Despite another 30-plus point effort from Wooden Award-favorite Buddy Hield sixth-ranked Oklahoma collapsed in the second half of Saturday’s Big 12 showdown with No. 23 Texas to lose its fifth conference road contest of the season.
With just two games remaining before the Big 12 conference tournament, Saturday’s trip to Texas presented the Sooners with a valuable opportunity to pad their post-season resume and prove that they belong among those currently being considered for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.
But for the fifth time this season, the Sooners only reminded the selection committee that they’re just not the same team without home court advantage.
”We need to be more poised,” said Hield following OU’s latest loss. ”It’s a game we’ll learn from.”
While obvious, Hield’s post-game response to Saturday’s loss was also accurate for a team that, with the exception of playing on the road, hasn’t consistently struggled in one area more than another.
To begin with, two of Oklahoma’s six losses have come against Kansas by a combined total of only seven points, and one of those was a triple-overtime thriller at Allen Fieldhouse in early January. When a team brings the Jayhawks to the brink of defeat on two separate occasions, there’s no reason to critique its performance.
In January’s 82-77 loss at then-No. 19 Iowa State [9-7, 20-9], rebounding and a poor performance at the charity stripe were the main cause of the Sooners’ downfall.
And earlier this month at Kansas State [4-12, 15-14], the Wildcats knocked-off the nation’s top squad 80-69 by out-shooting Oklahoma from three-point range [46.2-25.0], and the field [52.9-43.1], while also finishing with a slight, 36-29 edge on the glass.
When Oklahoma lost 65-63 to a decent Texas Tech [8-8, 18-10] team on February 17th, the Sooners were again out-shot from long-range [36.8-26.1], but both teams finished with nearly identical numbers in field goal percentage [42.1-38.2], total rebounds [37-35], and turnovers [11-9].
Being out-shot from the field [44.6-37.7] and beyond the arc [40.0-35.7] in Saturday’s 13-point loss to the Longhorns [10-6, 18-10] obviously played a significant role, and finishing with 12 fewer rebounds than their hosts definitely hurt. But Hield’s stagnant second-half sucked the life out of the Sooners.
The point to this riveting attempt at analysis? While the Sooners have struggled on the road in conference play, experienced some sporadically poor shooting, and had a few less than impressive efforts on the boards, their main issue continues to be their inability to finish strong in the second half.
”We didn’t have too many good possessions in the last four of five minutes,” said Sooners’ head coach Lon Kruger following Saturday’s loss. ”They whipped us pretty good on the boards, especially late.”
In the unforgiving, and often unfamiliar, environment produced by the post-season, Oklahoma’s issues outside of Norman could easily send the Sooners home early. And considering the depth of talent within this year’s Big 12, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Oklahoma’s post-season resume doesn’t improve between now and Selection Sunday.
Heading into Tuesday’s tilt with 19th-ranked Baylor, Oklahoma is locked in a three-way tie with the Longhorns and Bears at 10-6 in the Big 12, and trails second-place West Virginia [11-5, 22-7], as well as projected regular season conference champ Kansas [25-4, 13-3].
So basically, if the Sooners can’t convince the selection committee that they’re worthy of a high seed in next month’s madness with their performance versus Baylor and at irrelevant TCU [2-14, 11-18], along with whatever they accomplish in the Big 12 tourney, they’re headed for a much tougher opening-round opponent in the NCAA Tournament–and an even greater chance of disaster.
Following Saturday’s loss, Oklahoma is listed as a two seed in Joe Lunardi’s ”Bracketology” thanks to an early-season win over then-No. 9 Villanova, and victories against Wisconsin, Iowa State, Baylor, Texas, as well as a pair of wins over West Virginia.
But Oklahoma has now dropped four of its last seven games, and for a team that’s recently spent three weeks at number one in The Associated Press Top-25, the future has become very uncertain at the worst possible time.