Oklahoma State never got its ticket to the Big Dance. Oklahoma, meanwhile, has stumbled onto the dance floor.
The Sooners, losers of eight of their last 10 games and winless away from home in 2018, were announced Sunday evening as one of the 68 teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
OU (18-13) is a 10-seed in the Midwest Regional and travels to Pittsburgh for Thursday’s first-round game against Atlantic-10 Champion Rhode Island (25-7). The Rams are the 7-seed. The OU/Rhode Island winner gets the winner between 2-seed Duke (26-7) and 15-seed Iona (20-13).
OU’s last win away from Lloyd Noble Center came back on Dec. 29 in its conference opener at TCU.
“We look at the entire body of work,” selection committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen said. “We look at all the games. The games in November and December count the same as the games in February and March. Oklahoma had six wins against top 35 RPI. They had some absolutely great wins. We know that they stumbled down the stretch, and that certainly affected their seeding. But they had enough on their resume to get in.”
The Cowboys, on the other hand, were left out of the Field of 68 despite winning two of three from the Sooners, two of three from Big 12 champion and No. 1 regional seed Kansas and other quality conference victories down the stretch.
In all, seven Big 12 teams made the tournament: Kansas, Kansas State, OU, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia.
The difference between OU and OSU’s resumes was a strong non-conference schedule for the Sooners. OU’s Ratings Percentage Index ranking was 48th, while OSU’s was 90th. OU’s overall strength of schedule ranking was 32nd, while the Sooners’ non-conference SOS was 165. OSU’s overall SOS ranked 69th, while the Cowboys’ non-conference SOS was 312th.
Both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State went 8-10 in Big 12 play, a four-way tie for sixth place.
After losing to OSU in the Big 12 Tournament first-round game in Kansas City on Wednesday, OU freshman Trae Young said he was surprised the Sooners finished the season so poorly but said his team deserved an NCAA Tournament chance.
“I mean, I didn’t expect to be in this position by my means,” Young said. “It’s a lot different. I didn’t expect us to be in that position. I obviously expected us to keep winning and hopefully have a chance to get a 1-seed or 2-seed or up in that range. But our body of work speaks for itself and I think we have a good shot of getting in just because of our resume and all of that. We’ll have to see. Hopefully we’ll get in.”
“It’s very disappointing,” coach Lon Kruger said of his team’s finish. “Obviously a very good stretch early, nonconference, early conference, and then in February we just didn’t play well at all. Actually played better the last couple weeks, better defensively, still not the way we need to play as well as we need to play, but, yeah, it’s disappointing for sure.”
Kruger said after losing to OSU in Kansas City that his assessment of OU’s postseason hopes was “irrelevant. We didn’t take care of our business here, so we don’t have any say in that at this point. But, again, when you look at the nonconference schedule and the number of quality wins, you know, that’s what the committee will do.”
That, apparently, is exactly what the committee did.
“Oklahoma was a really high seed (when the bracket reveal was previewed earlier in the season),” Rasmussen said. “If you look at the first half of their season, they had a lot of quality wins, and they’re playing in an extremely difficult league. Again, while there’s no question they stumbled down the stretch, and they dropped by the week, but they had enough on their resume to be in.”
OSU (19-14) now awaits its NIT Tournament fate.
“We won at Kansas, at West Virginia and at Iowa State, and I’m not sure the last time anybody in our league did that all in one year,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton said after the Cowboys lost to Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament. “We also beat Texas Tech, who will be probably be a top 3 or 4 seed. We beat Florida State who is certainly going to be in the tournament. And beyond that, the losses we have, there is nobody who is not going to be in the dance that we lost to.”
“I definitely think we’re a tournament team,” OSU senior Kendall Smith said. “I think we’ve proven that all season long. We won a lot of big games on the road, and we won games at home when it counted. If you look at that and especially look at where they projected us to be in the beginning of the season (10th) and everything that we fought through, and especially to see the kind of basketball that we’re playing right now, I definitely believe we should get in.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.