NORMAN, Okla. — After losing to Texas to end the regular season, Oklahoma women’s basketball coach Sherri Coale had an opportunity to make her team’s case for the NCAA tournament.
She took a breath and delivered a 568-word response about why the Sooners belong off the bubble.
Their RPI ranking was in the top 30, with a schedule that has been either No. 1 or 2 most of the season, and she believes teams shouldn’t be punished for that.
“You tell me we're not one of the best 64 teams in the country,” Coale said. “I don’t even think it’s a conversation.”
It’s unknown whether Coale’s confidence dipped following Saturday’s 90-83 loss to TCU in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals. The topic wasn’t broached in an abbreviated press conference afterward.
Now comes the wait.
OU (16-14) will learn during the March 12 selection show whether it has accomplished enough, in the NCAA selection committee’s eyes, for a 19th consecutive berth in the tournament.
The Sooners’ RPI dropped to No. 31 on Sunday and their schedule strength stayed at No. 2. Both figures stood to rise if OU had advanced in the Big 12 tournament to play No. 3 Baylor.
Outside the Big 12, OU played five conference champions and seven teams that finished in the top-3 in their respective leagues. The Sooners went 1-4 against champions and 2-5 against top-3 league teams.
OU’s 2-10 record against ranked teams includes five losses to teams in the current top 10, including No. 1 Connecticut.
ESPN projected Oklahoma State — with the No. 56 RPI and 52nd-ranked schedule strength — in its latest bracket. Coale wonders about why the NCAA would reward teams with weaker schedules.
“The message would be sent, just buy a bunch of games, guarantee a bunch of games in pre-conference to get enough wins, because the only negative thing we have is our losses,” Coale said.
Few will question the Sooners’ schedule strength, but their latest loss presents optics that could prove difficult to overcome.
OU was nearly blown out by a TCU team that ranks 70th in the RPI, falling behind by as many as 21 points in the first half. The Horned Frogs won all three games of their against the Sooners this season.
It was a lost opportunity for OU to continue a February crescendo in which it won six of eight games. One win in the Big 12 tournament could have helped outweigh what the Sooners lack in overall body of work.
“With a 5-1 mark in February, they have only recently been able to put a little distance between themselves and the .500 mark. That moved them into NCAA tournament consideration,” ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme wrote before OU’s last two losses. “The door is open for them to grab a spot.”
The question now is whether that door closed after OU’s second straight early exit from the Big 12 tournament. OU’s comeback against TCU showed spirit, but the Sooners shot 38.4 percent and were out of contention for one half.
Over the next week, Coale must hope the gauntlet of non-conference games she scheduled for her 2017-18 squad shines brighter in the selection committee’s mind than what looks, on paper, like a hot-and-cold season, which saw just one streak of three consecutive wins.
“We went to Oregon, we went to Connecticut, we went to South Dakota State, we went to DePaul and played one of the best women's games of the entire season, it was an unbelievable women's basketball game,” Coale said of OU’s 111-108 overtime loss in Chicago. “At the end of the day, what we are supposed to do in women's basketball is grow this game. That's why I go to DePaul and play, that's why we go to Connecticut and play, we want to grow women's basketball.
“So not only are you going to get maybe not rewarded for that, but you're going to get punished for that? No way. I'm very confident.”