Sooners face favorable schedule heading down the hoops home stretch

USA TODAY Sports

For good or bad, the Oklahoma men's basketball team has finished its schedule against the Big 12's top teams. But that means the Sooners' remaining games are against teams tied or below them in the league standings, and that's a good thing.

It's been four long years - and to basketball fans in the Sooner Nation, the wait has seemed even longer - since the Oklahoma men's team has played on into the postseason, but from all appearances, this is looking like the year that ends that dreadful string.

Unless the Sooners fall completely on their faces in the final six regular-season games, they are a reasonable lock to make the NCAA Tournament and have a good chance of a fourth-place finish in the Big 12 Conference, which would secure for them one of the automatic first-round byes in the conference tournament.

OU started off Big 12 action going 3-0 before heading to Kansas State for what everyone knew would be the beginning of a really rough seven-game stretch in the schedule in which head coach Lon Kruger's troops would face both Kansas and Kansas State twice as well as road games at Baylor and Iowa State and a home tilt against Red River Rival Texas.

Sooner fans aren't going to want to hear this, but Oklahoma could well have come out of that stretch of games with seven losses. Had that been the case, OU would be sitting right now with a conference record of 4-8. Instead, the Sooners came out of that difficult string of games with three wins and four losses, which included a big road win at Baylor and an upset over then No. 5-ranked Kansas.

After enduring a heartbreaking overtime loss at Oklahoma State on Saturday in the second game in this season's Bedlam basketball series, the OU men are done playing the current top three teams in the league. Oklahoma went 2-4 against Kansas, Kansas State and the in-state rival Cowboys, but are 5-1 against the other six teams in the league, each of whom the Sooners will be playing between now and the second week of March.

The Sooners start the final third of the conference season on Wednesday, when they take on Texas Tech in Lubbock. Oklahoma defeated the Red Raiders by 18 points a month ago in Norman and own a 13-10 edge overall in games between the two teams in Lubbock. Before Tech moved into its new digs in United Spirit Arena in 1999, Oklahoma was 6-3 in games played in Lubbock. Since that time, however, the two schools have split the last 14 games played there. And the last two years the Sooners have traveled to Texas Tech, the Red Raiders manhandled the guys in crimson road uniforms by winning margins of 26 and 18 points, respectively.

The Big 12 records of the six teams OU has remaining on its 2012-13 schedule are a combined 26-47 in conference play, and none of the six is ahead of the Sooners in the league standings (Iowa State, Baylor and OU are currently tied for fourth, however). If you take away Iowa State and Baylor, the league record of the four other teams (Texas Tech, Texas, West Virginia, and TCU) will play to close out the regular season is a combined 12-37. And the remaining contests the Sooners have with Baylor and Iowa State are both at Lloyd Noble Center, where the OU men are 5-1 against conference opponents (the lone loss by two points against Kansas State) and 9-2 overall this season.

So it is safe to say that Oklahoma is in pretty good shape heading down the home stretch in its second season under Kruger, his 27th college season as a head coach. Kruger has made 13 NCAA appearances with four different teams in his head-coaching career, and if the Sooners are able to hold on and make their 27th NCAA appearance in March, the veteran coach will become the only coach to take five schools to the NCAA Tournament.

With home games against the two teams in OU's remaining league games with the best records among the six games remaining and games left with the four teams that make up the bottom half of the conference standings, it is not out of the question for the Sooners to win all six of their remaining games. In a practical sense, however, that is not likely, but it is within the realm of reason that this year's rejuvenated Oklahoma squad would wind up with a 4-2 mark over its remaining games.

For Sooner fans, like yours truly, who like to dream, how does a 11-7 record in the Big 12 and 20-10 mark overall sound? For teams like Kansas and Duke, that would qualify as a below average year, but if you are Oklahoma, a school that has won only 14 conference games total in the last three seasons, an 11-win season in the highly competitive Big 12 would be a cause for massive celebration. That would be only two wins fewer than in Blake Griffin's final season, when the Sooners finished second in the conference race and advanced all the way to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament.

There are still more games to be played, though, and as we all know, anything can happen in this crazy sport and especially at this stage of the season. All things considered, however, the Sooners appear to be in the best position they've been in four seasons.

For more news, information and statistical analysis on Big 12 men's basketball, go to Big12Sports.com.

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