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The Morning Dish – Tuesday, February 20, 2018

February 20, 2018 The Morning Dish No Comments

Kansas’s run at yet another Big 12 regular season championship is still alive and well. Oklahoma’s run at a seemingly lock NCAA Tournament berth a couple weeks ago may well now be in peril.

What would’ve been a highly anticipated game two weeks ago had a diminished vibe coming into Monday with OU having lost five straight games. Even then, it was a flop, as the Jayhawks dismantled the Sooners 104-74 at Allen Fieldhouse. It was Oklahoma’s worst loss of the season and Kansas’s most lopsided win since beating Nebraska-Omaha in December.

As if to prove that it can win at home without the help of a 35-2 free throw differential, Kansas was punishing on Monday. Six players scored in double figures, KU shot 60.9% and was in control literally from the start, opening with the game’s first 10 points. With the win, Bill Self’s team inched back ahead of Texas Tech in the Big 12 standings, with a massive showdown at the Red Raiders looming Saturday.

As much of a story as the Jayhawks’ dominance, though, was the Sooners’ struggles. It was obvious to anyone who watched last night that the team’s play has slipped dramatically in the last month. OU’s defense looked like a Big 12 football team, as inept as the score indicated.

Once the subject of round-the-clock hype by a certain cable sports network after it identified him as a valuable pawn in pushing its coverage of the NBA, Trae Young also is now struggling the most he has all of his incredible freshman season. Young scored a season-low 11 points last night, and even as he was still passing superbly (nine assists), he still had five turnovers, was as responsible as anyone for the shoddy defense, and the overall cost/benefit wasn’t nearly enough to lift his team to another level.

Moreover for Oklahoma’s postseason hopes, it’s getting to be time to be concerned about that loss total. This isn’t even about the 6-9 Big 12 record; right now, OU is just five games above .500 for the season. It probably is being overlooked as many have been trained now to become dazzled by Quadrant-this and top 50-that wins, but that overall record should be cause for alarm.

It’s a good thing Oklahoma still has three weeks left to get going again, because if it were up to us the Sooners would not be an NCAA Tournament team today. From our perspective, if a team is going to be NCAA tourney-worthy with a 16-11 record, they better have played an absolute gauntlet with a strength of schedule rating in the top five in the country.

Oklahoma’s is close (18th, though just 94th out of conference), but not enough to offset the sheer fact that over the course of 27 games now, this is a team that is getting increasingly close to being a .500 squad. As much as there are the six Quadrant 1 wins, at some point the losses should count, too. To make a comparison: if you go by winning percentage, the Sooners in the NCAA Tournament right now would be the equivalent of putting a 7-5 team in a college football playoff tournament. And is there anyone in the world who thinks a 7-5 team is owed a shot at a national championship?

(The Sooners are also a classic example of why the NCAA was foolish in getting rid of its last 10 games measure as part of the selection criteria. When comparing two similar teams, it absolutely should be a factor that OU has played barely like an NIT team for several weeks now.)

Oklahoma still has a fairly friendly schedule to finish (Kansas State and Iowa State at home; Baylor on the road). And it’s obvious that at their best, the Sooners are a top-25 caliber unit. But right now, OU is nowhere near that. And increasingly, the team’s overall profile of wins AND losses for the entire season is reflecting what the Sooners are right now.

Side Dishes:

  • On a President’s Day night with an exceptionally thin slate (Little Monday?), the closest thing to a headliner after KU and OU was Miami (Fla.) going on the road and coming out with a 77-74 win at Notre Dame. The Hurricanes aren’t a pretty offensive team but can score effectively when their slashing game is working, and they shot 53.4% while also getting five three-pointers and 19 points from Lonnie Walker IV.
  • The two leaders in the Horizon League won, with Wright State coming back to defeat Cleveland State 72-63 and Northern Kentucky handling Youngstown State 70-51. NKU’s underrated Drew McDonald delivered his 15th double-double of the season with 27 points and 12 rebounds.
  • There’s no joy in beating up on the Big Ten, but it’s hard not to note just how far off it is this year when furnishes a doubleheader like it did last night that would’ve been anticipated before the season but is anything but now. Maryland won at Northwestern 71-64, the Wildcats coughing up another halftime lead, and Wisconsin rallied late in regulation to force overtime and then won over hapless Minnesota 73-63.
  • The MEAC is now a big-time jumble, with four teams separated by half a game at the top. It comes after Hampton topped previous leader Savannah State 114-102 in overtime, with Kalin Fisher scoring a career-best 37. The Pirates are now 10-4 to the Tigers’ 10-3 in conference, while Bethune-Cookman (96-95 overtime winners at Morgan State) and North Carolina A&T (78-69 over Maryland-Eastern Shore) are also both now tied for first.
  • We all know rankings don’t mean a lot, but sometimes they do. When a school like Middle Tennessee State breaks into the Associated Press Top 25 for the very first time, like the Blue Raiders did at 24th on Monday, it means something. It’s an honor several years in the making for Kermit Davis’s team, which famously stunned 2 seed Michigan State in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, then last year finished a 31-5 season where it was hideously underseeded in the tourney but still won a first-round game. The achievement is a deserved one for what has become one of the model programs in the country, and also a reminder of just what patience with a coach can do for a school. Davis’s teams were respectable but never standouts as they never reached 20 wins in his first nine years at MTSU and were 16-16 in his ninth season in 2010-11, but the Blue Raiders won 27 games the next year and have five seasons of at least 24 wins since.
  • A couple schools announced on Monday that they are extending the contracts of their current coaches. East Tennessee State and Steve Forbes have agreed to a new contract that runs through 2023 and will pay him $650,000 per year. While no guarantee that this means Forbes wouldn’t take another job, it’s a clear sign of appreciation by ETSU for a coach whose work has earned it. Also, Mark Byington has agreed to a contract extension with Georgia Southern through the 2021-22 season. Byington has a solid 93-74 record in five years in Statesboro, and this year the Eagles are 17-10 overall and 8-6 in the Sun Belt.

Tonight’s Menu:

  • Amidst several less-than inspiring matchups to open the night on TV, the best matchup is West Virginia at suddenly surging Baylor (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2). The Mountaineers squeaked out a 57-54 win last month, with both teams shooting under 36% but WVU forcing 21 turnovers even as the Bears won the rebounding battle by eight.
  • Mississippi State is still trying to elbow its way into the NCAA Tournament picture. A win at again-staggering Texas A&M would certainly help (7 p.m., SEC Network).
  • Creighton tries to stay ahead of Butler in the Big East standings but must do so on the road in Indianapolis (7 p.m., FS1). The Jays are currently tied for third at 8-6, with the Bulldogs just one-half game behind.
  • A big one in the Southern Conference, where second-place UNC Greensboro is at potent Wofford, which is coming off a 45-point explosion by Fletcher Magee.
  • Nebraska is at home but could get a power rating lift by beating an Indiana team that is terribly overrated in a number of metric rankings (9 p.m., Big Ten Network).
  • Arkansas has won four straight and just took care of Texas A&M by 19 on Saturday, and now the Hogs host Kentucky (9 p.m., ESPN). At the same time, pesky Vanderbilt is at LSU, a team with a middling 15-11 record that is increasingly getting NCAA tourney buzz (9 p.m., SEC Network).
    Saint Louis has silently moved into fourth in the Atlantic 10. The Billikens are on the road at Dayton (9 p.m., ESPNU).

Enjoy your Tuesday.

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