Moser failing to inspire confidence
Though they've won their last three, Sooners played their best basketball in January, a fact seemingly lost on their coach.
Might as well start at the top.
Porter Moser does not inspire confidence. And yes, we know, it’s just one regular season, he had to make a killing in the transfer portal just to put a team on the floor in the first place and he’s clearly committed to the cause.
We get it.
On the other hand … plenty.
“It was huge,” he said four days ago, Saturday, after OU took down Kansas State to claim its third straight win, move to 17-14 overall, 7-11 in the conference, thereby securing the seventh seed at the Big 12 tournament, which begins today in Kansas City, but not until Thursday for the Sooners, who play Baylor.
“I mean, we knew what we had to do and we mentioned just taking it one step at a time and I’m just proud of the resiliency of this group.”
That, though, was not the end of his answer.
Let’s pick it up a few sentences later.
“I told the guys, I looked back on the Kansas State game the first time we played them two months ago to now, ‘Man, are we better in so many areas.’ And that’s a method to all this madness that you want to be doing. And the teams that we had at Loyola, teams with coach [Rick] Majerus; we’re constantly teaching, trying to get better and better and play your best basketball in February and March, and we are.”
We’ll deconstruct his words a little, challenge their veracity a little, offer a better picture of the last couple of months of Sooner hoops, because what Moser offered doesn’t square with reality.
More troubling is he really believes it.
Moser’s authentic and that’s a virtue, but the idea his team spent the season improving is ludicrous. And the idea that, minutes after a win that completed a run of three victories over the Nos. 6, 10 and 9 teams in the conference — Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Kansas State, the first two at home — that that’s where his head was, and how this season of Sooner basketball has been right there with the grand traditions of getting better as the season goes along, as practiced by St. Louis from 2007-11, where Moser assisted Majerus, and from 2011-21 at Loyola-Chicago, where he ran the program, are ludicrous, too.
For one, the Billikens were not very good while Moser was there, posting a winning mark in the Atlantic 10 just once in four seasons, Majerus reaching his only NCAA Tournament there the year after Moser left.
Two, in the second half of Moser’s Loyola tenure, when the Ramblers took off as a program, those teams really did get better as the season went along.
In case you’re just checking in with Sooner hoops now, or if you see the season as the Moser sees it, which is to have missed its arc, here’s a refresher.
The Sooners were a great story before the calendar turned. They went 10-2 before conference play began, taking down then-No. 14 Florida and then-No. 12 Arkansas along the way.
They lost by 10 at then-No. 1 Baylor, 84-74, but they hung in there, played the Bears tough and, next game out, came alive down the stretch to top then-No. 11 Iowa State.
That got them to 12-3 and 2-1 against conference foes, the other league victory a Jan. 1 decision over Kansas State.
So let’s get this straight.
What was Moser saying about his team getting better from one Kansas State game to the other, when it was 10-2 the the first time it played and beat the Wildcats and 16-14 the second time it played and beat the Wildcats?
Maybe Moser should save saying, “Man, are we better in so many areas,” to his team in times it hasn’t lost 12 of 18 games.
Maybe he shouldn’t say it about any team that turns the ball over 14.8 times per game, ranking 327th of 358 Division I programs, a count that becomes worse when divided by possessions, because in that category, turnover percentage, at 19.8, OU ranks 352nd.
Nor is it like the Sooners got better with the ball as the season went along. After turning it over a season-low six times against TCU on Jan. 31, OU averaged 15 giveaways its last nine games of the regular season.
Or, here’s a number:
Moser’s Sooners average 68.8 points, the program’s lowest figure since Jeff Capel’s last team averaged 66 in 2010-11.
Can’t take care of the ball.
Can’t win (much).
All that and, on the day his team knocks off one of just two teams looking up at it in the conference, Moser was talking about taking care of business and improving over time, which if it had managed either of the above, wouldn’t be in the fix it now finds itself in, likely having to win two games at the conference tournament — over Baylor and, probably, Texas Tech, the Nos. 3 and 14 teams in the nation — just to get into the field of 68, because the bracketologists don’t see the Sooners in it now, nor as one of the first four out, nor one of the next four out.
Seems like a better answer after topping Kansas State would have been, “Well, we never should be where we’ve put ourselves, but it’s good to be finding ways to win.”
Or something like that.
You can tell quite a bit by what coaches say.
He entered certain. He left certain. He came back certain. There were a few years there when, not understanding what Josh Heupel was doing with the offense, he wasn’t certain and it showed.
Listen to him for a month of games and you could sense the insecurity, see the boulder on the shoulder, know he was a fighter, and, anyway, he wasn’t guessing.
Lincoln Riley exuded confidence and made all kinds of sense until his last season when he didn’t, and given it was his last season, it all makes sense now.
Sherri Coale knew when her team was really good and knew when it wasn’t, too.
Patty Gasso’s got it all under control.
The enthusiasm’s still infectious, but can he see his team clearly and does he have answers? Is there a plan any deeper than the sheer force of his personality which, stipulated, is infectiously enthusiastic but, alone, ain’t enough to get it done?
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Speaking Tuesday with local media, Moser was asked if he though his team could reach the NCAA Tournament by topping Baylor in Kansas City Thursday, or would it have to win the next one, too?
“I think we’ve got a really good case for a lot of reasons,” he said. “I’ll sound off on that later. Just really want all our focus about Baylor right now.”
In fact, don’t talk about it before Baylor or after.
OU’s where it’s at for what it’s done on the court.
Getting to a better place must happen there, too.