When the selection committee offered a mid-February glimpse at its bracket last Sunday, the biggest surprise was slumping Oklahoma’s appearance on the No. 4 seed line.
The Sooners have done nothing to justify that favorable seeding since then, dropping back-to-back games against Texas and Texas Tech.
Oklahoma’s 77-66 home loss to the unranked Longhorns on Saturday afternoon was the Sooners’ eighth setback in their last 10 games. They’re now a pedestrian 16-10 overall and 6-8 in the Big 12, still safely in the NCAA tournament if the season ended today but not so secure that they can afford to keep losing.
The selection committee’s surprisingly generous treatment of Oklahoma last weekend suggests that the Sooners project as a 6 or 7 seed now. Their six quadrant 1 victories are two or three times as many as some bubble teams have and they also have not lost to a single team outside the RPI top 100.
The major flaw in Oklahoma’s profile is the overall number of losses the Sooners have taken. They’ve already lost eight conference games with road dates at Kansas and Baylor and home games against Kansas State and Iowa State left on their schedule.
Split those four games, and Oklahoma should make the NCAA tournament with relative ease. Any 8-10 Big 12 team will probably make it this year, especially one with non-conference victories over Wichita State and USC as well.
Three losses in their final four games would probably leave the Sooners in some peril entering the Big 12 tournament. Tough as the Big 12 is this year, no team would feel safe at 17-13 overall and 7-11 in its league.
It’s difficult to envision Oklahoma emerging from its nosedive and building momentum entering March because the Sooners have been dreadful the past few weeks. Their defense has remained as poor as it has been all season and their one-dimensional offense has faltered as opponents have geared their schemes toward denying national player of the year candidate Trae Young the ball or trapping him to force him to give it up.
While Young is still averaging a ridiculous 29.1 points and 9.3 assists this season, he appears to be tiring as a result of the constant defensive attention. He is no longer as efficient as he was during the first half of the season, whether it’s turning the ball over nearly seven times per game in Big 12 play or shooting just over 41 percent from the field against league foes.
There were again calls for Young to stop trying to do so much after he scored 26 points on 7-for-21 shooting against Texas on Saturday, but those critics fail to understand the pressure on him to create for himself and his teammates. Young is a one-man engine for Oklahoma. No other player on his team can consistently beat his man off the dribble or set up another player with a scoring opportunity.
Young struggled against a desperate Longhorns team eager to complete a season sweep of the Sooners and get on the right side of the bubble. The perimeter defense of Kerwin Roach and Andrew Coleman made it difficult for Young to get clean looks and Mo Bamba’s shot blocking presence was a factor whenever he did get by his man off the dribble.
Without Young last season, Oklahoma was an 11-win team that never threatened to make the NCAA tournament.
Young elevated the Sooners to unimaginable heights earlier this season, but now they’re rapidly rocketing back to earth.
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