NORMAN — The Big 12 tournament could feature the most tightly compacted field it has ever showcased. The 10-team tournament, which begins tonight at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., will feature a field where the last-place team (TCU) beat the regular-season champion (Kansas), and only five teams finished with records above .500 in the league.
“You go into this one with a lot of balance,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “The scoring through the year and the league race makes it so a lot of teams feel like they have a chance to compete for a title.”
The odds are long that No. 10 seed TCU, ninth-seeded Texas Tech, eighth-seeded Texas or seventh-seeded West Virginia can get that done. However, all of them have wins over teams that finished in the top half of the league.
The fourth-seeded Sooners (20-10, 11-7 Big 12) have a first-round bye. They open play against fifth-seeded Iowa State (21-10, 11-7) at 11:30 a.m. Thursday.
The one thing that seems like a guarantee as those teams converge is that success is going to require winning close games. The nature of postseason conference tournaments makes it necessary. Every game will feature teams meeting for the third time this season. All the secrets are long gone. Defenders will be calling out plays as soon as point guards signal them. A handful of plays usually decides who wins and advances.
Lately, the Sooners are coming up on the short end of those kinds of games. Their last six losses were all by six points or less, including the stunning 70-67 loss to TCU in Saturday’s regular-season finale. OU’s loss came on the heels of an overtime loss at Texas Feb. 27.
The last time the Sooners won a game by less than double figures was the Feb. 9 victory against league champion Kansas at Lloyd Noble Center.
It wasn’t always that way. Six of OU’s nine non-conference wins were in the single digits — five of them in November were by seven points or less.
“I don’t think anything has changed. The competition has picked up a lot. We’re playing in the Big 12 against really tough competition and sometimes things don’t fall your way down the stretch,” said OU senior Romero Osby. “You have to dive on the floor for balls and take charges and things like that. They’re the things most people don’t look at, but they’re magnified in March.
“We just have to make sure we keep it tight and stay together. We’ll be able to win those games when it’s time to.”
The two regular-season meetings between the Sooners and the Cyclones played out in similar fashions. The home team rolled to a lopsided victory in each.
“They did what they wanted to in Ames and we did what we wanted to here,” Kruger said. “I would imagine a neutral site with two pretty even teams, I would imagine it turns into a pretty even battle.”
It means OU better be able to win a razor tight game if it wants to advance.
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