What's Your Standard?


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May 15, 2009
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DISCLAIMER: These thoughts are not from a professional. They are from an unabashed Sooner BBall fanatic whose glasses are tinted heavily crimson. I’m not a coach, I’m not an analyst, I’m just a fan who used to write and misses the task. My knowledge of the X’s and O’s of the sport is tenuous at best. My predictions often prove folly. I once fell hard for Ray Willis. But I do love my Sooners hoopsters, often much too much. Feel free to critique but, please, be gentle.

Six years is a long time.

On March 12, 1979, Dave Bliss led his Big 8 champion Sooners into a sweet 16 matchup with Larry Bird's Indiana State Sycamores in Cincinnati. Six years later he guided SMU to a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament and an appearance in the round of 32. Hello, Jon Koncak!

On April 2, 1988, Billy Tubbs took in a view higher than any OU hoops squad in the modern era after defeating Arizona in Kemper Arena to reach the NCAA final. Six years later he oversaw a home drubbing by Vanderbilt and Billy McCaffrey in the first round of the NIT before packing his bags for the HC position at TCU.

On March 30, 2002, Kelvin Sampson rode into Atlanta with the hottest brigade since Sherman torched the place in hopes of securing Oklahoma its first NC in college basketball. Six years later he was run out of Bloomington on a rail after the curtain was pulled back on the shady recruiting of Eric Gordon.

On April 2, 2016, Lon Kruger brought to Houston a sharp-shooting band of guards and the very real hope that our missile-guided snipers would be enough to cut down the nets at the Final Four. Six years later Lon has decamped for the desert and we.....well......we're wandering in the desert.

Six years IS a long time, but it can also pass in a blink. My life today is very different than it was the night Villanova opened our stomachs, grabbed our intestines and squeezed the **** out of us, but when you step back and look at our overall performance as a program you'll see that we've regressed considerably. How much? Let's have a look.

I was born under the sign of Tisdale. I attended the Irvine game in utero. I spent a good portion of my life knowing nothing but successful Sooner basketball. There were ebbs and flows, sure, but the overall arc bent toward us being good. Better than good, really. For the first 25 years of my life you could make a legitimate case that we were a top-20 basketball program. Are we that now? No. I don't think so. And where this criteria is most evident is our descension from the upper echelon of our conference.

I travel a lot for work, and I spend a good amount of time staring out the windshield thinking about OU Basketball. I've been doing this for a while, and it was on one of those lonely drives years ago I came up with what I believe constitutes a successful season for the Sooner hoopsters. The parameters have shifted a few times with the changing conference schedules, but here's the gist: a white shirt in the Conference Tournament quarterfinals and a white shirt in the NCAA Round of 64. Or, to be more specific:

1983-1996: Top 4 in the Big 8
1997-2011: Top 4 in the Big 12
2012-Present: Top 4 in the 10-team league

Too often fans overshoot their expectations. "I want to be competing for the Final Four every year." Nonsense. That's not our lane. I'm happy if we can have a run to the Sweet 16 every four years. Anything beyond that is gravy and more in line with what we've come to expect from our past results. But in regards to my expectation at the start of every season, the following are the years we achieved that bar and the years we did not:

83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 92, 95, 00, 01, 02, 03, 05, 06, 08, 09, 14, 15, 16, 20(??)

91, 93, 94, 96, 97, 98, 99, 04, 07, 10, 11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22

Looking at that in timeline form, you can see how rough it's been since Kelvin left. In my lifetime, I'm 40 (I'm a man), we were up 16-8 when Kelvin bolted. The crummy years have caught up quick since then, outpacing the successes 10-6, and that's being generous to the 2020 season where, I assume, we would've been an 8-seed or so in the Dance.

But it's those last six seasons that have really hurt. Check out the total conference wins by team:

KU - 84
Baylor - 72
Tech - 61
WVU - 51
Texas - 50
O-State - 48
OU - 45
KSU - 45
TCU - 42
Iowa State - 35

Depending on how badly we crater from here on out, we're looking down the barrel of being 9th or 10th in conference wins in what will then be a seven-year span. That hurts. Even still, look deeper at the standings and you'll get an even bleaker picture. The following is a list of how often each team has finished with a record even or better than ours in those six seasons:

KU - 6/6
Baylor - 6/6
Tech - 6/6
Texas - 5/6
WVU - 4/6
O-State - 4/6
TCU - 4/6
KSU - 3/6
Iowa State - 3/6

We've run roughshod over nobody! Even the worst teams of the league are running alongside us half the time or more! It paints a pretty ugly picture as to the rot that has permeated the program over the last 6+ years.

