March Madness: #1 Virginia

Columbia, South Carolina

7:00 CT

truTV (Cox 48/760, DirecTv 246, Dish 148)

Well, that was shocking.

Even though most who looked at the Ole Miss game Thursday saw a great opportunity for Oklahoma to get their first tournament win in three seasons, the manner in which they got that win was simply astonishing. The Sooners were dominant in all facets of the game, racking up a season high 95 points. It went beyond just hitting shots; the offense was dynamic in ways we haven’t seen this season and multiple players had season defining games, with four players scoring over 18 points. It was like watching a different team.

The prize for this monumental accomplishment? The #1 seed Virginia Cavaliers. Gulp.

State of the Sooners

It’s hard not to get excited about this Oklahoma basketball team after last Friday. Pretty much, we got everything we could ever dream of: a consistent Brady Manek, a confident Christian James, a properly utilized Rashard Odomes and our undersized king Kristian Doolittle doing work. It was a perfect game.

The problem now is figuring out how do you replicate perfection when your previous high level is “moderately good”?

Oklahoma will have to figure that out in order to have a chance against the ‘Hoos today.

Meet the Cavaliers

Underneath the cover of undeniable shame of losing to a 16 seed last season, the Virginia Cavaliers have operated as a bit of an underrated team despite only having three losses. Lead by head coach Tony Bennett, the ‘Hoos possess an unrelenting defense with more than enough shooting to bury the Sooners.

Imagine a team with Iowa State’s Marial Shayok, Kansas State’s Barry Brown and Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver. That’s Virginia.

The trio of Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter not only are incredibly effective scorers, they are suffocating defenders. The Sooners will have to shut out UVA from easy shots and prevent second chance scoring to come out on top.

Tayler’s Take

One of my friends went to UVA and graduated from there recently. Here is Tayler Kehs’ in depth look at his prediction for the game.

Win.

The Matchup

For as favorable as the matchup was against Ole Miss, the matchup against UVA is quite the opposite. 16-seed jokes be damned, this team will be a real problem for Oklahoma. Their defense grinds their opponents into a fine powder and their offense picks apart defenses with the precision of a world class surgeon.

When looking for comparisons between UVA and opponents the Sooners have faced this season, the list of names are frightening: Kansas State (both embarrassing blowouts), Texas Tech (home blowout), Wisconsin (Bahamian blowout). The Oklahoma offense probably isn’t good enough to overcome the Virginia defense and star power.

The only reason I put “probably” in there is because I saw what happened Friday and realized that reality makes no sense with this basketball team. The Friday Sooners could definitely beat Virginia; the problem is they might be an illusion.

It was like the Trevor Knight game against Alabama, but every player was Trevor Knight and Alabama was just a middle of the road SEC team (so just Ole Miss I guess). If Knight had another game to play after, he’d doubtlessly be not as good.

This is somewhat the same case here. However there are a few keys to Oklahoma coming out on top.

  1. Do exactly what they did Friday. This will be nearly impossible as there will actually be some semblance of defensive pressure today, but maintaining the hot hand will be the first step in completing an upset bid
  2. Diversify the offense. Like Friday, OU was able to overwhelm their opponent with a flurry of options. This will be crucial in stretching the UVA defense thin.
  3. Pray for a poor Virginia shooting night. The Hoos struggle most when their offense sputters, rendering their defense moot. However, with the bevy of options available, someone will be open. At that point, pray.

Final Verdict

This is going to get ugly. Look, I know OU looked unbeatable against Ole Miss, but combine UVA’s superior talent with the fact that they are an atrocious matchup with the Sooners and this one just isn’t going to go Oklahoma’s way. The Cavaliers will likely win big, but that shouldn’t take away from what ended up as a pretty solid season when so many of us (myself included), predicted a down year. So relax, watch some Devion Harmon highlights (he’s gonna be GOOD y’all) and watch our last Big Two sporting event until August. Virginia, -11

March Madness: #8 Ole Miss

Somehow, despite all the mess of the past fews months of Oklahoma basketball, here we are: somehow in the tournament, somehow in a winnable game.

The question of whether or not this season was a relative success can wait. We still have basketball to play. First up, the Ole Miss Rebels.

