By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — After Sunday’s sweep-dodging 5-4 victory over Oklahoma State, Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway looked on the bright side.
At the very least, his team had snapped a four-game losing streak — its longest of the season — and maintained a slim hope that it could still win the Big 12 Conference regular season-title.
The Sooners needed something positive to cling to. Where they finish in the conference standings is going to be critical, as far as the NCAA tournament is concerned. For that matter, the Big 12 tournament, which begins May 22 at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, will have a loud voice, too.
“I think we went from a one- or two-bid league early on because of our RPIs. I think we’re at five right now,” Golloway said Sunday. “With the Big 12 (tournament) and what happens the last weekend, we could get to six. I hope that’s what transpires. I think you’ll see a fifth or sixth place team in our league go and win a regional somewhere — I really do.”
The Big 12 has finally moved up in the Ratings Percentage Index. Golloway’s prediction is a far cry from April, when OU was the only team in the RPI’s top 50.
Big 12 teams in the top 45 have always been considered safe bets for at-large berths to the NCAA tournament. The Sooners (35-16, 12-9 Big 12) are sitting right at No. 45 with four regular-season games left. They host Dallas Baptist at 6:30 p.m. today at L. Dale Mitchell Park. However, the three-game series at conference-leading Kansas State (37-15, 14-7) will have a huge hand in finalizing OU’s postseason resumé.
The Wildcats are No. 22 in the RPI and the only conference team with a realistic chance to host an NCAA tournament regional. However, OSU moved up to No. 34 after winning the Bedlam series. A spot in the NCAA tournament should be secure.
The Sooners are currently tied with West Virginia for second place in the Big 12. The Mountaineers took two of three from OU earlier this month.
However, reality has set in for OU. With as little as three weeks ago, the possibility was there for it to run away with the Big 12 title. Traditionally, a team usually runs away and hides from the rest of the pack in April. Losing three of the last four series — beating Texas Tech but dropping two of three to Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State — had ramifications.
Even Golloway admitted the Sooners’ chance to host an NCAA tournament regional has gone away.
OU must sweep the Wildcats to win the league, but the Big 12 teams have also created an interesting dynamic because only Texas and Texas Tech have failed to gain any traction this season. Only four games separate the Wildcats from seventh-place TCU heading into the final weekend.
“You start getting into that mix deal where we beat them, but they beat us and who really deserves to go?” Golloway said. “That speaks to the depth. Let’s remember who is in last place in this league; it’s Texas, if you don’t already know. That’s a pretty powerful program to be in last place. That says a lot for our league.”
But getting more than three teams in the NCAA tournament will be a stretch. Kansas State, Oklahoma State and OU are the only teams in the top 50 with few games remaining. Baylor and Kansas could still make runs for at-large bids, but they have to get hot.
However, every team in the Big 12 is in the same boat. The last weekend will have a huge impact. The conference tournament will as well. The winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The league hasn’t produced a dominant team this season. However, this is the most competitive conference race the league’s ever produced.
The play in the Bedlam series showed how bunched together the league is. Three one-run games with both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State claiming come-from-behind wins. The Cowboys scored 12 runs in the series. OU had 11.
There have been many Big 12 series like that this season. The final series of the year likely won’t be any different. The Big 12 just hopes the NCAA tournament selection committee is impressed by the parity.
Follow me @john_shinn