In the Basin and Range province of the western United States, there is a phenomenon affecting the climate called a rain shadow. The gist: a large mountain range prevents the cooling moisture of the windward side from ascending over to the leeward side. The NCAA Tournament is a rain shadow, and it has become so monolithic to the sport of college basketball that it can skew the perception of a program's success. Thanks in large part to crafty scheduling and wonky new metrics (Quads-spit, NET-horsehockey), we've made a couple of trips to the Dance in the last six years. We've even snagged a couple of wins in the process. But I think tying everything to a squad's performance in the NCAA Tournament takes away from a team's accomplishments during the regular season.

Consider this:

1. Do I have to discredit winning the Big 8 with a 13-1 record in 1984 just because Roosevelt Chapman went bananas?
2. Does the win over Pitt in Tucson wipe the slate clean for a disappointing, senior-laden team that leaked oil all over the place down the stretch in 1987?
3. Does that bastard Rick Fox keep me from remembering fondly the 1990 team that finished the season ranked #1?
4. Am I supposed to forget the undefeated home slate of 1995 just because Manhattan wiped us off the Pyramid floor?
5. Could there be a bigger bunch of underachievers than the 1999 squad....or does a hot weekend in Milwaukee get the 13-seed off the hook?
6. Is Kelvin's first Big 12 tournament winner in 2001 forever stained because Hollis gained a tooth in a collapse versus Indiana State?
7. Is our last regular season conference net cutting too solemn to recall just because Utah splashed down on our heads in 2005?
7. Does the ND State debacle prevent me from fondly recalling the 2014 team, which came within a chickenhawk breath of sharing the league title?

I say "NO" on all counts. I say each part is a cog to brewing a successful season, and I've been disappointed watching us flounder.

In February of 2020, not long before the pandemic shut down everything, the stars aligned and I was able to make a solo trip to Stillwater for a big matchup with the Aggies. It was a year typical of what we'd come to expect from Lon's post-Final Four teams: some early success, a few February face plants, and a conference record at or below .500. But I sailed for Stillwater confident that we'd secure a road win that would book us passage to the NCAA Tournament for sure. Few teams have ever come out flatter, and we never mounted much of anything on either side of the floor. I got lucky and was given a ticket in the suite of the Chickasaw Nation by a lady who had a spare, and I've held onto that ticket ever since. It's a talisman for me, for that was the day I lost a good chunk of my emotional investment in the product. It just seemed like I was watching the same team get the same results year after year after year. Nothing since that day has dispelled that notion, and we sit here in January of 2023 looking much the same or, most likely, a tick worse. Me? I'm tired of it.

The landscape of college hoops has changed tectonically. It's extraordinarily different now than it was when we began our slide six-plus years ago. In my lifetime we've won on the backs of Oklahoma stars and JUCO gunslingers. We've depended on baseball players from Hammon and hombres from Chihuahua. We've climbed to #1 alongside Skeeter's six-shooters and Buddy's buckets. We've gone to the Final Four thanks to backcourts from Midland JUCO and St. Augustine HS. But what the hell do we do now? Our fans will come if we win, but they'll no-show in droves at the sight of a mediocre product. And our nearly 50-year-old arena? What's the answer there? Me? I'm worried.

I'll leave you with two of the sadder stats I compiled during my research into our mediocre slide:

1. From 1979 through 2016, the longest we've gone without being a 5-seed or higher in the NCAA Tournament is four seasons. We've done that three times (80-83, 96-99, 10-13). The current streak now sits at six seasons.....with no end in sight.

2. In the last six seasons of Big 12 conference basketball, only two programs have failed to win 10 games in a season: Oklahoma and TCU. Five more Frog wins this year, and we stand alone.

Time was there was only one league foe we looked up to: Kansas. We were unquestionably #2 for a generation, but we have slipped. Considerably.. What's your standard? And where do we go from here?

Thank you for your time.
Well done, Sooner04. Was wondering where you'd been hiding. That pretty much encapsulates all my thoughts, too. We need a huge spark..
Well done. Well written and well thought-out.