State of the Sooners

Here’s the good news for Oklahoma: Ole Miss isn’t in the Big 12. The past few months of the relentless spin cycle that is the Big 12 basketball regular season haven’t been kind to OU as they went a putrid 7-11 in conference play. Luckily for them, their rock solid non-conference success against the other power conferences was great enough to carry them into the Big Dance.

The bad news? This still isn’t a great basketball team.

The late Fall version of Oklahoma scored by committee, with new stars like transfer guards Aaron Calixte and Miles Reynolds providing solid offensive point guard play. Christian James finally looked to blossom into the lead man we always thought he could be. Brady Manek appeared to make the next leap. This seriously looked like a sneaky good squad that could make a sweet 16.

Now? They mostly rely on Christian Doolittle to squeeze whatever offense he can out of a team that can rarely buy a bucket. James, Manek and the transfers fell off the face the planet and our only real big man Jamuni McNeece is just now getting healthy enough to play. It’s a complete mess.

But that’s apart of the beauty of the tournament, you get a fresh start. If the Sooners of November/December are still lurking deep down there, they better come out by Friday or it’s officially Spring Football season.

Meet Ole Miss

The non-running Rebels! Yes, to add to Oklahoma’s stakes we have ourselves a tilt against a SEC foe, which even in basketball just means more. While you might be familiar with the Rebels on the gridiron for having a tradition of dressing like a Southern Tide catalogue, occasionally beating Alabama (miss u, Chad Kelly) and having wildly erratic head coaches (BRING BACK NUTT), Ole Miss has negative basketball pedigree. They only have two tournament wins and they are most known for losing to Valparaiso on an all time great buzzer beater.

This team isn’t just bad in the history books however. They have been in a pure free fall towards the end of the season, going 2-5 in their final seven games. Somehow, the committee picked the one team colder than us when it matters.

The Rebels are lead by two upperclassman guards: leading scorer Breein Tyree (known for matching on Tinder with a Florida girl who then spread the screenshots around campus) and Terence Davis, who is missing an “r” in his first name.

Ty’s Take

Editor’s Note: Ty doesn’t know anything about basketball. But after years of living in Mississippi, he knows the Rebels. These are his thoughts.

Hello Schooner Bloggies™️, it’s ya boy Ty. Bobby asked me to whip up a few words on Ole Miss. Ole Miss is one of the only things about March Madness that I can speak intelligently to, so let’s take a quick look at OU’s first round matchup. The University of Mississippi at Oxford (Ole Miss) was established in 1848 so that young southern boys had a place to go and drink. Today, the Ole Miss “graduates”, or basically anyone I guess, face an annual endowment literally over a billion USD less than OU’s, so we will need to refer to them as “the broke boys”.

You may be wondering why wouldn’t we call them by their real team name. The reason we can’t call them a team name is because I have no clue what they are calling themselves this week. The broke boys used to be called the Rebels, which was offensive for obvious reasons and have ditched this moniker. They have recently gone by Black Bears and Land Sharks because those names are “cool” (All hail the one true mascot Admiral Akbar™️).

Other than being improvised, Ole Miss is known for STRONG links to the confederacy. Ole Miss is home to a very controversial confederate statue, but don’t worry, the university has a “great” explanation:

“It must also remind us that the defeat of the Confederacy actually meant freedom for millions of people.”

-New Statue Plaque

Now while technically true, this is probably the WORST justification I’ve ever heard. I’m sure that their history department believes that Hitler turned out to be a good guy, because in the end he killed Hitler, again technically true, but not that accurate.

Ole Miss is known to be a wonderful party school, mostly because the town of Oxford has a population of 20k and the nearest human civilization is Memphis which is over an hour away. It is a rich human tradition to just get drunk if there’s nothing else to do and the broke boys do this on a professional level. One of the most legendary college “definitely not fraternity house” parties occurs at Óle Miss each year at Sigma Nu Woodstock. It is a decent time as a sober HS kid, so I must assume that it’s also at least decent as a drunk college student.

I know that I touched on academics earlier when I mentioned their laughable endowment of under a billion dollars, but let’s take a look at the one true academic indicator: Astronaut Alumni. Òle Miss has zero Astronaut Alumni. LOL weak sauce.

Ok, final parting advice. When OU stomps the broke boys this week, look forward to whatever Ole Miss fans can afford to go to the game (probably not that many) throwing clothes, trash, and drinks on the court in protest. Even their coach is known to catch a T for throwing jackets onto the court. BMFS, beat the Broke Bois.

