had the Sooners' slotted on the No. 6 line after that game (they had been as high as a No. 4 seed in Lunardi's 2024 Bracketology projections prior to that). The problem is, since that time, Oklahoma has won just two of its last eight games and has been steadily trending downward in Lunardi's tournament projections.

Moser doesn't make excuses for the Sooners' poor showing down the final stretch of the season, but did point out after the Big 12 Tournament loss to TCU that OU was 18-6 at full strength and playing a top-20 schedule when injuries hit the team.

Six-foot, 10-inch Pitt transfer John Hugely IV has not played since that time, and Javian McCollum, the team's leading scorer, and Rivaldo Soares, arguably the Sooners' best player down the stretch, have been in and out of the lineup battling injuries.

"We just hit this injury bug these last seven or eight games," the OU head coach said. "And the guys know it's about to come to (an) end. And that's what's kind of encouraging. We're gonna be at full strength probably by Friday of Saturday (this week)."

Whether Moser's plea will resonate with the NCAA basketball selection committee remains to be seen, but what appeared to be a fairly sure thing three to four weeks ago, looks very tenuous at the moment.

The Sooners are just 4-12 against Quad 1 opponents (home games against NET top-30 teams, neutral site games against team in top 50 and road games against NET top-75 teams), but they are 16-0 against Quad 2, 3 and 4 teams. Working in Oklahoma's favor is that the Sooners have no bad losses (like double-digit losses against teams they are supposed to beat), but they also don't have many quality wins.

As of the morning of March 16, a little over 24 hours away from the NCAA Tournament selection show, both ESPN's Lunardi and Jerry Palm, his counterpart at CBS, have Oklahoma on the 11-seed line, and Lunardi has the Sooners as one of the last four teams in the tournament. That translates to No. 65 in the 68-team field and means OU will need to win a play-in game in Dayton, Ohio, to officially make the tournament.

Pretty shaky ground, if you ask me, but it's better than being on the outside looking in and missing out on March Madness all together. Actually, if, for whatever reason, the Sooners are left out of the NCAA Tournament, they are all but guaranteed a spot in the NIT (what some cynics like to call the "Not Invited (to the NCAA) Tournament." And they could even be a No. 1 seed in that postseason tournament, but that definitely is not what they have their heart and mind set on.

The Sooners have been victims not only of not being able to overcome injuries to several key players down the stretch but also of surprises in the conference championships being staged around the country the past two weeks. Conference champions are awarded automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament, and when upsets occur, particularly among the mid majors, it potentially pushes team like Oklahoma further down in the pecking order.

What it all comes down to is a very nervous and anxious next 24 hours for the Sooner players and their fans.