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Oklahoma Sooners Basketball: The Path Narrows for NIT, NCAAs

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After a disappointing start, the Sooners will need a miracle to make even the NIT.

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Texas Christian Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone knew the Sooners would be rebuilding this season, but Oklahoma’s sluggish start has surprised all but the most pessimistic fans. Compounded by Jordan Woodard’s absence in conference play, bad luck and inexplicable second-half fades, OU looks highly unlikely to make any kind of postseason run this year.

What would it take for the Sooners to reverse course? Assuming they get Woodard back at some point, it stands to reason that Kruger’s squad will improve—the real question is whether or not that improvement shows up in the record. After all, top-to-bottom, the Big 12 is probably the nation’s best conference.

I’m guessing the selection committees will consider this if Oklahoma mounts anything resembling a decent late-season charge. But how much would it take?

To make the NCAA tourney:

Oklahoma’s thoroughly mediocre non-conference play and the Big 12 gauntlet makes the NCAA tournament an all-but-impossible dream at this point, even though I predicted them to nab an 8-seed in the preseason.

But while their path to the NCAAs is extremely difficult, it’s not particularly complicated—the Sooners can make a strong case to the committee by stealing wins, even home wins, against the Big 12’s elite.

Losing to the Sooners, especially in Norman, would not greatly diminish brands like Kansas and West Virginia. The Jayhawks have already proven themselves against teams like Duke, the Mountaineers beat Virginia on the road and Baylor throttled a Dillon Brooks-less Oregon. Beating those teams would do much more to enhance OU’s resume than hurt theirs.

I don’t think beating Kansas tonight is a realistic goal. Fine. The Sooners fall to 6-9, 0-4 in the Big 12. I believe to make the NCAAs, OU would need:

  • To beat West Virginia at home
  • To beat Iowa State at home
  • Two wins over Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech
  • Revenge against TCU, Kansas State and Baylor
  • To beat Florida

If OU does all that, they’ll be 17-13, 11-7 in the Big 12. Texas Tech made the tourney with a .500 conference record last year, so I think the Sooners would get in with this finish. But I’ve seen nothing to indicate the Sooners are capable of this.

To make the NIT:

Not a single Big 12 school made the NIT last season, mostly because the conference received so many at-large NCAA bids. Instead, the field was littered with mid-tier SEC programs, several with winning conference records.

Those selection were based on a healthy disrespect of SEC basketball—in OU’s case, the strength of the Big 12 could work in its favor. But after a crummy non-conference season, I think OU would still need a winning—or at least .500—Big 12 record for an invite.

That means they’d need to do almost everything in the scenario above except beat Baylor in Waco, probably the tallest task on the list. If they dropped one more game to a team like West Virginia or Texas Tech, that would put them at exactly 9-9, with a 15-15 overall record. Every team in the NIT field last year had a winning record, but OU’s finish would certainly be memorable.

Problem is, I just can’t see that happening. Woodard or no Woodard, the Sooners have struggled in almost every facet of the game this year: their shooting is way down, they turn the ball over way too much, their bigs are struggling. Christian James can’t seem to hit a shot unless it’s a three. And the Sooners can’t close a game with the lead.

OU’s rebuilding project would look much more graceful in a conference like the SEC or Pac-12. But there are few off nights to be had in the Big 12 meat grinder.

Hopefully the Sooners will land Trae Young, develop their underclassmen and come back stronger next season. But with every conference loss, the NCAAs—or even the NIT—look more and more like a pipe dream for the 2016-17 squad.