The Matchup

Everyone who is calling this a favorable draw for the Sooners is absolutely right. OU is frequently beat up inside and Ole Miss seems to have less than an interior presence than we do as their leading rebounder is guard Terence “one r” Davis. While the Sooners have been burned before by guards taking over (Tyree is the early leader in the clubhouse), this is a much easier thing for Oklahoma to combat compared to a skilled big man.

This game will come down to three big points:

  1. Rekindling the perimeter defense from earlier this season and shutting down the Rebels’ two guards. Jamal Bieniemy, whose name I finally learned to spell correctly, will be vital in doing this.
  2. Owning the paint with Kristian Doolitte inside on offense and hopefully a revitalized Jamuni McNeece locking it down on defense.
  3. Getting hot from deep will be critical. Literally, just one or two guys need to get hot and we will be set. The Sooners were one of the worst three point teams in Big 12 play, but when they got hot, they were hot.

Final Verdict

Oklahoma should win this game and despite being fully aware that I have been constantly let down by this team, I believe they gut out a gritty win here to move on and face #16 Gardner-Webb. Oklahoma, +1

Big 12 Tournament: Finals

Welcome to conference tournament season. It’s March, which means two things: basketball and gambling. Here’s your guide for today’s Big 12 action, starting at 5:00 PM on ESPN.

Kansas vs. Iowa State (EVEN)

You have to be kidding me. Freaking Kansas, who I faded a few days ago, lucked into getting into the finals. To make matters worse, Iowa State, who has been red hot in tournament, isn’t even getting any points from Vegas. Oh well. Give me the Cyclones to redeem my tournament preview. Iowa State

Big 12 Tournament: Semifinal Spread

Welcome to conference tournament season. It’s March, which means two things: basketball and gambling. Here’s your guide for today’s Big 12 action, starting at 11:30 AM on ESPN 2.

Record: 4-2 (3-1 on Day 2)

Kansas State vs. Iowa State (Even)

Ohhhh Jesus. I have been trying to figure out who to pick on this one since last night and settled on just picking the underdog straight up. So what does Vegas do? Make the odds even to make it harder on the world.

Both teams are well represented in KC, both are good squads, however Iowa State looked overly impressive in a romp over Baylor while Kansas State struggled to put away TCU. Give the Cyclones three or four points and I would be tempted to pick them, but in this situation I’m going with the better team off a tough game. Kansas State

Kansas vs. West Virginia (KU -10.5)

Of course this would happen to Kansas basketball. Their worst team this decade is handed a first round win by an incompetent Texas team (0-6 in the final 2:44, yet somehow UT hit the last field goal?) and then they happen to get a 10 seed in the semifinals? Of course Jayhawk luck would prevail.

This West Virginia team is scrappy and two unlikely wins away from actually making the damn tournament. However, their luck and energy are probably going to run dry in Phog Allen East tonight. Here’s hoping it doesn’t. Kansas *gags* wins, but the Mountaineers cover the spread. Let’s keep this cover train rolling. West Virginia, +10.5

Big 12 Tournament Day 1 Spread

Welcome to conference tournament season. It’s March, which means two things: basketball and gambling. Here’s your guide for today’s Big 12 action, starting at 6:00 PM on ESPN U.

#8 TCU vs. #9 Oklahoma State (TCU -4)

 I cannot emphasize this enough: hammer the Frogs here. I know TCU has completely stumbled down the stretch, losing six of their last eight (including a bad loss in Stillwater), but this is a team fighting for their tournament lives.

I know, Oklahoma State has shown the ability to surprise (they beat SEC champion LSU) but with all due respect to their scrappy band of student managers and mid-season walk-ons, Jim Dixon and the Horned Frogs should easily get this win and the cover. Otherwise, they deserve to get faded out of the Big 12 forever (Sorry, Blake). Frogs -4 is too much of a tasty treat to not take. TCU, -4.

#7 Oklahoma vs. #10 West Virginia (OU -6.5)

Vegas is weirdly high on the Sooners, as evidenced by this relatively high line. I know the Mountaineers are bad, but Jesus do we really trust this OU basketball this much with 6.5 points? I felt the same way a few weeks ago during the last matchup between these teams and Oklahoma pulled off a comfortable cover.