I am with you. I grew up watching the glory days of the 80s with guys like Wayman, TMC, Choo, and then the Stacey King/Mookie Blaylock years.

I think what we are lacking is real investment in the program, from the university and the fans. It's a "football school" and I can't tell you how many people I talk to who love OU football and couldn't even tell you who the basketball coach is. There is no reason it can't be both a football and a basketball school though. Number one on the agenda should be a new arena. Not a renovation. a new basketball-only arena.
OU may be a football school 1st but there have been crossovers recently from basketball to football at Kentucky and North Carolina for example.
Bliss, Billy and Kelvin were very good here and Lon better than average but misses with Capel and now perhaps Moser can really bring the program down to a ower level.
The last great OU game I saw was Buddy and company smashing Oregon in Anaheim. Before that Wayman and crew wiping out Mizzou in Columbia.
We are a long, long way from that pinnacle.
An excellent post. The past 6 years have been a slow and steady decline. Recruiting from 2018-2021 has been abysmal, and it is the main reason OU is in this position today.
This makes me sad.

I am one of those rare children that became an OU fan just as Tisdale got here. So football and basketball have always been 1 and 1A to me.

I'm in hell right now.

This feels different that Capel's fall. It feels more long term.
All really good stuff and I largely agree, things ideally would be better considering historical success and especially post-2016 have been disappointing. View OU basketball through 4-year cycles, ideally I’d like the team to never be truly awful each year but nationally competitive (sweet 16ish) at least once a cycle. We haven’t been truly awful (although this team is on the precipice at least record wise) since 2017 so I guess that’s a win.

Hasn’t been elite, especially in-conference, but personally think the angst is magnified by how good the Big 12 has becomes since 2013 (I realize this isn’t a new observation). Even when I look at NET or KenPom and get the context, I’m used to the 2000s where the conference would always have a few awful teams and cushion the overall standings.

Broader question to me is how/why other Big 12 programs, in similar competitive circumstances but worse historical success, passed OU post-2013 and what can the Athletic Department do to emulate. I guess broadly it’s a lack of fan support but not sure how to capture the casual fan outside of winning consistently (chicken & egg argument there if that’s the case) especially when other non-football programs are doing so well. For example, I’m not saying softball has more of an audience than men’s basketball by any means but when that program is historically elite and guaranteed to have pretty high level success (and far more accessible with ESPN+) it’s easy to see casual fans not paying attention to the standard non-football draw which was men’s bball.
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Ray Willis!!! :) haha

I have always had OU and Notre Dame on the tv growing up. 1999-2000 I became a full out fan. I often think about my teams way too much.. how can we get better/recruiting and who will make the jump kind of things. I'd say losses in both football and basketball really bothered me and would eat at me for a day or two, ever since I hit late 20s I just don't think much about them.. move on with you day or night.

My wants as a fan.. Compete for a title in football. That's the expectation. Basketball I just want a solid team that competes.. maybe make a deep run every 3-5 years would be nice. Leadership/fan support just isn't always there.. so having 1-2 rebuilding/down years is at this point expected.. hopefully we can build it back up and compete sooner than later.
My expectations

10 years
NCAA Tourney 8 out of 10 years
Make the Sweet 16 2-3 times in that span
Make an Elite 8 or Final Four 1-2 times
Win a conference title (regular or tourney) 1-2 times

Anything over that is gravy.
I attended the Irvine game during my time at OU. Glad others remember it. Even though Bliss had some good teams and crowded arenas I always felt like that game was the new birth of OU basketball. Tubbs had some raucous crowds and we had the nations longest home court streak at one time. Yes, that was in LNC and you couldn’t easily talk to your friends sitting next to you at times.

I know times have changed but the right person can make it happen again. Maybe not to those highest peaks but certainly higher than today. Who would have thought Billy could go from Big Time Jones 1.0 to elite teams when he started?

Man, basketball was fun back then. It was for many years under Sampson as well. I especially miss the Big 8 tournament at old Kemper.

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Hasn't changed. Looks a lot like what Sampson did at OU. Consistency is key.

Top 3-4 in conference most years. I might say top 3-5 now. A few years where we compete for a conference title. Very few years outside that window, or outside it by much at least.

