OU lost to Texas Tech 56-55 Friday night in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals, and we figured the Sooners had played their way out of the NCAA Tournament.
Not so much Friday night. But earlier in the season, when a stretch of losing saddled the Sooners with a mediocre record, and OU indeed finished 18-15 after the loss to Tech.
Turns out the Sooners indeed have been banished from March Madness. But they didn’t play their way out. They were knocked out.
The NCAA selection committee announced its 68-team bracket Sunday while also revealing its rankings. And the committee pegged OU as the No. 2 team outside the field, trailing only Dayton.
That means the Sooners were on the right side of the bubble as late as Saturday evening. And two of the final conference-tournament games played — one Saturday night, one Sunday afternoon — determined the final two at-large berths.
First, Virginia Tech upset Duke 82-67 in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game Saturday night.
Then Sunday afternoon, Richmond stunned Davidson 64-62 in the Atlantic-10 championship game.
The former knocked out OU. The latter knocked out Dayton.
Here’s how we know. Virginia Tech’s victory meant an automatic berth in the NCAAs for the Hokies.
But Virginia Tech received a No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That’s a No. 11 seed with a victory over Duke (which was given a No. 2 seed Sunday) and the ACC Tournament title on its résumé.
Take away that victory over Duke and that ACC trophy, and are the Hokies still in the field?
Among the at-large selections, Virginia Tech, 23-12, was ranked ahead of only Notre Dame. Wyoming and Indiana received No. 12 seeds, but that was for bracketing purposes. Those teams play in a First Four game. According to the committee’s 1-68 rankings, Virginia Tech was behind Indiana, Wyoming and all the 11 seeds — Rutgers, Michigan and Iowa State — besides Notre Dame.
There’s no way Virginia Tech would have stayed ahead of OU, without that victory over Duke.
But the Hokies beat the Blue Devils and made it moot, by qualifying automatically.
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Richmond’s upset of Davidson upset the Atlantic-10 order. Davidson had a safe ranking — the Wildcats are No. 40 among the 68 teams, according to the committee — so it wasn’t playing for its NCAA life.
But Richmond was. When the Spiders beat Davidson, that knocked out the lowest-ranked at-large team, which at the time was fellow A-10 member Dayton.
If either of those games had gone the other way — had Duke beaten Virginia or Davidson beaten Richmond — Dayton would be in the NCAA Tournament. Had both games gone the other way, the Sooners would have been in.
OU was in the field as of Saturday afternoon.
Of course, whether OU deserved to be in the field then — or deserves now to be in the field — is a different question. And maybe the best debate is between the Sooners and Michigan.
The Wolverines were the most-scrutinized by bracketologists, after their selection. Michigan is 17-14 overall, 11-9 in the Big Ten. OU was 18-15, 7-11 in the Big 12.
Michigan was ranked 42nd by the committee and avoided the First Four play-in games.
Comparing the Sooners and Wolverines seems a valuable enterprise. Apples to apples. Power conference. So-so record. Tough schedules.
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In the Net rankings, used by the committee as a metric, Michigan is No. 34, OU No. 39.
Michigan played a tougher non-conference schedule. No doubt.
The Wolverines lost to No. 2 Arizona (neutral site), No 31 North Carolina (road) and No. 37 Seton Hall (home), and beat No. 25 San Diego State (home).
The Sooners played two top-50 non-conference teams — they beat No. 20 Arkansas on a neutral floor and lost at No. 11 Auburn.
OU also played far more bad teams. The Sooners played six teams ranked below the top 200. The Wolverines played two.
But OU played a tougher conference schedule. No doubt. The Big 12 plays a double-round robin schedule, which means OU’s easiest opponents were No. 74 Kansas State (twice) and No. 78 West Virginia (twice). Every other Big 12 team was ranked in the top 51. OU played eight games against Big 12 teams ranked in the Net top 10. Eight!
Michigan played eight Big Ten teams ranked 77th or worse in the Net: No. 77 Rutgers twice, No. 88 Penn State, No. 89 Maryland, No. 91 Northwestern, No. 108 Minnesota and No. 141 Nebraska twice.
To the Wolverines’ credit, Michigan played eight Big Ten games against teams that finished in the top 26 of the Net.
Kenpom.com shows that OU had the nation’s fourth-toughest schedule and Michigan had the nation’s sixth-toughest schedule.
I can’t rip the committee for putting the Wolverines in the field.
