By JOHN SHINN
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The anxiety Oklahoma’s players are experiencing is going to last for about 12 more hours. The NCAA Tournament bracket will be released at 5 p.m. Sunday on CBS. Only then, will the Sooners know for sure if they’re in the field of 68.
The waiting will be the hardest part.
“We hope we’re in. We think we should be in. But it’s not about us; it’s about the committee and what they feel,” OU forward Romero Osby said after Thursday’s 73-66 loss to Iowa State in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament. “We have lost two straight games, so they’re going to look at that. But hopefully we’re still able to make it.”
The loss to the Cyclones meant OU failed to add an emphatic late-season victory to its resumé. OU has lost four of its last 10 games and has only had two road victories — at Baylor Jan. 30 and at Texas Tech Feb. 20 — in conference play. The loss to Iowa State won’t hurt the Sooners’ chances, but the loss to TCU in the regular-season finale raised doubts about OU’s qualifications.
All those issues are legitimate, but as far as getting into the field, OU shouldn’t have to worry. There have been two pillars to an at-large berth for Big 12 Conference teams. The Sooners have built both.
Since 2000, Big 12 teams ranked in the top 49 of the final RPI rankings and have double-digit conference victories have always gotten in.
(It might go back further, but accurate RPI rankings heading into the NCAA Tournament from the 1990s were not obtainable.)
The Sooners (20-11) were No. 39 in the RPI on Friday afternoon and they went 11-7 in the Big 12 Conference.
The only Big 12 team that’s ever failed to get in with at least 10 conference wins was Kansas State in 2007. The Wildcats were No. 80 in the RPI that year.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports Jerry Palm both had the Sooners as a No. 11 seed Friday afternoon. Neither has any influence with the NCAA Tournament selection committee, but they are considered the most accurate when it comes to forecasting the field.
OU coach Lon Kruger did a little lobbying Thursday.
“We played good basketball. We made good progress. Don’t have anything that we can affect it with at this point,” he said. “Like the progress they made, like the play that they’ve turned out. Obviously, a lot of it depends on upsets and other games. But I’d like to think this group deserves an opportunity.”
It doesn’t hurt that OU athletic director Joe Castiglione is on the NCAA Tournament selection committee. He’ll have to leave the room when the Sooners are the topic, but his presence won’t hurt their chances.
All signs point toward OU getting the chance. But it still means waiting through two more agonizing days before the field of 68, and the bracket is announced.
The Sooners will spend that time preparing to play. Even if the historical qualifications they’ve met are shunned by the selection committee, OU will get an NIT bid. For a program that did exit interviews a few days after the Big 12 tournament the previous three seasons, knowing there’s still at least one more game to play is important.
“I think we did enough to be able to be in,” OU guard Sam Grooms said. “But at the end of the day the committee makes that decision. And we did good enough to play in some kind of post season tournament and we gotta get back to work and prepare for whatever lies ahead.”