Is this Oklahoma basketball team is going to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009? Right now we obviously do not know the answer to that question. However what we do know is this upcoming seven game stretch could go a long way towards determining the answer to that question.
While Oklahoma has compiled an impressive 3-0 start to conference play, their schedule to this point is really devoid of a "signature win." In spite of that perception however, the Sooners are sitting pretty at the moment with respect to their RPI ranking. As Rush The Court details, while Oklahoma's schedule may be lacking in 'big name appeal' it's actually played a significant role in their current standing.
Rankings aside, starting this Saturday when Oklahoma will travel to Manhattan for a game against Kansas State, the Sooners are about to enter what is easily the most difficult stretch of games on their schedule. A stretch in which Lon Kruger, his staff, the players, and we the fans will have a much better understanding of this team's postseason chances and/or future once concluded.
As it stands heading into Saturday's game, Oklahoma has a 12-3 overall record. Several believe, our own Matt Hofeld being one of them, that this team would need to get to at least 20 wins in order to have a good shot at making the NCAA Tournament. Now, for the purposes of this exercise we're going to have to do this a little out of order. First, we'll skip ahead past these next seven games and give a 'win' or 'loss' for the games following. Then we'll come back to this seven game stretch to see how things would need to play out. So with all that in mind, and it being the midpoint of the season, let's take a look at what Oklahoma would need to do over this seven game stretch in order to hit that magic number of twenty.
Feb. 11 - vs. TCU (Win): No disrespect, but TCU is terrible and if OU is making the tournament this is obviously a game you must win at home.
Feb. 16 - @ Oklahoma State (Loss): Make no mistake, this is a winnable game even though we're marking it down (for now) as a loss.
Feb. 20 - @ Texas Tech (Win): Tech hung with the Sooners until late in the game on Wednesday night, but again for a tournament team this is a game you need to win.
Feb 23 - vs. Baylor (Win): If you said loss here you could just as easily be right. Baylor has a ton of talent, but they also have Scott Drew.
Feb 27 - @ Texas (Win): We're going win here even though by this point Myck Kabongo will have been back for several games. Hopefully Texas will have packed it in by that point.
Mar 2 - vs. Iowa State (Win): At home, this will need to be a win but the Cyclones are always a tough out.
Mar 6 - vs. West Virginia (Win): Wins at a neutral site and on the road have to mean a win at home, right?
Mar. 9 - @ TCU (Win): See above.
If, and while it shouldn't be needed we'll remind you we're stressing the if part, things were to go as we have them above that would put Oklahoma at 19 wins without even considering the seven game stretch we're about to discuss. Which, when you consider how we have it, really isn't all that far fetched. More importantly, at a minimum it would appear to give Oklahoma at least a little big of wiggle room should they possibly lose that Texas road game or drop one at home to Baylor as examples.
We'll see just how much wiggle room however with these next seven games.
Jan. 19 - @ Kansas State (Loss): Really, really, really want to put win here. There are plenty of reasons Oklahoma can win this game. Just a gut feeling KSU finds a way to gut one out at home. Starting this stretch out with a win however would be a huge boost to this team.
Jan. 21 - vs. Texas (Win): Oklahoma's only 'Big Monday' appearance on the season, don't think that fact will be lost on these players. Texas is a bad basketball team right now, OU needs to win and doing so convincingly on national television wouldn't hurt.
Jan. 26 - @ Kansas (Loss): Love this OU team, but in Lawrence is a lot to ask for anyone.
Jan. 30 - @ Baylor (Loss): Another one that could go either way, but Baylor is usually pretty tough in Waco. They're more athletic than Oklahoma, but if the Sooners can have a stellar defensive performance and make their three's this could flip to a win. As many of us know, Baylor can be very schizophrenic.
Feb. 2 - vs. Kansas State (Win): If the Cats get the benefit of the doubt at home, only fair that Oklahoma does as well. Depending on what transpires Saturday this could change, but prior to both teams seem fairly even on paper.
Feb. 4 - @ Iowa State (Loss): Ames is kind of like the basketball venue equivalent that Lubbock is to football. Strange things tend to happen and the home team usually plays well.
Feb. 9 - vs. Kansas (Loss): Unlike in other years, a win here isn't borderline impossible to envision. Kansas looks to be very good, but probably not the most overall talented team they've brought to Norman in recent years. Still, until given reason otherwise they've earned the benefit of the doubt.
For all you non-math majors that would put the Sooners at just 2-5 over that seven game stretch. It seems somewhat odd to say so, but even just that one win in Manhattan would make such a big difference. It would obviously just make it 3-4 as opposed to 2-5, but for whatever reason that just feels like it would be a lot better. In fact, one could pretty easily argue that 2-5 is really a worst case scenario given what we know right now. There are any number of reasons that mark could improve by at least a game or two.
That said, as many of us likely feared from the look of things there doesn't appear to be as much wiggle room as we might have initially hoped. If things played out exactly as we have them here now, Oklahoma would finish with a 21-9 overall record and 12-6 conference record. Both of which, you would think, would be enough to get this team into the tournament.
Working against them would be the lack of non-conference quality wins and what appears to be, at least for now, a down year in the Big 12. It very likely won't be easy, but if there is one thing we should all have confidence in it's that we have the right man for the job in Lon Kruger.
What he has been able to accomplish with this program in less than two full years has been very impressive and both he and this team deserve the support of Sooner Nation. All most of us have wanted is a basketball team we can get excited about again, talk of making the tournament again. Well, we have it.
So now it's time to do our part. BOOMER!!!