And I can’t rip the committee for keeping the Sooners out. In fact, the committee had OU in. Then Virginia Tech and Richmond knocked the Sooners out.
Bud Wilkinson talks hurry-up offense
Tommy McDonald always liked to say that Bud Wilkinson got the idea for a hurry-up offense from McDonald popping up so quickly after being tackled.
Wilkinson didn’t dismiss the idea, but he also once said, “I don’t want to get into a discussion with Tommy about that.”
The ScissorTales continues a series of Wilkinson interviews conducted by Georgia historian Loran Smith some four decades ago. Smith shared the transcripts with me, and I’m sharing them with you.
And today, we hear from Wilkinson on OU’s famed hurry-up offense, the forerunner to the now-common no-huddle offense.
“I had always felt, and still do, that’s one of my regrets about the Cardinals, I’d just about had a team to the point — see, I hadn’t coached for a long time. But there’s no reason in my view to let defenses go into a huddle and call a play against you.
“The so-called hurry-up offense that everybody does in the last two minutes, there’s no reason not to do that for 60 minutes. You’ve got to be in better shape — that’s why we won, anyway. We were in better shape than our opponents. I was always very conscious of let’s get the ball in play.
“I used to, one of my preseason speeches all the time. Going into the season, we’re not any better than they are physically, and we’re not smarter than they are, and we’re not any tougher than they are, but maybe we are even with them in these things. Assuming that, how are we going to win?
“If it’s that even, they’ve got the ball 30 minutes, and we’ve got it 30 minutes. If we run 15 more plays in our 30 minutes than they can snap the ball in their 30, the yards made on those 15 plays will win for us. So that was something that we had always believed.
“But McDonald added immeasurably. See, we did it when he was playing, and we weren’t able to get it going quite that fast when he wasn’t playing, because he was not very big, but he had taught himself in high school that no matter how big the guy was who hit him, if I get up first and run back to the huddle, he’s going to think after a while — Tommy’s leadership got the team back to the huddle.
“We didn’t ever go without a huddle. That’s a misnomer. We huddled every play. We didn’t stay in the huddle long, but we called a play in the huddle. The difference in the timing – once the team breaks the huddle, most of them play with fair rapidity — from the time you break the huddle, snap the ball unless there’s a check signal or something, it’s fairly quick.
“It’s the time spent when the ball is blown dead getting back to the huddle, that is the great difference. Because of Tommy’s leadership, that particular team (1955), the minute that whistle blew, they’re back in the huddle right now.
“The other thing that helped, we didn’t have any wide receivers out. If you’ve got a wide receiver out there, he can’t get back in the huddle. That was what got Earl Blaik with a lonesome end.
“It wasn’t as much physical wear and tear, it’s we want to get the ball in play. He (McDonald) was one of the first guys who was a flanker in college football, and if we want to go with any rapidity, we can’t get him back to the huddle, and if we do, he’ll be worn out, because he’s going to be sprinting all the time. He was the first guy not to go back into the huddle. We used to work on that, too. Then we’d never do it during the season, but we recognized what I’ve already talked about — if you’ve got the wide receiver out, that’s going to help you, but if we want to go quick, we’ve got to give them hand signals. We’re going to have them out on both sides.
“There are several things that you believe in that you’ve got to have a team believe in. This is one of them. The story I just related, that was part of my standard text of preseason talks to our team. Tommy’s our best player – I don’t know if he’s our best player, but he’s our most dynamic player. That’s the best quality athlete team that we had at Oklahoma right across the board.
“We had an exceptional backfield, exceptional line, they could all play defense. They were just great athletes for that particular era. But Tommy did, you see, what we wanted everybody to do and everybody admired Tommy. His leadership made it happen. Maybe 50 percent better almost than we could ever get it going again or had it going up until that time. He played a great role.
“Jim (Tatum, Maryland’s coach) told me that in order to try to be ready for it, instead of having one scout team in practice, they had two scout teams so they could get the tempo, close to the tempo. They ran two different teams. Their defensive team, in order to get used to the speed at which it was coming, normally you know gotta look at a card to run a scout play. If you only have one team doing it by the time everybody sees where they’re supposed to go it’s kind of a delayed thing. If you have two teams, you at least pick up the tempo some.
“We went, I think — you’d have to check — I think we went on fourth down three times in the drive (of the 1955-season Orange Bowl). You’d have to check that out to be sure, but that’s how we were blowing them out of there.”
