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2024 NCAA Tournament Sleeper: The Oklahoma Sooners




2024 NCAA Tournament Sleeper: The Oklahoma Sooners

Welcome to a fourth season spent here scanning NET Rankings, KenPom ratings, tempo-free statistics, and media polls while giving the “eye test” to under-the-radar college basketball teams that could be not just NCAA Tournament worthy — but Final Four worthy — for sports betting purposes.

Last season this space provided one Final Four participant — San Diego State — among the six teams profiled, while another in Kansas State made its regional final. The Aztecs could make a return appearance this season, as they are currently on the cusp of the AP Top 25, but seventh-ranked Marquette has already justified its Top 10 status and will be a well-known entity come March.

Until the NCAA releases its Top 16, usually in mid-February, there is plenty of guesswork involved in picking teams capable of winning the four games to get to Phoenix for the Final Four and possibly cut down the nets as champion while One Shining Moment plays. Some teams own flashy records with little substance, while some have less-than-stellar records but have played a non-conference schedule geared to pay dividends come March.

The first candidate to write about this year is Oklahoma, outgoing member of the Big 12 and currently ranked 11th in the AP poll. The Sooners have defied preseason predictions with a 12-1 record ahead of their conference opener Saturday at home versus Iowa State, but a hellacious conference schedule means Oklahoma has simply put itself in good position with nothing guaranteed.

» ESPN+ | #BoomerSooner ☝

— Oklahoma Basketball (@OU_MBBall) December 31, 2023

Though this is his third season at Oklahoma, coach Porter Moser is still more known for guiding 11th-seeded Loyola of Chicago to the 2018 Final Four and forever making centenarian Sister Jean part of the March Madness fable. But building the Ramblers into a mid-major powerhouse with players willing to stay two or even three seasons is a quaint notion and a sharp contrast to the demands of keeping players happy at a power conference school.

Moser had a massive rebuild on his hands heading into this season after going 15-17 overall and 5-13 in conference play, worst in the Big 12 last year. Milos Uzan was the only starter who did not transfer out of Norman, and Moser needed multiple replacements in the portal to fill the departures of leading scorers Grant Sherfield (15.3 points per game) and Tanner Groves (10.2). As a result, Oklahoma was picked to finish 12th out of 14 teams in the preseason Big 12 media poll, ahead only of conference newcomers BYU and UCF.

But the replacements Moser found have been more than adequate. Javian McCollum has been unfazed by the step up in competition from Siena to Oklahoma, averaging 14.7 points and 3.8 assists while connecting on 39.2% of his 3-point attempts and directing the offense as a combo guard.

Forward and Georgia Tech transfer Jalen Moore has also stepped his game up by contributing 9.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest. Sam Godwin and Pitt transfer John Hugley IV form a solid 1-2 tandem in the pivot. The two 6-foot-10 centers combine to average 17 points and 10.5 rebounds while shooting 64.2% from the floor.

All the while, holdover and swingman Otega Oweh has blossomed into Oklahoma’s go-to guy. The  sophomore, who averaged 4.8 points last season, has more than tripled that to 15.5 per contest. Oweh leads Division I in shooting among players 6-5 or shorter at 64.7% and is an extremely judicious 3-point shooter — he has made 13-of-18 (72.2%) of his tries from beyond the arc.

— Oklahoma Basketball (@OU_MBBall) January 3, 2024

The Sooners are a crisp offensive team, averaging 112.4 points per 100 possessions, according to KenPom. They are elite inside the arc at 59%, good for ninth in the country. Oklahoma is a solid 3-point shooting team at 35.5% and crashes the offensive glass well, grabbing nearly 35% of its misses.

Interestingly, the things Moser’s team do well offensively are mirrored on the opposite end of the floor. The Sooners are in the top 20 in 3-point shooting defense at 28.4% and inside the top 30 in 2-point defending at 44.5%. They have a plus-8.8 rebound margin per game, good for 23rd in the nation but only fifth in the Big 12.

If there is one concern about Oklahoma, it is taking care of the ball. Moser’s team has a slim plus-1.1 turnover margin per contest and commits 13.2 per game — ranking tied for 251st out of 350 teams.

Oklahoma’s non-conference schedule has been good, up to a point. Its lone defeat came to North Carolina in Charlotte, so there is no shame in a 12-point loss in a de facto road game.

The win that could look the best come March is a 79-70 victory over Arkansas that was played in Tulsa, but the Sooners also own wins over Iowa, then-No. 23 USC, and Providence. Impressing the NCAA tourney’s selection committee, however, could be a challenge. Oklahoma’s 72-51 romp past the Friars may not age well since they lost star Bryce Hopkins for the season to a knee injury Wednesday night.

That said, Moser’s team will get a boatload of opportunities to claim marquee victories in conference play as five other Big 12 teams besides Oklahoma are currently ranked 20th or higher in the AP poll. The conference expanding to 14 teams removed the true round-robin format, but the Sooners will get two cracks at No. 2 Kansas and 20th-ranked Texas. They also have home games versus ranked Big 12 newcomers No. 3 Houston and No. 12 BYU in addition to facing No. 18 Baylor on the road in their new digs.

The sports betting apps have odds available on Oklahoma reaching the Final Four, which is currently the best play among options that also include it winning the NCAA Tournament and Big 12 outright. As of Thursday morning, bet365 was the runaway leader for the best Final Four play at +2000, followed by BetRivers at +1500. FanDuel is offering +1400, while Tipico checks in at +1300 and both DraftKings and SuperBook have the Sooners listed at +1200.

For those thinking Oklahoma has the potential to cut down the nets in Phoenix, bet365 is also the best play at +8000, followed by Tipico and BetRivers (+7000). DraftKings, ESPN BET, Fanatics, PointsBet, and SuperBook had the most common offering at +6000, while Circa Sports was the most bullish on Oklahoma at +4500. FanDuel, Caesars, and Hard Rock Bet all checked in with a +5000 play on the Sooners.

Though there are listings as high as +1600 at bet365 to win the Big 12 outright, such a pick feels like folly considering the Sooners would need to sweep either Kansas or Texas and win two of three among BYU, Houston, and Baylor at a minimum for a title shot.

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