OU Sooner men are good team trying to stay alive in a super good conference

Ja / Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

The Big 12 is unquestionably the best basketball conference in the country this season. It is a league defined by attrition, and the OU Sooner men are feeling the brunt of it.

Just three days after blowing the doors off of a Kansas State team defensively at their place, holding the Wildcats to just 53 points and 30 percent shooting, Oklahoma did a complete about face at Central Florida, allowing the Big 12 newcomer UCF Knights to do practically anything they wanted on the offensive end.

The Sooners trailed the entire game in a 74-63 loss at UCF, a game in which Oklahoma shot a near season-low 37 percent from the field, had the ball stolen 12 times and had nine shots blocked. Almost a complete reversal of the way they played earlier in the week at K-State.

Such is life this season in the Big 12, where every team has at least three conference losses, and we're just halfway through the league schedule. Eight Big 12 teams were ranked last week in the Associated Press Top 25, including the Sooners at No, 23. And that doesn't include Texas, which began the season ranked among the top 20 teams.

Every game in the Big 12 is a battle, which is why winning games at home is almost a must to remain in the championship race. Five of Oklahoma's six losses this season have come since January as part of the conference schedule and three of those are against unranked teams.

You better come to play every game in the Big 12 this season, and even then, you have as good a chance of losing as not, which Porter Moser's OU team -- just a couple of weeks ago ranked as high as No. 9 in the AP poll -- is finding out too often for its liking. The Sooners lost consecutive home games in the same week after beginning the season 10-0 at home.

"Our defense needs to be way better in the last five to six minutes of the game," Moser told reporters after the Sooners blew a nine-point lead with seven minutes to go in a loss to Texas Tech. "You are not necessarily having to score every possession, but if you've got a seven-point lead or a nine-point lead, you've got to get a majority of stops."

The Sooners got that message and responded both collectively and comprehensively in the win over Kansas State. There was no worry about blowing a late lead against the Wildcats. OU suffocated K-State on defense and closed the game out decisively.

OU played from behind wire to wire at UCF on Saturday and weren't able to stop the bleeding. Every time it appeared the Sooners might be making a run, UCF responded with mini runs of its own.

"I just thought they were a step ahead of us the whole night," Moser said in his postgame interview session on Saturday. "They were a step ahead of us when we were trying to guard them. They were a step ahead of us when we drove. We knew the way they protect the rim. We had to make shots."

That is just the way it's going to be this season in the Big 12, where every team can beat any team on any given day and any given place.

Oklahoma's nine remaining conference games constitute the 15 most difficult finishing schedule based on the opponents' winning percentage. Five of the teams in that finishing stretch are currently ranked. Five are home games, including Tuesday night against No. 22 BYU.

Kansas State head coach Jerome Tang is on record this season saying any team that wins nine games in this conference deserves to go to the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners are five games away from that mark with nine to go, and they haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since Lon Kruger's final season in 2020-21.

It's not going to be easy. But nothing is for any team in the Big 12 this season.