The List: NFL stars who unretire
Tom Brady and Brett Favre are as different as two superstar quarterbacks could be.
Favre was wild, with his throws and decision-making and lifestyle. Favre routinely made spectacular plays, mixed with dubious throws. His off-field issues produced constant turmoil.
Brady was consistent, with his throws and decision-making and lifestyle. Brady rarely made spectacular plays but virtually never toss dubious throws. Turmoil never was part of his life, as far as we know.
But Brady and Favre are linked as two of the greatest quarterbacks in National Football League history, and now they share another bond: temporary retirements. Favre retired twice – with the Packers after the 2007 season and with the Jetropolitans after the 2008 season, only to reverse course within a few months, with the Jets in ‘08 and with the Vikings in 2009. Now Brady, two months after retiring, says he will return to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
We all get it. Retirement is hard-pressed to fill the fix that football provided with competition, glory and finances.
Still, most NFL stars who find retirement untenable at least give it a chance. Favre didn’t until his third try. Brady didn’t this winter.
Here are 10 NFL stars who gave retirement a chance, then returned to the gridiron:
1. John Riggins: The great Kansas fullback played nine season, then retired after the 1979 season. Riggins returned a year later and was better than ever, leading Washington to a Super Bowl title and playing five more years.
2. Randall Cunningham: The quarterback retired after 11 seasons, 1985-95, then returned in 1997. In 1998, Cunningham made all-pro with the Vikings and came within a whisker of getting Minnesota into the Super Bowl.
3. Ed “Too Tall” Jones: The Dallas Cowboy was a star defensive end but retired after five seasons, 1974-78, to pursue a boxing career. He sat out a season, then returned in 1980 and played 10 more years, most of them as a star.
4. Rob Gronkowski: The tight end was Brady’s favorite target with the Patriots, 2010-18, then retired. But he returned in 2020, joining Brady with Tampa Bay, and helped the Buccaneers win a Super Bowl. He has 100 career catches in two Tampa Bay seasons.
5 Jason Witten: The tight end was on a Hall of Fame track after 15 years with the Cowboys, then retired after the 2017 season to join ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Witten was a disaster in the broadcast booth, returned to the Cowboys in 2019 and played for the Raiders in 2020.
6. Marshawn Lynch: The mercurial tailback star retired after nine NFL seasons, 2007-15, then returned to his hometown Raiders in 2017 and rushed for 891 yards. He played two more years after that.
7. Randy Moss: A 13-year NFL star, 1998-2010, Moss retired after spending 2010 with three teams. But he returned in 2012 and had 28 catches for the 49ers.
8. Reggie White: The Minister of Defense had 192½ sacks over 14 glorious seasons with the Eagles and Packers. But White retired after the 1998 season. He returned in 2000, playing for the Panthers, for whom he had 5½ sacks.
9. Deion Sanders: One of the NFL’s all-time great cornerbacks played 12 years, then retired after the 2000 season. Sanders sat out three years, then returned and played two seasons with the Ravens, making five interceptions.
10. Ricky Williams: The tailback rushed for 6,354 yards over his first five years, then retired after the 2003 season. Williams returned in 2005 and played six more seasons, but he wasn’t the same player, gaining 3,655 yards over that span.
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Kansas City travelblog: A new barbeque joint
Our last day in Kansas City included more basketball — OU women’s loss to Baylor in the Big 12 semifinals — and a couple of meals.
But first, a reflection on the weather. I’ve been coming to KC for 30 years this time of year, and this weather was by far the worst.
Incredibly cold, huge snow. Wednesday was OK, temperatures in the 40s, but after that was the stuff of sled dogs.
Six-seven inches of snow on Thursday morning, with bitter cold. As late as Saturday morning, I woke up, checked the weather and it was 12 degrees outside.
Downtown Kansas City is nothing spectacular, but it’s an interesting place, and the Power & Light District — KC’s Bricktown — is a fun place for fans to go.
I have no idea if fans congregated there this year. I assume they did. But I didn’t. I usually walk to one or both of the venues. But this year, I didn’t venture out as a pedestrian. Too cold. Too snowy.
The weather, I’m told, was great in KC the week before the tournament. It’s going to be great this week. But last week, it was miserable. Good thing Kansas City built up three decades of goodwill in my book.
