NCAA Tournament: Don’t blame the selection committee for leaving out OU

NCAA Tournament: Don’t blame the selection committee for leaving out OU

If there’s anything the tournament doesn’t need, it’s another 20-12 Oklahoma or 20-12 Seton Hall or 22-11 Pitt.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Mar 18, 2024, 6:00am CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Mar 18, 2024, 6:00am CDT

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NORMAN — The NCAA basketball committee tries to be transparent, but sometimes clarity can sting.

Like when Porter Moser’s OU basketball team learned Sunday it was the first team out of the 68-team NCAA Tournament. Is that supposed to make the Sooners feel better?

Just like Mike Boynton’s Oklahoma State Cowboys learned a year ago, there’s no solace in being this-close to the promised land of March Madness. Sort of like finishing fourth in the Olympics. Might as well be 40th.

Moser, naturally, was not pleased with the news and issued the typical response.

“I am devastated for these young men who were left out of the NCAA Tournament, despite having a résumé and metrics worthy of being in the field,” Moser said. “At a later time, I will have more to say about our body of work and the selection process.”

I don’t know what Moser can say. The committee has to make tough decisions, and it’s not like the Sooners gave the committee a lot to work with.

No one can legitimately blame Moser for being upset. Just as no one can legitimately bash the committee for a thankless job. OU or Virginia? Colorado State or St. John’s. Boise State or Indiana State? How is anyone expected to distinguish between such résumés?

If there’s anything the NCAA Tournament doesn’t need, it’s another 20-12 Oklahoma or 20-12 Seton Hall or 22-11 Pitt. 

The committee picked eight at-large teams from outside the power conferences. Five from the Mountain West, plus Gonzaga from the West Coast Conference, Florida Atlantic from the American Conference and Dayton from the Atlantic-10.

Sorry, but those teams are much more important to March Madness than the No. 9 team in a 14-member Big 12, or the sixth-best team in an 11-member Big East.

Sunday evening, I flipped over to satellite radio, to get a little national flair for the bracket, and New York radio was aghast that Big East members Providence, St. John’s, Pittsburgh and Seton Hall were omitted.

Everyone uses the same strategy. They highlight the metrics that support the team of your choice, and they ignore the metrics that harm your case.

But let’s be honest. I have no idea if New Yorkers embrace truth, but here in Oklahoma, we know, don’t we? This OU basketball team was nothing special.

Not a bad team. But nothing special. 

The Sooners went 2-8 against the Big 12’s eight NCAA Tournament teams. OU finished 8-10 in the conference, courtesy of sweeps of OSU and Cincinnati, plus wins over Kansas State and West Virginia. 

And OU’s non-conference schedule didn’t hold up. The Sooners beat Southern Cal, Arkansas, Iowa and Providence. Seemed like a solid pre-New Year’s experience. None made the NCAA Tournament; USC and Arkansas finished with losing records.

Moser’s team frustrated Sooner fans as much as thrilled them. As the Big 12 defeats mounted, it became quite apparent that OU was just another in a long line of recent state squads that don’t sway too far from mediocrity.

Moser thus becomes the first OU coach since Dave Bliss, 1975-78, to miss the NCAA Tournament for three straight years. And Bliss’ 1976-77 Sooners, 18-10, probably would have made the NCAA, if the bracket had been at 64.

Outrage and outcries shouldn’t hold much weight. The Sooners were judged to be the 35th at-large team, with 34 available slots. Someone has to be the first team out.

This isn’t being ranked fifth in the College Football Playoff, which includes just four teams. This is being ranked 35th. Big difference.

And we know the two reasons why these 20-12 Sooners were left out.

1. Injuries. OU already was without center John Hugely, who hasn’t played since Feb. 10. But the Sooners played their Big 12 Tournament game against Texas Christian without leading scorer Javian McCollum, plus wingman Rivaldo Soares, probably OU’s best player the last month.

Moser told reporters in Kansas City that the Sooners expected both back for the NCAA Tournament, but the committee knows that could be propaganda.

When the selectors are choosing between impossibly-even résumés, injuries to two or three key players are a major issue.

2. The Sooners would have made it into the field with ease had a flurry of upsets not stricken the conference tournaments over the weekend.

Oregon won the Pac-12. North Carolina State won the Atlantic Coast Conference. New Mexico won the Mountain West. Duquesne won the Atlantic-10. Alabama-Birmingham won the American Conference.

None of those teams would have received an at-large berth in the NCAAs. If just one of them had not won, the Sooners would be headed to Dayton, Ohio, for the First Four.

But OU has no claim to injustice. No claim to be victimized by the process. No claim to deserving a spot.

The committee looked at these Sooners and shrugged. Those of us who have been watching them all year shrugged too.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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