With that being said, I still feel more comfortable with this game being a closer win from OU or a West Virginia upset. Neutral court matters and I think the Sooners cool off a bit away from the LNC. From here on out, the biggest thing for the Sooner success is hoping that any combination of Jamal Bieniemy, Aaron Calixte, Brady Manek and Christian James get hot and help out Kristian Doolittle for once.

Figuring out if this Oklahoma team shows up against decent competition is nearly impossible, but thankfully we have that overzealous Vegas line. Go with West Virginia here and consider sprinkling some cash on the moneyline for the highest value upset bit of the tournament. West Virginia, +6.5

Big 12 Tournament Preview

I know I dropped a Welcome to March article on March 1st, but on Wednesday the real show begins. The start of conference tournament season ushers in the official coming of March Madness, where college basketball games are played from early morning until midnight and the drama could not be higher.

As conference tournaments go, you couldn’t ask for a better one than the Big 12 Tournament. With eight teams currently projected to make the Big Dance and two of them barely teetering on the bubble (per ESPN), this will be a highly competitive tournament. Hell, even Oklahoma State and West Virginia, the two weakest teams of the conference, are capable of making a wild run and upsetting the order of things.

from the Big 12 Conference
Via Big 12 Conference

The Favorite: #1 Kansas State

Kansas State was one of two teams to do the impossible; win a Big 12 regular season basketball title as a non-Kansas team. Yes, the Big 12 finally changed, thanks to the combined efforts of the Red Raiders and Wildcats, however, Kansas State is the team I think is most likely to come out on top in Kansas City.

The K-State side of the bracket lines up fantastically. Their first opponent is the winner of Wednesday’s Oklahoma State/TCU matchup, two teams Kansas State handled with ease in the regular season. In the semis, K-State would play the winner of Baylor and Iowa State, who the Wildcats went a combined 3-1 against.

kstate champs
Via K-State Sports

Not only does Kansas State have a highly favorable road to the finals, but they have strong motivation too. The Wildcats are currently projected as a four seed, bogged down by bad non-conference losses to Texas A&M and Tulsa. Winning the tournament could possibly boost the ‘Cats into a more favorable seed and potentially a better first/second round location in Des Moines or Tulsa (currently projected in San Jose by ESPN).

The Wildcats will be a highly motivated, highly talented team that no one will want to face. The senior duo of Barry Brown and Dean Wade are as good as any in the country and will be a massive problem for anyone in their way. Texas Tech will also be a tough out, but with a tougher side of the bracket and less upward mobility, the favorite edge goes to Kansas State.

The Dark Horse: #6 Texas

Sure, the Longhorns have faltered down the final Big 12 stretch and their non-conference was awful. However, with the return of leading scorer Kerwin Roach from suspension, Texas is poised for a much-needed conference run. While the ‘Horns are projected in the NCAA Tournament, they are without a doubt on the bubble. An opening win against Kansas (who the Longhorns have played very well this season) would solidify their case, but I see Texas as a team that could potentially get hot if things get weird elsewhere around the bracket.

tcuUT.jpg

The Team With the Most to Gain: #8 TCU

The Frogs desperately need a win over Oklahoma State to even stay alive in the tournament. Without that, it’s time for ol’ Jim Dixon to prep for another NIT run. They should beat Oklahoma State as they are coming off a big win in Austin over Texas and are playing desperate, but they’ll find no breaks in round two against Kansas State. I think they keep that one close, but I don’t see them pulling it off.

Fade ‘Em: #3 Kansas

Look, I know it’s a bad idea to bet against the Jayhawks. But Kansas is just not the same team they’ve been in the past. The losses of two stars in Udoka Azubuike and Legarald Vick have made KU merely mortal. The shooting has been mediocre at best in the back half of the season. Not only that, the Jayhawks are in a side of the bracket riddled with matchup issues, as they have looked abysmal against both Texas and Texas Tech.

If you believe in logos, go for it, pick Kansas. I dare you.

Be Afraid: #7 Oklahoma

I really do hate to say it, but I don’t know if I can trust this OU team in this tournament. In mind, the Sooners got an awful draw against West Virginia. Despite being the worst team in the conference, there is just something scary about Bob Huggins’ tiny stool, the full court press and, of course, Country Roads. Plus, last time we played in KC, the above video happened, which still makes me upset.

