What Porter Moser's doing isn't working
While Groves sulks and Harkless misses, Sooners' turnover train only gathering speed
Everybody seems to love Porter Moser. His persona, passion, the way he talks about his sport and his team is infectiously fun.
Were you to play some weird drinking game that demanded the subject, Moser, be described by the title of a classic rock album, you’d totally have to go with Warren Zevon’s “Excitable Boy.”
So Oklahoma’s men’s basketball coach has much going for him, No. 1 on the list being the goodwill he’s inspired upon turning an 11-year run at Loyola-Chicago, one that included just two trips to the NCAA Tournament, though each was terrific — a Final Four (2018) and a Sweet 16 (2021), each delivering super-fan Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt to the masses — into the job Lon Kruger gave up following last season.
Yet, that goodwill must be wearing thin given not only what the Sooners have done lately, losing consecutive games to Texas, TCU, Kansas and Baylor, but how they’ve done it.
Here’s a bunch of numbers:
52-17 • 58-20 • 64-11 • 51-25
And a few more:
1-1-3 • 3-10-6 • 4-13-8 • 4-6-11
And a few more:
3-12-6 • 4-13-11 • 1-6-3 • 5-14-12
The top set is the points OU’s scored in each of those last four games, followed by the turnovers it’s committed in each
The next set is center Tanner Groves’ shots made, attempted and points scored in the same four games, followed by Senior guard Elijah Harkless’ numbers in those four games.
Groves and Harkless continue to be the Sooners’ leading and third-leading scorers, who were averaging 14.3 and 10.4 points, shooting 59.1 and 45.2 percent entering the losing streak, but have averaged 7 and 8 points, shooting 40 and 28.9 percent since.
It’s tempting to not blame Moser for any of it. He doesn’t pass, nor receive the ball, nor put up the shots.
Have you seen him on the sideline? He’s doing the best he can.
It’s not good enough.
It’s not close to good enough.
Groves, coming off a fine game against Iowa State — 7 of 13, 16 points — cannot come out the next one, against the conference’s best team, Kansas, and take one shot. Yes, he got into early foul trouble and played just 16 minutes, but one shot? Nor can he let one game steal his confidence, as it did for his next five halves of basketball.
That 4 of 6 for 11 points against Baylor? All of it, the makes and the misses, came after the half.
Harkless has been where shots have gone to die. A big part of the reason OU came back from a big deficit to beat Iowa State, he’s been dormant since.
Players miss shots, enter slumps, struggle, but your leading scorer can’t be allowed to sulk as Groves has sulked. Likewise, a player you really count on, like Harkless, can’t be allowed to become that inefficient. You’ve got to find him better shots or use him to get others shots. He can’t be shooting you out of game after game.
Against TCU, Groves (5) and Harkless (7) combined on 12 turnovers. Had they combined only 10, OU probably wins, so perhaps Moser needed to get them off the court. Of course, that might not have fixed anything, because his entire team has been turning the ball over with abandon all season.
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Giving the ball away 15.1 times per game, the Sooners rank 320th of 358 Division I programs.
It’s a number you’d figure might begin artificially high when a new coach with a new offensive arrives, but gradually get better.
Instead, OU’s going the other direction, turning it over 20 times for the first time in Game No. 12, against lowly Alcorn State, then equalling that number against TCU, before committing 25 turnovers against Baylor.
Moser’s Sooners have averaged 16.9 giveaways over their last nine games and it’s actually actually far more laughable than that, because it’s not like his team gets up and down the court either.
Per teamrankings.com, OU ranks 260th in possessions per game at 69.2, a figure that translates nicely into its turning it ball over on 19.9 percent of its possessions, 346th in the nation.
Moser will tell you it’s his team’s biggest issue, even as that issue gets worse and worse.
Though never a fan of Kelvin Sampson’s disdain for offense, he told me something once that at least made me understand it being among the last things on his priority list.
“You achieve what you emphasize,” he said.
More than anything, Sampson wanted his unit to be the toughest team on the court and, pretty much, it was, even if it took putting a bubble over the basket in practice, which he did all the time, making his team fight like hell for every rebound.
He emphasized what he emphasized and it became his team’s identity.
One way or another, Porter Moser, who’s failed to get in the way of big dives from two players who can’t be diving as long as they’ve been diving, may want fewer turnovers, but he’s not doing what it takes to stop them, nor stabilize them.
It’s on him.
Wednesday, OU (12-7, 2-5 Big 12) is at West Virginia (13-5, 2-4), a team that needs a win almost as badly as it does.
Saturday, the Sooners leave the conference and Norman to face No. 1 Auburn.
It's his first year in the best conference in the country. He created this team from scratch during a pandemic. Let's give the man some breathing room. I love his attitude and fantastic work ethic.
Clay: I salute you regarding your opinions concerning OU men's basketball. I've never been optimistic about this year's team, so their recent backslide comes as no surprise. The lack of star power has been an OU weakness for a few years, and Tanner Groves just isn't a guy to fill that bill. Really, we have a mid-level squad led by a coach who is just thrilled to be at a big-name school...any big-name school. After reading his continued cheer-leading in the midst of the current losing streak, I'm worn out with his shtick. So stay on Moser to fix the things that can be fixed. Anything beyond that is a gift.