Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
Sooners, Pokes out, it's time to root against their conference
The great Billy Tubbs once ridiculed the Big East for playing an unwatchable brand of basketball but modern Big 12 hoops is even less entertaining
On March 13, 1990, in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, an interesting headline appeared:
“Big East May Get Its Chance to Put Tubbs, Sooners to Sleep.”
There are so many great things about this headline.
One, the subject: Billy Tubbs, the man who made basketball cool at Oklahoma, whose teams went up and down the floor, once threatened to score 100 points in a half and who remains the only Sooner coach to have made everybody forget what an awfully-conceived basketball venue Lloyd Noble Center has always been.
Two, the fact the basketball coach at Oklahoma could lead off a notes column in the Los Angeles Times, because as big as Billy became in the state, it’s still easy to forget how large his national profile loomed, too.
Three, what’s up with capitalizing every word that’s neither a preposition nor an article?
Four, what Tubbs said to earn the top spot in sportswriter Harley Tinkham’s “Morning Briefing” column, because here’s how the story began:
Oklahoma basketball coach Billy Tubbs recently was quoted as saying that doctors prescribed watching Big East Conference games as a cure for insomnia.
“Oh, no,” Tubbs said. “What I meant to say was that on videotapes of Big East games, they have a disclaimer that says, ‘Caution. May cause drowsiness.’”
Alas, the Big East nor the Sooners got the chance to impose its will upon the other.
Though Georgetown was the No. 3 seed in the Midwest, OU drew coach Dean Smith’s North Carolina Tar Heels in the second round after knocking off Towson State in the first.
Carolina, which entered with an uncharacteristic 12 losses, prompting a similarly uncharacteristic No. 8 seed, beat the Sooners 79-77 to reach an amazing 10th straight Sweet 16 (a streak that would last three more seasons).
Despite the loss, it was still an historic Sooner season in one respect. It marked the third straight year OU received a No. 1 seed.
The year before, the Sooners were knocked out in the Sweet 16 by Virginia (after scoring 124 points in the second round against Louisiana Tech).
The year before that, as though anybody’s forgotten, OU reached the national championship game, falling to Kansas 83-79 after the teams played to a 50-50 first-half tie.
Think of all that as an introduction, because it’s relevant right now, because right now if some current coach was to pick up where Tubbs left off, which conference would get singled out as a yawning festival?
If you were quick enough to think there’s no way he’s asking this question without it being the Big 12, you’re right.
Way back the Big East counted some of the nation’s highest-profile programs, like Georgetown, Syracuse, Connecticut and St. John’s, not to mention Villanova, Seton Hall and Providence, led by a who’s who of legendary coaches like John Thompson, Jim Calhoun, Rollie Massimino, Jim Boheim, Lou Carnesecca and Rick Pitino.
What those programs became famous for beginning in the early 80s when it seemed like they were the only conference showcased on ESPN, were these knock-down, drag-out, first-one-to-60-wins kind of games.
In 1981-82, Georgetown went 30-7 averaging 67.6 points per game.
How is that possible?
These days, though many will tell you it’s the nation’s best conference — a conference in which one team with a 7-11 record, Iowa State, made the NCAA Tournament and another, Oklahoma, is convinced it should have — there’s no question Big 12 hoops have become difficult to watch.
A look at the NCAA field is telling, because the No. 1 overall seed, Gonzaga, averages 87.8 points per game, tops in the nation. Another No. 1 seed, Arizona, is right there, scoring a third-most 84.6.
The other No. 1 seeds are defending champion Baylor and Kansas, each from the Big 12, each not remotely near the top of the scoring pyramid.
Kansas, at 78.6, leads the conference, which might seem like a fine output, but is still just 25th in the nation. Baylor, at 76.5, is 46th and Texas Tech at 71.7, the only other team in the league breaking 70, is 156th.
Want an absolute shocker?
Though the figure may be skewed slightly because it includes Tuesday night’s 89-72 NIT victory over Missouri State, the next highest scoring team — there’s no way this can be right, right? — is OU, fourth in the conference and 230th in the nation, at 69.1 points.
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A quick aside on the Sooners:
Porter Moser’s shortcomings or lack of them not withstanding, coming up big against Missouri State could actually be a big deal, especially if it can lead to another two (or three or four) victories, sending OU to New York.
The Sooners showed up excited, ready and hungry, underlining one of Moser’s strengths even his detractors give him — motivator — and better than that, they got scoring from their best scorer, Umoja Gibson, who could come back to Norman for a fifth college season and, should he, games like Tuesday’s should only make him more dangerous.
Also, playing at a better pace than typically, OU turned the ball over just nine times. If Moser’s second Sooner team can do that — play faster, turn it over less — it won’t be crossing its fingers and toes a year from now hoping to get an NCAA bid.
It will be in.
The conference’s three lowest scoring programs — Texas (68.3), TCU (68.1), Iowa State (66.5) — have one thing in common: each reached the NCAA field.
It’s also, horribly, far worse than anything the old Big East put us through.
Though ’81-’82 Georgetown didn’t score, ’81-’82 Syracuse (79.2), Boston College (77.8), Villanova (73.7), Seton Hall (72.1) and St. John’s (70.1) were all in the 70s and the conference scored more and more through the decade.
In fact, by 1990 — Providence (83.9), Pitt (83.7), Syracuse (82.5), Connecticut (79.1), Boston College (72.3), St. John’s (71.8), Villanova (70.5) — Tubbs was pretty much mistaken.
Compared to his Sooners, they weren’t scoring, but compared to the Big 12, 32 years later, they were scoring in bunches.
The field down to 64, the NCAA’s main draw begins today. Not one team from Oklahoma is playing, so you’ve got two choices:
Root for your conference and unwatchable basketball, or root for the once great game played in your conference by rooting against that conference now.
Should they all fall down, just maybe they’ll have learned a lesson and the Big 12 can begin inching back toward entertaining basketball next season.