Other than superstition, I just think these Sooners don’t match up well against the Mountaineers. They’ve lost one game against West Virginia already in Morgantown and in their recent win against the ‘Neers they shot lights out from three. Shooting tends to die away from homecourt, which makes this neutral site game worrisome. A win here for Oklahoma would be big going into the NCAA Tournament, where momentum is key.

Welcome to March

It’s March, which can only mean one thing:

MARCH MADNESS BABY!

Sure, that hasn’t meant much in Oklahoma since that abysmal day in Houston back in 2016, but guess what? Basketball is fun, even if your team is mediocre (which OU certainly is) and if you are in, the tournament becomes significantly more interesting. While the actual NCAA Tournament does start for another 18 days, the last few regular season games and Big 12 tournament will be crucial in determining whether or not the Sooners make the big dance.

So if you haven’t been following along with OU basketball this season, consider this a primer for the games to come so you can watch like you’ve been at it all season.

Will the Sooners make the NCAA Tournament?

Short answer: Maybe?

Long answer: This season has been a bit of an expectations roller coaster, similar to last season.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a low expectations OU basketball team has an impressive non-conference season and becomes a nice fun, likable team. They develop the “you need to come to the LNC and see this team” hype and when they finally get the attention they’ve been stumping for and crack into the Top 25, they immediately collapse in a series of embarrassing home Big 12 losses and immediately lose all fan support. However, due to the impressive non-conference resume, they are still in contention for a spot in the NCAA Tournament despite not looking better than decent in weeks.

So basically 2018, but without Trae Young.

The Sooners are firmly on the bubble at 17-11, with their abysmal 5-10 Big 12 record bogging them down. In order to solidify their spot in the tournament, the Sooners need a win Saturday in Norman over a bad West Virginia team and perhaps a home win over Kansas or an unlikely road win against Kansas State.

Basically: if the Sooners lose to West Virginia Saturday, you might as well fire up your NIT plans.

Who is the best player on this OU team?

Here lies the biggest issue with the Sooners basketball team this season. For all their balance in the non-conference run, Oklahoma has not been able to find a go-to player. Senior forward Christian James has been unreliable at best over the past few months, completely vanishing at times. Guard Jamal Bieniemy has shown up periodically in big moments, but the freshman guard just quite isn’t there yet. Kristian Doolittle has been effective at times but isn’t the guy you want creating offense down the stretch.

This is the downside of playing by committee. While having one guy shoot every time (cough, Trae) isn’t what you want in an offense, this team has looked clueless at times. Considering that experience and veteran leadership is vital in the tournament, I’ll go ahead and say that James needs to be the guy going into March. Look for him to get plenty of touches down this final stretch.

What happened? I thought we were good?

The Big 12 happened. With the double round-robin format, every game is a bloodbath when considering 8/10 teams are in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s most recent projections. Hell, even the two bottom feeders of the league, Oklahoma State and West Virginia, can sneak up and bite teams.

Despite this, OU just hasn’t been able to handle the heightened level of play of Big 12 play. The two transfer point guards, Miles Reyolds and Aaron Calixte, have both fallen completely off the face of the Earth. Brady Manek, who was much improved in both his scoring and rebounding, has once again vanished midway through the season. Jamuni McNeece, who suffered a foot injury towards the end of the non-conference run, has hardly played since.

Will the Sooners improve once they get outside of Big 12 play? It might not matter, considering the second round game is looking like a 2 seed matchup.

How deep can the Sooners go in the Big 12 Tournament and NCAA/NIT Tournament?

Earlier this season, I thought OU had Sweet 16 potential. Now? Probably getting out of game one in either tournament would be a tremendous accomplishment. Making the NCAA Tournament alone would be a solid end to this season.

However, if Oklahoma ends in the NIT, they need to win the damn thing. This team is good enough to beat mediocre teams and snubbed mid-majors, they just need the motivation to do so.

So, is this worth following?

Of course, it is. Because between now and August, the only thing we have to satisfy our craving for OU sports are getting drunk in the outfield for baseball, a freezing cold football scrimmage and randomly caring about a sport that we know nothing about, but enjoy winning so we watch it anyways (softball). Even if this run isn’t deep, it’s always fun to watch meaningful basketball in March.

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