Saturday morning, my old friend Burl Spencer picked me up for breakfast. We’ve been thick since Burlywine started at the Norman Transcript in 1983. He’s lived in Kansas City almost 17 years, so I try to see him everytime I come. We went to Big Biscuit, a local chain that serves a hearty breakfast. Nothing much foo-foo. I’m not big on foo-foo.
It was great catching up with Burl.
Then I headed to Municipal Auditorium. I reported the other day that the Big 12 likely will move the women’s tournament to T-Mobile Center, and I suppose it’s for the best, but man, I still love Municipal Auditorium.
The art deco look is a throwback, and history oozes from Municipal. The NAIA national tournament was played at Municipal from 1937 through 1974, then moved to Kemper Arena. The NAIA moved the event to Tulsa from 1994-2001, but it’s been back at Municipal ever since, and old-timers will tell you that’s where the tournament belongs.
Municipal hosted three of the first four Final Fours and stayed as a frequent host for the NCAAs through 1964. The 1957 Kansas-North Carolina triple overtime title game, featuring Wilt Chamberlain, was played at Municipal. Not until 2013 did Dayton Arena surpass Municipal as the building with the most NCAA Tournament games played.
The NBA’s Kansas City Kings played their first two seasons at Municipal Auditorium after moving from Cincinnati in 1972, plus hosted much of the Kings’ 1979-80 season after the Kemper Arena roof collapsed in June 1979.
It’s a grand old place, without the amenities expected of a modern arena but dripping with atmosphere.
Municipal Auditorium is the name of the entire building, which not only includes the arena, but a music hall on the order of OKC’s Civic Center and the Little Theater, an elegant ballroom.
Trish the Dish, her two sisters and sister-in-law came to Kansas City in January to see “Wicked,” and it was performed at Municipal. Come to think of it, they were hit with an ice storm in KC during that trip. Maybe it’s us screwing up the Kansas City weather.
Anyway, my first year covering the Big 12 women’s tournament at Municipal, I explored the empty music hall. Even went up on stage and behind the curtains. Gave me a phantom-of-the-opera vibe.
Ryan Aber and I tried the same thing Saturday before the OU-Baylor game. Alas, a dance contest was being conducted. Nothing like hundreds of 10-year-old girls, with their parents in the audience, to take the edge off the phantom of the opera.
After the game, Aber and I headed back to our hotels, packed up and headed home. But before leaving town, we grabbed some dinner at Smokin’ Guns Barbeque, in an industrial part of north Kansas City.
I never had been to Smokin’ Guns. Enjoyed it very much. Kansas City is proud of its barbeque and should be, and this was a quality place to go. I had ribs and chicken, and the sides were quite exotic, for barbeque. I mean, they had all the regular staples but also offered corn nuggets, sweet-potato fries, mac-and-cheese bites and broccoli casserole. I had the two former, and both were good.
About 6 p.m., we headed out. Aber was worn out – he had a middle-of-the-night Zoom with Jocelyn Alo after her record-setting home run in Hawaii; he was working on little sleep – so I drove home. At least until 11 p.m., about Hefner Road, where I hit the wall.
You can make good time on the Kansas Turnpike on a winter Saturday night, and we did. We passed the time by listening to a series of podcasts about a man from Cincinnati who has been on Death Row for 27 years and might have been wrongfully convicted. That will keep you awake.
Got home before midnight, got out of the car to 43-degree temperatures and it felt like 73. Hope to be back in Kansas City soon. And hope the weather is a little more accommodating.
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Mailbag: Thunder tanking
The Thunder is two years into rebuilding, and some fans are tired of it. Perhaps you’ve heard.
Lance: “When do you think (Sam) Presti is going to use all of his draft picks, through trade or otherwise, to put together a decent team?”
Tramel: Presti is not going to use his all assets to put together a decent team. He plans to cash in those assets when he already has a decent team, to make it a quality team.
It’s actually an interesting plan. With some lottery luck, the Thunder’s own draft picks can replenish the roster at the top. Josh Giddey is a prime example.
If the Thunder can get back to decent-team status (Lance’s words), then Presti has all those other picks to supplement the roster. Remember when the Thunder was riding high? Presti was sort of strapped in how he could add complementary pieces. That’s why someone like Derek Fisher or Caron Butler or Randy Foye generally was the best the Thunder could do at the trade deadline.
But you start offering a first-round draft pick or two, and suddenly Tobias Harris is available.
See the difference?
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected] He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OU basketball kept from NCAA Tournament by Virginia Tech & Richmond