NORMAN — This season's first Bedlam basketball game has more at stake than just a rivalry. It's about more than state bragging rights. This game is an early season Big 12 game with NCAA Tournament implications.
ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla, whose son James is a walk-on at OU, called Saturday's 2 p.m. tipoff between the Sooners and Oklahoma State the “biggest Bedlam game” in the last few years.
What matters right now to Sooners fans is that the “Oklahoma” name is being raised in tournament talk. As of Friday, ESPN's Joe Lunardi placed OU as the No. 11 seed in his Bracketology. CBS Sports' Jerry Palm had the Sooners as the No. 10 seed.
“They're a good wind shift from blowing out of the field because they could be caught from behind or lose on their own,” Lunardi said.
Including Saturday's game at Lloyd Noble, the Sooners have 17 conference games to determine their postseason. Last year, they lost their last six conference games. Fraschilla, Lunardi and Palm all agreed that can't happen this year.
Oklahoma needs to beat teams ranked in the top 50 in RPI and win at home. There's still a long road until March, but the Sooners' secret path may lie within their head coach.
OU already played nine Top 100 RPI teams. The only Top 50 RPI team was Gonzaga, which beat the Sooners soundly.
OU played only two teams below the RPI Top 200. Palm said for Oklahoma's RPI to be tournament worthy, it will “need to show they can compete against tournament-quality opposition.”
“Right now, I'd say they're kind of fooling the RPI and at some point they're not going to be able to do that,” he said.
After starting Big 12 season at West Virginia, the Sooners have back-to-back home games against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Then they go to Kansas State before returning home against Texas. Two final road games end OU's January conference play.
“A win over Oklahoma State, a team that's gotten off to such a fast start, would be a huge feather in Oklahoma's cap as they build a potential NCAA tournament resume,” Fraschilla said. “(An OU win) would mean a quality home conference win that would look good on their tournament resume come March.”
The Sooners could easily start 3-0 in the conference. Lunardi said from there, Oklahoma would need to go .500 on the road and win the rest of its home games to make the tournament.
“The key in all of these situations ... is to win your home games and try to steal here and there on the road,” Lunardi said.
The Sooners will also need a resume of wins against top-50 teams. Unranked West Virginia was a start for winning on the road. Winning against top tier teams could start with beating No. 20 Oklahoma State.
“If they win these two home games they're going to be above .500 in the league at least for the foreseeable future, and that will keep them very much alive in the NCAA tournament conversation,” Lunardi said. “We're at the beginning of the story, not the middle or the end.”
There is post-season tournament hope. and if the Sooners want anyone at the helm, it's Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger. He is one of a handful of coaches who have led four different schools to the NCAA Tournament, along with former Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton.
No one has ever done it at five schools.