Good news, there's always the NIT
Losing fourth conference game at home, Sooners' Big Dance paths all but gone
It was the 1981-82 season, Billy Tubbs’ second since leaving Beaumont for Norman, and coming off a 9-18 first act, the new coach’s sophomore effort was transforming.
Oklahoma went 20-9 overall and 8-6 in the old Big Eight Conference, and at a time the opening rounds of the league’s tourney were played on campus, the Sooners survived Iowa State 71-67, earning a trip to Kansas City to play 17th-ranked Kansas State three days later.
The Sooners won that game, too, 68-62, giving them a shot at fifth-ranked Missouri in the championship, but the Tigers prevailed 68-63.
That left OU 22-10 with a winning mark in its conference. It had just beaten the nation’s 17th-ranked team and taken the No. 5 team to the wire, so what seed did the Sooners receive into March Madness?
Into the NCAA Tournament, they received no seed at all.
It wasn’t 64 teams yet, just 48, making at-large bids hard to come by and one was not forthcoming, leaving OU to muddle in the NIT.
The fans were fairly all right with it.
OU having reached just one NCAA tourney since 1947, it felt a lot like Bob Stoops’ first season in Norman 17 years later. Indeed, it was a hoot.
After topping Oral Roberts — at Oral Roberts!!! — then Cal-Irvine and Dayton at home, the Sooners were off to Madison Square Garden, where Bradley ended their season.
Thirteen-year-old me thought Dick Versace Bradley’s coach, and Tony Barone, his top assistant — both of whom became NBA head coaches before they were done — looked more like pro wrestlers than coaches, like maybe Dusty Rhodes and Blackjack Mulligan.
I loved pro wrestling.
That team, led by Chucky Barnett and David Little, featuring Charles “Big Time” Jones, Bo Overton and Lester Pace, as well as Raymond Whiteley, Jan Pannell, Calvin Pierce and Shawn Clark, a quartet that would contribute more later, were quite a bit better than the band of Sooners first-year coach Porter Moser put on the floor against Texas Tuesday night, yet its story is apropos because what it did, going on an NIT run to the Big Apple, let’s be serious, is about all the Sooner Nation can hope from the OU men now.
They could shock us.
Maybe, the longest of shots, they could become the team that stunned then-ninth-ranked Texas Tech last week for two whole weeks. But that team shot 70 percent after the half, so who’s kidding who?
OU’s latest home-court conference defeat, an 80-78 Red River rivalry overtime setback, was it’s fourth, which can’t happen if you expect to go anywhere. That the victor happened to be No. 20 in the polls means nothing, because it’s still exactly the kind of game a quality team must win.
Three days earlier, at Kansas, a 71-69 loss that might have felt like a prelude to victory, was marked by lost opportunity.
Not beating the Jayhawks, who just moved up to No. 6, is hardly a bad loss, and still it was one OU led by five before going 7:48 in the second half without scoring a point.
A similar thing happened Tuesday after the Sooners took a 42-37 edge with 12:45 remaining, just at the other end of the court. Because from that moment forward, Texas got points on eight of its next nine possessions, a string after which it led 56-51 with 6:35 remaining.
Though the Sooners played from behind most of the rest of regulation, a layup from Jordan Goldwire with 38 seconds remaining and a Longhorn turnover spurred by Elijah Harkless’ defense actually gave them a chance to win at the buzzer, but 6-foot-9 center Ethan Chargois missed from the right corner, begging the question if it was the shot OU wanted.
In the extra frame, though the Sooners netted 12 points in 5 minutes, the game predictably slipped away, because of all the things this team knows how to do, winning contests it might lose isn’t one of them. In games decided by four points or less, OU is 2-6.
Fran Fraschilla, the ESPN analyst who’s made the Big 12 his home for what seems like forever, announced during the broadcast that a 7-11 conference record could very well get a team to the NCAA Tournament, yet how on earth will the Sooners get there?
Five games remain: at Iowa State, at Texas Tech, at home against Oklahoma State and West Virginia, at Kansas State.
OU ought to win the Bedlam and West Virginia games, but the three on the road?
They’re good enough to steal one or two just like they’re bad enough to lose the home games, but the last 11 they’ve played make them fare more likely to lose all three.
Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s men’s basketball bracketologist had OU one of his “last four byes” entering Tuesday night, but that’s meaningless if the Sooners can’t go out and win games.
Now 14-12 and 4-9 in the conference, getting to seven league wins would make them 17-14 entering the Big 12 tournament. They’d probably have to win one more, but 18-15 might be worth a bid.
Too bad there’s no reason to believe they’ll get there.
The Sooners have spent the last 5 1/2 weeks telling us they won’t.
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