I don't really care so much about setting expectations around NCAA Tournament results. Those will vary. If we accomplish the goal above, the Dance results will fall in line.

Same with conference tournament results.

I also expect that our coach and admin will have a plan and they will stick to it and make that plan work. OU basketball needs to figure out who it's wants to be, and our next HC hire and all subsequent decisions need to fit that identity.

At the end of the day I just want a team that consistently makes the NCAA Tournament in the form of an 8/9 seed at worst.
Great to see you back '04. Your words summarize my thoughts exactly. When will the "death by a thousand cuts" and regression end? I have loved OU basketball since Tisdale's freshman year, but I have found myself growing more and more apathetic the last few years. I just want to be excited about the product again.....but I don't have much hope in the short term.
The landscape of college basketball is so drastically different now. No other coach except Moser, well maybe Lon a little towards the end, has had to deal with things that radically alter how to build a team- the transfer portal, a huge issue- think our team is not better this year if we still had Mo and Harkless? Two major contributors who left to play somewhere else, doubt they would have if it meant sitting out like it used to. And NIL- recruting a kid who can really play on the idea of playing for a great school and a once great program isn’t enough any more. These same factors have combined to make KSU what they are this year, unfortunately in the opposite direction for us. Next year is make or break I think. We have some talented young guys and will have at least two more next year. If we can manage to bring in a transfer or two, who knows where we could go.
Over the past 5 or so seasons I've become completely apathetic about OU basketball. My standard was top 4 of the conference, win a game in the Big 12 tourney (preferably 2 or 3), then win a game in the NCAA tournament. Anything less than this is sub-standard for me. I can live with the occasional NIT invite when turning over a complete roster like what happened in 2003/2004. It's not my favorite but an NIT every 5-6 years is acceptable, I guess.

Getting blown out on national TV to previous bottom dwellers of the league like TCU and being owned by Baylor who didn't beat us the first 13 seasons of the Big 12 is not on my OU basketball bingo card.

I believe Moser is a good coach, I just don't think he's a fit for OU. We need a coach who does something nobody else is doing like Tubbs did when he landed at OU and changed college basketball from the 4 corners offenses to high scoring games. I'm not crazy about the LNC but that's not the reason our program is in the cellar. It's in the cellar because Joe C and the rest of the administration views OU basketball as the step-child of OU football. I don't know how that's fixed unless donors stop giving money to the athletic department for all sports until basketball is fixed and I don't see that happening.

I do take solace in the OU baseball turnaround. I thought it was completely dead for the rest of time but after last season the fan base seems to be rejuvenated and the fans will be in attendance this season. The same can happen for basketball, we just need a coach who can get the right combination of players and asst coaches to make it happen.
This makes me sad.

I am one of those rare children that became an OU fan just as Tisdale got here. So football and basketball have always been 1 and 1A to me.

I'm in hell right now.

This feels different that Capel's fall. It feels more long term.

The 2 regime's feel very similar to me right now. I think Tanner Groves is equal to Capel's Nick Thompson. I do think Moser is recruiting better young talent than Capel ever did and none of Moser's kids are getting arrested or dropping out of school and I don't think Moser will cheat. So those are differences for sure but the feel of that TCU game was very Capel-esque to me.
My expectations

10 years
NCAA Tourney 8 out of 10 years
Make the Sweet 16 2-3 times in that span
Make an Elite 8 or Final Four 1-2 times
Win a conference title (regular or tourney) 1-2 times

Anything over that is gravy.

This works for me….
At one point OU had the longest post season streak… sad. There are multiple examples of fball/softball/gymnastic school supporting Bball.
My expectations

10 years
NCAA Tourney 8 out of 10 years
Make the Sweet 16 2-3 times in that span
Make an Elite 8 or Final Four 1-2 times
Win a conference title (regular or tourney) 1-2 times

Anything over that is gravy.

Other than the last one, we hit all those benchmarks over the decade immediately preceding Moser’s arrival. The lack of success in the conference is definitely a black mark. And of course, all of the tourney success came in the first half of that decade.
Getting blown out on national TV to previous bottom dwellers of the league like TCU and being owned by Baylor who didn't beat us the first 13 seasons of the Big 12 is not on my OU basketball bingo card.

I bel

that is not who tcu and baylor are any more

baylor is a national super power

and tcu did the same thing to KU in allen field house a couple days before they did it to us