OU basketball is in good hands with Porter Moser, not good NCAA Tournament position

OU basketball is in good hands with Porter Moser, not good NCAA Tournament position

Nothing comes easy in the Big 12, and nothing seemingly comes easy for these Sooners.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Jan 30, 2024, 4:10pm CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Jan 30, 2024, 4:10pm CST

(Berry Tramel produces two newsletters every week. To receive his newsletters, go here.)

NORMAN — Just as Texas Tech coach Grant McCasland opened his press conference with praise for Porter Moser — “Oklahoma basketball is in great hands” — you could year yelling across the hall.

Lloyd Noble Center locker-room renovations have relocated the Sooners for home games, back to the Billy Tubbs days, in the old hallway off the interior ramp. Within hearing distance of the press room.

You assume it was Moser’s voice, especially that while a few minutes later at his own turn in front of the microphone Saturday, Moser’s volume had subsided, his agitation had not.

Tech had just beaten OU 85-84, the Sooners’ second straight home loss, and Moser was not happy.

“Everything matters when it’s a one-point loss,” Moser said. “Everything matters in a one-point loss … I don’t have 30 timeouts.”

Moser’s frustration with his team was evident. The Sooners slipped to 15-5, still a gaudy record, and the Associated Press poll still has OU ranked 23rd. But Tech ended the worst kind of week for the Sooners; two home losses, in two winnable games, both in front of the kind of rowdy crowds Moser has worked so hard to attract.

And Moser knows the NCAA Tournament still is not assured. The last OU coach to go three straight seasons without making March Madness was Dave Bliss, 46 years ago. Bliss stuck around to make sure it wasn’t four straight years, and I assume the same will happen if this Sooner season sinks. The OU administration is firmly behind Moser.

But the NCAAs are not assured.

On February 1, 2007, Sean Sutton’s OSU Cowboys were 18-3 and ranked 12th nationally. They did not make the NCAA Tournament.

On February 1, 1993, Tubbs’ Sooners were 14-5 and ranked 16th. They did not make the NCAA Tournament.

The Big 12, and the Big Eight before it, can be a cruel taskmaster.

After the Tuesday night game at Kansas State, Moser’s Sooners get a three-game breather — at Central Florida, home games against Brigham Young and OSU. Not sure-shot wins, of course, but better than what lies beyond. At Baylor, Kansas, at OSU, at Iowa State, Houston, Cincinnati, at Texas.

Can the Sooners get to 8-10 in the Big 12? Maybe. Even 7-11 would give OU a 19-12 record going into its final Big 12 Tournament.

But the truth is, nothing comes easy in the Big 12, and nothing seemingly comes easy for these Sooners.

Moser, in his machine-gun style, listed many of the problems that arose against Tech. Time management. Defensive lapses. Nine missed foul shots. Backdoor layups allowed. The kinds of things you might get away with in other leagues, even the Southeastern Conference, but not in the Big 12, circa 2024.

Maybe this is the result of the transient era of college basketball. A good coach’s best value is not his ability to massage a team through a tight game. A good coach’s best value is building a roster that can massage itself through a tight game.

But in OU’s eight-man rotation, five are first-year Sooners, and Milos Uzan, Sam Godwin and Otega Oweh are second-year Sooners. Many are experienced, but there is little Moser-experience on this team.

“It starts with me,” Moser said. “We’re obviously not coached well enough … everything matters, man. Everything matters.”

The Sooners are like most college basketball teams. Flawed. OU’s best offensive player, Javian McCollum, has to come off the floor at times because of defensive deficiencies, and he’s even getting bullied some on offense. Uzan, the point guard, is OU’s best player but hasn’t taken the leap most of us expected after a promising freshman season. OU’s wings are inconsistent.

The good news? Moser says the Sooners are resolved, not broken.

“These guys care,” Moser said. “This is not a broken locker room. This is a locker room that’s hurting right now. They are crushed in there … we didn’t get it done. But it isn’t because we’ve got a fractured locker room, attitude problems. We don’t have any of that, all right? And that’s what gives me absolute passion to know that we still can build wins on this thing.”

That schedule is tough, which also means great opportunity. Eight Big 12 teams are in the AP 25: No. 4 Houston, No. 8 Kansas, No. 12 Iowa State, No. 15 Tech, No. 18 Baylor, No. 22 BYU, No. 23 OU and No. 25 Texas Christian.

McCasland, who in his first season at Tech has a first-place team, was right. The Sooners are in good hands with Moser. But he doesn’t have 30 timeouts. Winning is not guaranteed, and March Madness is not assured.

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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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