Berry Tramel

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Bedlam basketball debate

by Berry Tramel Modified: March 27, 2013 at 2:42 pm •  Published: June 27, 2009

I got an interesting email this week from OU fan named Geoff. I thought it was very interesting, so I’m posting it separate from my usual email bag, which will come later.

“I am going to submit to you what I think is one of the biggest misconceptions in the Oklahoma sports world. It is the fact that many media members and fans of both schools feel as though OSU has a better basketball program and a better history than OU basketball. Keep in mind that I do believe that OSU has a really quality program and a lot of great tradition (Iba was an amazing coach and won them two championships), but please take a moment and read these stats, and tell me what you think. I think some of them may surprise you.

The Big Eight, as we knew it, came into being for the 1958-59 season. From the 1958-59 season to 2008-09:

OSU

Total win/loss record: 802-640, .554

NCAA tournament appearances: 16

Final 4 appearances: 2

Title game appearances: 0

NIT appearances: 5

Conference titles: 2 Big 8 (1 shared), 1 Big 12

Conference tournament titles: 2 Big 8, 2 Big 12

OU

Total win/loss record: 933-543, .630

NCAA tournament appearances: 24

Final 4 appearances: 2

Title game appearances: 1

NIT appearances: 7

Conference titles: 5 Big 8, 1 Big 12 (shared)

Conference tournament titles: 4 Big 8, 3 Big 12

Overall head to head since 58-59: OU 66, OSU 47

“In the 51 seasons since OSU joined the Big Eight, OU has a better conference record 36 times, OSU 11.

Since the inception of the Big 12 conference, OSU has only finished ahead of OU in the conferences standings one time.

So, you want to go back all-time?

Overall record: OU 1,468-936 (.611) OSU 1452-1018 (.588).

Bedlam Wins: OU 126, OSU 89

Winning coaches: OU 10, OSU 6

All-Americans: OU 22, OSU 17

Conference titles: OU 22, OSU 17

1,000-point scorers: OU 35, OSU 30

Draft selections: OU 42, OSU 32

NCAA appearances: OU 26, OSU 23

Home-court win streak: OU 51, OSU 46

“OU has spent more weeks in the AP poll than OSU. OU has had more winning seasons than OSU. OU has a better all time home winning percentage than OSU. OU has made it to 4 Final Fours (two championship games).

OSU has won two national championships (’45 and ’46) in basketball. This is a stat that simply cannot be ignored, and really the main reason why the Cowboys are even in the ballpark with Oklahoma in terms of basketball program comparisons. I will not take anything away from their accomplishments but consider this:

1. These championships happened 62 and 63 years ago. Most of us on this board were not even born when the Cowboys won the championship. Before you bombard me with the 50′s football championships, at least we have won one in the new millennium (2000), and, this is about basketball, not football.

2. The road to winning the championship was a lot less meddlesome back in the old A&M days. The Aggies only had to win three (3) games to be crowned the champion unlike the grueling six games of the modern era. That is certainly not the Cowboy’s fault, but should at least be mentioned. Four of OSU’s six Final Fours were obtained via this three-game system. Two of Oklahoma’s 4 were also obtained this way. Eight of Oklahoma State’s 11 Elite 8 appearances were accomplished by only having to win two games in the tournament. Three of OU’s eight Elite 8 appearances were won in this fashion.

3. The good old NIT was still a major player during this time. It was an era in which the NCAA was battling for dominance. While it is debatable which tournament ran supreme during these championships, one thing is for sure, not all the good teams were playing in the NCAA tournament. Could that of impacted OSU’s two victories? Who knows? But again, worth mentioning.

4. All-American Bob Kurland was a game-changing center for the Pokes. There was no goal tending back then, so the big 7-footer could just sit back and guard the goal until the cows came home. It was certainly within the rules of the day, but it obviously gave the Cowboys a big advantage that they wouldn’t have had a few years later (because of Kurland).

If OSU fans really want to use all of that success from the Iba days as the main basis of claiming superiority over Oklahoma (despite all the facts that I have presented in this comparison), then I think they might be living in the past just a tad!”

Well, Geoff, I certainly thank you. That’s a lot of research, and while much of it has been done before, it remains very interesting.

The Bedlam basketball debate is long-standing and quite fascinating.

First off, I would disagree with the whole premise, that the Oklahoma media gives OSU basketball the edge. I think this whole argument stems from the Eddie Sutton era, in which fan support at OSU superseded fan support at OU.

Most people who give OSU an edge do so because of Gallagher-Iba Arena. Its attendance and its atmosphere. In the post-Eddie era, when the fan support withered, no one really argues that OSU has the better program.

As for which program is most successful, it’s entirely how you want to define success.

Head-to-head? OU, but if you count this, you have to swallow the OU-Texas head-to-head football rivalry, in which the Longhorns have had a 20-game lead over the Sooners for most of the last 70 years.

Conference supremacy? OU

NCAA championships? OSU, and any talk of how OSU’s 1945 and 1946 titles were won in inferior eras has to take us to OU football’s three national titles in the 1950s, which were won before any black player was on a roster south of the Mason-Dixon Line, including OU. To question Iba’s national titles because of the goal-tending rule is like saying Bud Wilkinson’s early great teams were a product of World War II veterans. It’s clear to me that OSU basketball with a goal-tending rule would have been much closer to its eventual success than OU football without all those 22-year-old veterans who showed up in 1946.

And since we’re talking history, I never pass up the chance to remind people of 1945. After OSU’s NCAA title, the Cowboys played a Red Cross benefit game against NIT champ DePaul, beating the Blue Demons at Madison Square Garden in what was one of the biggest games in college basketball history. A game that ranks with OU-Notre Dame 1957 football in terms of national impact.

Anyway, for me, college basketball is the easiest sport in which to debate programs, because of the NCAA Tournament. Just add up the wins. And in that regard, OSU is head of OU. The Cowboys are 38-22 in the NCAAs; OU is 35-26. That’s very close, by the way. OSU is 18th nationally, I think, while OU is 21st.

Geoff is right. More of those OSU victories came in a previous era, which adds weight to OU, in the same way football wins 50-60 years ago don’t count the same way as football wins in the last 20 years, else we’ll be forced to say Army and Navy still have great football programs.

A few years ago, I ranked the college basketball programs. I had OSU No. 19 and OU No. 20. I did it again several months ago and had OU slightly ahead of OSU.

I think they’re very close. In head-to-head matchups of all kinds of comparisons, yes, OU is ahead. In the categories that matter most, NCAA titles and NCAA victories, OSU is ahead.

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by Berry Tramel
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Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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