NORMAN — Anything that happens late in the regular season — good or bad — is magnified. Wins strengthen teams’ NCAA Tournament status. Any losses weaken the case for a high seed, putting a team on the bubble or worse.
Oklahoma (18-9, 9-6 Big 12) and Iowa State (19-9, 9-6) meet at 12:30 p.m. today at Lloyd Noble Center. The game will be a clear case of how intense the late-season scrutiny is.
Both are tied for fourth in the Big 12. Both are coming off emotional overtime losses. The Sooners blew a 22-point lead with a little less than eight minutes to go against Texas on Wednesday. Two referees were reprimanded after the Cyclones overtime loss to Kansas on Monday, but the loss is still in the record book.
“It’s ironic how it’s all played out this way for a big game on Saturday,” OU forward Romero Osby said. “It plays out that we’re both competing for that fourth spot in the league.”
The fourth spot in the conference standings is critical because it makes a team a mortal lock for the NCAA Tournament. No fourth-place team in the Big 12 has ever been omitted from the field.
The Sooners must get this one over the Cyclones in order to get the spot all by themselves. Today’s game is also the Sooners’ last chance in the regular season to get a win over a team with a decent RPI. The Cyclones are currently No. 54.
Above all else, the Sooners need to erase the memory of Wednesday’s loss to the Longhorns and avenge one of their worst performances of the season. OU’s Feb. 4 game at Iowa State might have been the worst — overall — game of the league slate. The Sooners trailed by double-digits 10 minutes in and never came close to rallying. The 83-64 loss is OU’s most lopsided through 15 conference games.