The Oklahoma Sooners are considered to be a fairly safe NCAA Tournament candidate at this point despite all of their recent struggles, but they’ll need to find a way to beat the feisty Oklahoma State Cowboys in order to avoid a nerve-wracking Selection Sunday. The Big 12 Tournament meeting will be the third Bedlam matchup of the year, with the in-state rivals splitting the two previous meetings.
No. 9 seed Oklahoma (18-12, 8-10) vs. No. 8 seed Oklahoma State (18-13, 8-10): 6 p.m. CT, Sprint Center (Kansas City, Mo.)
Commentary: Dave Flemming, Robbie Hummel and Kris Budden
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Radio: Sooner Radio Network (KRXO 107.7 FM “The Franchise” in Oklahoma City; KTBZ 1430 AM in Tulsa)
Line: Oklahoma -1.0 (as of 8:30 a.m. CT)
The Bubble Situation
Oklahoma no longer sits on the ‘Last Four Byes’ line in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology, and he now has the Sooners as a No. 9 seed facing Virginia Tech in Detroit. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is listed as one of the ‘First Four Out’. Jerry Palm, on the other hand, has Oklahoma as a No. 10 seed (also in Detroit) while excluding Oklahoma State entirely. As far as NCAA RPI is concerned, Oklahoma ranks 36th while Oklahoma State ranks 89th. In spite of how solid the Cowboys have looked, this is absolutely a must-win game for Mike Boynton’s team. A win would give them a good shot at a First Four (Dayton play-in games) bid. If Oklahoma was to lose, the First Four would be the Sooners’ likely destination. However, a win would likely put them in an 8-9 game.
About Oklahoma State
- Since falling to TCU in a lopsided affair, the Cowboys have won three out of four, claiming wins over Texas Tech and Kansas in the process.
- Graduate transfer Kendall Smith has been one of the keys to Oklahoma State’s success, providing a steady presence at the point guard position and averaging over 14 PPG in Big 12 play. He’s been a pleasant surprise for a team that was picked to finish 10th in the preseason, and his squad wouldn’t be in a position to possibly earn a tourney berth without him. In Oklahoma State’s win over Kansas, the senior scored 25 points while going 4-6 from beyond the arc.
- The Cowboys are 61st (7th in Big 12) in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rating while ranking 60th (7th) in his offensive efficiency rating.
- While the Sooners do hold an all-time series lead over Oklahoma State, the Cowboys have a 4-2 advantage in conference tournament matchups. However, Buddy Hield and the 2015 Sooners won the most recent Big 12 Tournament meeting by a score of 64-49.
- A chance for Young to make an impression - The Big 12 Tournament provides Young with a chance to alter his perception after an inauspicious stretch to end the regular season. The media ate him up from mid-December through the end of January, but they proceeded to spit him after things went south for Young and his team. This coverage caused plenty of Trae Young fatigue across the college basketball world. Now, he’s unjustifiably seen as a villain by many. The Big 12 Tournament provides Young with a national stage on which he could potentially gain a bit more national favor before the NCAA Tournament begins, with the games providing him a chance to prove that he is, in fact, the real deal. In order to do that, he’ll need to play under control and truly get his teammates going offensively (and connecting on some threes wouldn’t hurt, either). Ricky O’Donnell of SB Nation is still making the case for him to be college basketball’s player of the year, and he makes some decent points. Like most people, I think Young has let it slip away, but perhaps it isn’t too late to make a push.
- Prove us wrong - Oklahoma struggled mightily as far as defense and general effort were concerned during its downslide. The team broke a six-game skid and showed a good amount of energy against Kansas State, but all of the energy went out the window in Waco a few days later. They returned home and put together a complete performance against Iowa State, but is anyone confident in their ability to sustain the energy away from the Lloyd Noble Center? Most of us aren’t terribly confident, but I’d like to see them prove us wrong. Oklahoma State is definitely going to bring the energy, so Oklahoma’s stay in Kansas City will be quite brief if they don’t match it.
- Kameron McGusty - McGusty has obviously suffered a sophomore slump in 2017-18, but he looked a bit more like the guy we know he can be in Oklahoma’s win over Iowa State. If Oklahoma is going to make a late push, he may need to be this team’s offensive spark. His opportunities are aplenty now that he’s back in the starting lineup, but it’s all a matter of keeping that confidence going.
As I mentioned, this is largely a matter of Oklahoma showing a pulse and giving the necessary effort to hang with this Oklahoma State team. But will guys like Brady Manek and Christian James be able to hit some open looks away from the LNC? Will Trae Young’s shot selection be better than it’s been as of late? These things have typically been far less problematic at home (with some notable exceptions) than on the road, but I’m interested to see how things will go in front of a relatively sparse and somewhat neutral crowd in Kansas City. I hope I’m wrong (it happens a lot), but I’m not terribly bullish on OU’s chances tonight. If OU falls, I think the Sooners will hear their name called on Sunday. But, man... we’ll all be sweating it out.
Oklahoma State 82, Oklahoma 76