Just 8 days ago, the NCAA Selection Committee released its early reveal. Surprisingly, Oklahoma was among the top 16 teams revealed, getting a 4-seed. That came despite Oklahoma having lost three games in row, and falling to 16-8 and 6-6 in the Big 12.
Well, in the span of just over a week, Oklahoma has lost three more games to fall to 6-9 in the conference, and 16-11 overall. Now, it is a legitimate question to ask if Oklahoma will make the NCAA Tournament in light of their poor form and continued struggles.
Trae Young has been struggling, but that’s from carrying his teammates and suddenly being made mortal against teams stacked to stop him. Back on January 15th, Oklahoma was ranked 4th overall, was coming off a win over TCU, had gone to 4-1 in conference play, and Trae Young was the slam dunk Player of the Year. They were 13th in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings. Since that time, they’ve lost 9 of 11 games. Oklahoma had already dropped to 40th in Pomeroy’s ratings before the Kansas game, and Monday night’s debacle, losing by 30 points, will continue that free fall.
The reason Oklahoma was slotted as a 4-seed, despite the recent evidence of poor play, was because of the number of quality wins they accumulated before February. They won at Wichita State and USC, swept TCU, and beat Texas Tech and Kansas at home. It would be near unprecedented for a team with that many top wins to miss a tournament.
Of course, conversely, it would be near unprecedented for a team more than two games below .500 in conference to make the tournament. It’s only happened once, with Iowa State in 1992, who went 5-9 in Big 8 play, and then upset Missouri to reach the tournament semifinal.
So what will it take for Trae Young and Oklahoma to miss the tournament? I think they are a lock to get in with two more wins in the regular season, but very much at risk if they win only one. They play 3 games–vs. Kansas State, at Baylor, vs. Iowa State. With two at home, and one coming against the last place team, they can’t afford a bad loss. Losing to either the Wildcats or Cyclones would likely put them at 7-11 in conference and at risk.
If they get to 18-12, they would have an RPI around 40, and six Tier 1 wins. No team that has had an RPI inside 50 and that many Top 50 wins (the precursor to the current Tier 1 method) has missed the tourney.
At 17-13, though, the RPI would be right around 50, and they would have lost 11 of 14. They would likely then set up an 8/9 matchup in the Big 12 tournament with Oklahoma State. You really think the Sooners want to go to a must-win game against their in-state rivals? I think they likely miss if they also were to lose that one. And it would probably be the right call.
So to recap, Oklahoma is still likely to get in, though the seed has to be dropping. I do think they will collapse and miss the tourney if they (1) go 1-2 or worse against Kansas State, Baylor, and Iowa State, and (2) lose to Oklahoma State (or whoever they play) in the Big 12 tournament opener. They would have provided every reason to keep Trae Young out at that point.