Oklahoma has its eyes on playing in the postseason.
The Sooners could play their way into the NCAA tournament with an improbable undefeated run through the Big 12 tournament. Or OU could earn an NIT berth with a solid showing at the Big 12 tourney, most likely needing to win at least two games for a chance.
Regardless, the Sooners enter the tourney with some momentum, having split their last four games after losing six straight games to begin February. OU has beaten Oklahoma State and Texas A&M in the past two weeks and will face the Aggies for the third time this season on Wednesday in Kansas City. If the Sooners win they would play top-seeded Kansas on Thursday at 2 p.m. CT.
Here are the keys to the Sooners winning at least one game during the Big 12 tournament, thus giving themselves hope of an NIT birth:
Continued quality play from Cameron Clark
It’s not a coincidence the Sooners have improved their play in the past four games as Clark has improved his play. The sophomore is averaging 11.8 points per game in OU’s last four outings.
More importantly, he’s averaged 10.5 shots attempted per game as he’s gotten more aggressive on the offensive end after averaging just 7.5 shot attempts in OU’s previous four games.
“I am just feeling more confident,” Clark said. “My team is telling me to go attack and Coach [Lon Kruger] is telling me to go attack. I am just doing it and it’s showing.”
Run the offense through Romero Osby
In the Sooners' five conference victories, Osby averaged 16.4 points on an efficient 10.8 shot attempts per win.
“Coach gave me confidence on being more aggressive and getting low and strong,” Osby said. “My teammates are doing a good job of encouraging me to score and stuff like that. When you have support and stuff like that, sometimes it just takes over to where you can just play at any type of level.”
OU needs to get the ball in the junior’s hands more often, both in post-up situations as well as one-on-one opportunities on the perimeter. He has the most complete offensive arsenal on the team and rarely tries to do too much.
Sprinkle in more zone defense in an effort to keep the starters fresh
The Sooners go seven or eight deep with their starters playing the majority of the minutes. They refuse to use fatigue as an excuse but it has been difficult for OU to maintain its focus for an entire 40 minutes while logging so many minutes on the floor.
If OU sprinkles in its zone defense, regardless of the opponent, for four or five minute stretches that total 12 or 15 minutes, it could greatly improve OU’s chances of success, especially considering a win over the Aggies means a game against the Jayhawks the following night.
Play Sam Grooms for the entire 40 minutes if necessary
The Sooners with Grooms on the floor and without him on the floor are two different teams. It’s not unusual to see the OU offense get out of whack when the junior point guard is on the bench.
Grooms finished second in the Big 12 with 6 assists per game and led the conference with a 2.97 assist to turnover ratio. His ability to limit turnovers, thus creating easy baskets for the opponent, is the reason the Sooners have consistently won the turnover battle. The Sooners finished fourth in the conference in turnover margin (0.90).
If OU does those four things, they could find themselves playing during the second week of March.