NORMAN, Okla. — There are no two ways about it. Lon Kruger’s Oklahoma men’s basketball team is reeling.
What was once an 11-1 record through 12 non-conference games, even against a strong schedule, is now a 15-7 overall mark that includes a 3-6 record in the Big 12 Conference.
At 8 tonight, one week after taking a 30-point drubbing inside Lloyd Noble Center from Baylor and two days after being topped by conference doormat West Virginia, the Sooners are back home to face 20th-ranked Iowa State (17-5, 6-3).
Here’s a five-things-to-know primer entering tonight’s matchup.
• It will not get easier: A home game against the No. 20 team in the nation is what passes for one of the more winnable games remaining on OU’s schedule.
After tonight, it’s 16th-ranked Texas Tech coming to Norman on Saturday afternoon.
The following week, the Sooners are at Baylor — which already topped them 77-47 — and at TCU, which isn’t ranked but is receiving votes in both the media’s and coaches’ top 25 polls.
The Big 12, in terms of conference RPI, rates out as the nation’s most difficult college basketball league. That will help OU come NCAA tournament time should it find itself on the bubble.
However, nobody will be prognosticating the Sooners to reach the tourney should they fall to 3-10 in conference play.
The Big 12 is a gauntlet and OU must start winning some games.
• Bracketology issues: Heading into the Sooners’ last victory, an 86-55 decision over Vanderbilt, part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, the bracketology consensus had OU a likely No. 6 seed at the NCAA tournament. Yet, losses since has sent the Sooners tumbling.
CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm now has OU as an eight-seed, in the Midwest Regional, headed to Columbus, Ohio, to face Ole Miss.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi also has OU as the No. 8 seed in Columbus, yet facing Syracuse.
Neither Palm nor Lunardi has the Sooners on their “last four in” list. Both have Indiana and Seton Hall among their last four, while Palm adds Central Florida and Alabama and Lunardi adds Florida and Arizona State.
Nevertheless, to remain in the draw and off the bubble, OU needs to start winning games again.
• Iowa State comes in hot: While the Sooners have lost four of six games and four of five in the conference, the Cyclones have won three straight and five of six, the only loss over the span coming at 11th-ranked Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse.
Iowa State began that run with a victory at then-No. 8 Texas Tech and, during it, has topped then-No. 20 Mississippi in Oxford.
The Cyclones remaining conference losses have come at Baylor and against Kansas State by a combined four points.
• Big game needed: The Sooners need somebody to turn in a big game.
They haven’t had any player eclipse the 20-point mark in a conference game since Christian James netted 20 against Texas on Jan. 19. That was four conference games ago when James scored exactly 20.
James remains the best bet. He netted 18 at West Virginia, 21 against Vanderbilt, 20 at Texas and 20 against Kansas State. His 24 points against TCU on Jan. 12 remains the high-point performance of OU's conference slate.
Additionally, any points at all from Jamal Bieniemy would be welcome.
The true freshman point guard, who figures to start his sixth straight game tonight, has dished 18 assists against only three turnovers in his last three games. However, he has also combined to score just three points total in those games.
His first two starts, he netted 11 and 17 points.
• Like last time would be nice: The Sooners are an entirely different team than last season. Still, perhaps they can draw confidence from a year ago, when they beat the Cyclones 81-60 last March 2 in Norman.
That ended a run of three straight Cyclone victories in the series.
All time, OU leads the series 116-87.
Iowa State at Oklahoma
Time: 8 p.m. Monday
Place: Lloyd Noble Center
Records: ISU 17-5, 6-3/No. 20 AP Top 25, No. 20 coaches' poll; OU 15-7, 3-6/unranked
Radio: KRXO 107.7