John Klein: OU hopes late-season skid doesn't continue in NCAA Tournament
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Monday, March 18, 2013
3/19/13 at 5:13 PM
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: OU hopes late skid does not continue
Oklahoma's late-season collapse did not prove lethal to its hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
Of more concern is what the slide, three losses in its last five games, has done to OU's hopes of playing past an opening game.
Oklahoma probably dropped from one of those tossup games in the middle of the bracket to a No. 10 seed during the past two weeks and will face No. 7 seed San Diego State on Friday in Philadelphia.
A victory would put the Sooners in a game likely against No. 2 Georgetown in the third round.
"We're just excited to be in," said OU's Amath M'Baye.
There's nothing easy about any of that. However, considering OU's downward trajectory at the end of the season there will be no complaint. Actually, it could have been worse and many believed Oklahoma would slide even farther down in the bracket.
But OU got a winnable game against the Aztecs.
"The guys invested in the program, got good results and have now been rewarded," said OU coach Lon Kruger.
The big question is which Oklahoma team will show up in Philadelphia. OU is more than capable of winning its opening NCAA Tournament game if it plays as it did in midseason. Oklahoma will lose if it plays like it did on its last three games away from Norman.
The Sooners did enough during the season to earn a spot in the NCAAs. OU has victories over Kansas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State.
What the Sooners didn't do was show any signs of a continued upward trend at the end of the season.
There was nothing encouraging about OU's failed finish to what had been an uplifting season.
If the Sooners play at their recent level this will be a short stay in the NCAAs.
If Oklahoma can revert back to midseason, when it was playing at a high level, then it has a chance to pull off a mild surprise and beat San Diego State.
This is all about Oklahoma's offense. It comes and goes. Often without any warning. There may be few teams in the NCAA Tournament that are capable of huge offensive explosions followed by a complete collapse. OU can create and then lose a 22-point lead as fast as any team in recent memory.
The Oklahoma team that beat KU and OSU with relative ease in Norman is not the same team that finished the season by losing to Texas, TCU and Iowa State in the final two weeks.
Oklahoma's only victories in its last five games came at home against lowly West Virginia and unranked Iowa State.
Included in the losses were blowing huge leads at Texas and against Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament. OU blew a 22-point lead in the second half against the Longhorns.
Plus, there might not be a team in the NCAA Tournament that has a worse late-season loss than OU's 70-67 loss at TCU. The Sooners went 0-for-16 shooting 3 in the loss to the Frogs. That game came less than a month after OU had hammered the Frogs 75-48 in Norman.
There's little question there are two OUs. There is the good OU, a team that follows the lead of star Romero Osby and shoots well enough from the perimeter to open up the interior for Osby and M'Baye. The good OU got terrific play from point guard Sam Grooms, who emerged in the last month.
However, the bad OU, the one that has shown up too often in the past few weeks, relies too much on Osby and goes through unexplained shooting droughts.
In fact, in those three late-season losses, OU went from bad to great in the same game.
In the tournament loss to Iowa State, OU shot just 28 percent in the second half as the Cyclones rallied to the victory to get into the NCAAs.
That is the scary part of the Sooners. They go for long stretches in games when they can't buy a bucket. They went scoreless for over 10 minutes in a 52-50 loss to Kansas State in Norman this season.
It is those scoring droughts that are killing the Sooners. That was certainly the case against the Cyclones in the league tournament.
"Again, we just had that stretch," said Kruger.
It is no mystery to Kruger what is happening to Oklahoma. The Sooners are brutally inconsistent on offense.
Why it is happening is another question entirely.
"But our moments are pretty glaring when you consider Texas and then at TCU and (Iowa State) in the conference tournament," said Kruger. "I would have liked to have been able to play better than we did."
Still, getting into the tournament is a second chance for Oklahoma to prove they are better than the finish to the regular season and Big 12 Tournament.
"We've got to do a better job," said Kruger.
Oklahoma is capable. The Sooners proved to be better than expected. At times this season, OU proved to be far better than expected.
Then, of course, there were times, like at the end of the season, when the Sooners were worse than we expected.
Overall, when you look at the body of work over the course of the season, Oklahoma exceeded projections.
"I like the progress they've made," said Kruger. "I like the play that they've turned out."
But, if OU plays poorly in the NCAA Tournament, the final evaluation will be damaged.
Reputations, whether fair or not, are usually determined in March.
OU's coach Lon Kruger addresses reporters after the Sooners learned their NCAA Tournament fate during a watch party Sunday in Norman. NATE BILLINGS / The Oklahoman