OU basketball: Sooners' Jekyll-Hyde act taking toll on NCAA postseason resume

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Three times this season, the Oklahoma basketball men have lost back-to-back games in the same week. and two other times the Sooners have been winners of consecutive games in the same week.

It's been that kind of season for the Sooners, which is a big reason why they are sitting with a 6-7 record and in ninth place in the Big 12 standings.

The OU men lost consecutive games this past week: by 17 at No. 11 Baylor and by 10 at home this past weekend to No. 6 Kansas. The fact that both of those losses were to ranked teams isn't much of an excuse in a conference where as many as nine teams have been ranked in the country's top 25 this season, including the Sooners.

Oklahoma was picked to finish 12th this season in the Big 12 Preseason Poll. But the Sooners have been one of the pleasant surprises in the conference, starting out at 13-1 being ranked for 10 consecutive weeks before dropping out of the top 25 on Feb. 3. After wins over No. 21 BYU and Oklahoma State, OU briefly returned to the Associated Press Top 25 at No, 25. Following the two losses last week, however, the Sooner men are back out of the rankings and will likely remain that way unless they are to make a dramatic turnaround in their final five regular-season games.

Once ranked as high as No. 9 in the Associated Press rankings (week of Jan. 8, the Sooners are 5-7 since then and close out the regular season against five teams with a combined overall record of 87-41. Probably one of the most difficult close-out schedules in men's Division I basketball. No. 2 Houston and No. 6 Iowa State are among those final five games, and Oklahoma also must go to Texas to play the Longhorns.

The Sooners are two games shy of a 20-win season, which would be a five-game improvement over a year ago. Two more victories also would give Oklahoma an 8-10 Big 12 record, three wins more than last season. Because Oklahoma plays in the Big 12, a sub-.500 conference record along with 20 wins should be more than enough to make it into the NCAA Tournament, but that supposes that the Sooners are able to win at least two of their final five games. And that in itself will be a tough task.

Looking ahead, OU's game at Oklahoma State on Saturday and March 6 home finale with Cincinnati, a team that is just a half-game back of the Sooners in the Big 12 standings going into its home game against OSU on Wednesday night, appear to be Oklahoma's best opportunities to pick up two more wins. Short of that, the Sooner men must find a way to steal a win or two at home against Houston or on the road at either Iowa State of Texas, which at this point seems highly unlikely.

One area Oklahoma in which has been consistent in this season is responding with a win after two consecutive losses. Sooner fans are hoping that trend continues against Oklahoma State on Saturday. The one difference, however, is that the previous wins after back-to-back losses came at home, and on Saturday OU will be on the road.

Another factor that will weigh heavily on the Sooners' ability to close out the regular season on a high note will be the availability of reserves Rivaldo Soares and John Hugely IV. Both players were out with injuries in the Kansas game. Porter Moser said last week he thought both injuries were of a short-term nature. Soares has been OU's best player in recent games, and Hugely gives them another big body down low.

Oklahoma's strength of schedule should work in its favor when it comes to the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Largely because of it, the Sooners are currently ranked 39th in the NET rankings, which is the primary evaluation tool the selection committee uses in filling out the brackets for the NCAA Tournament.

Although OU is just 3-7 against Quad 1 teams (home games versus the top-30 of NET, neutral-site games the top 50 and road wins against the top 75), it is 15-1 against Quad 2 through 4 opponents.

ESPN's Joe Lunardi once had the Sooners as a 4-seed in his NCAA Tournament Bracketology projections, but that has been steadily dropping in recent weeks. He now has Oklahoma positioned on the 8-line, and that could drop to a 10 or 11 depending on how the Sooners do in the next couple of weeks.

It's still looking positive that Oklahoma will return to the NCAA Men's Tournament field after a three-season absence and the first under Porter Moser. But the bottom line is the Sooners still have some work to do to seal the deal.