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What's next for OU basketball, Porter Moser following NCAA Tournament omission?

NORMAN — Nearly a year ago after Porter Moser’s roster was depleted by the transfer portal, a five-man roster and a mission to build an NCAA Tournament team remained.

Sam Godwin, Yaya Keita, Luke Northweather, Otega Oweh and Milos Uzan decided to stand pat and continued to buy into Moser’s vision despite a second consecutive season without a March Madness berth.

When OU men’s basketball’s graphic wasn’t one of the 68 displayed on CBS during Sunday’s Selection Show, true devastation and hurt settled in throughout the five who stuck around and the entire Sooners facility.

Moser was at a loss for words when it came time to deliver a message to his team.

“Sometimes we get things in life that are thrown at (us) that are unfair,” a dumbfounded Moser told his players Sunday.

It wasn’t just the crushing feeling of being the final bubble team omitted from the field or even the utter shock as a result of the maddening five bid-stealing day before. The heartache followed over three months of Oklahoma seeing its name in every major bracketology projection, only wavering a seed or two, but never completely dropping out.

Moser knows better than to rely on predictions throughout a season as unpredictable as college basketball, but they’re almost unavoidable for young players in the social media age.

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Oklahoma head coach Porter Moser stands on the sidelines in the second half during an NCAA basketball game between University of Oklahoma (OU) and Brigham Young University (BYU) at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.
Oklahoma head coach Porter Moser stands on the sidelines in the second half during an NCAA basketball game between University of Oklahoma (OU) and Brigham Young University (BYU) at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.

Nearly two days following the NCAA selection committee’s decision and OU’s NIT invite declination, Moser, although visibly still emotional, is most of all frustrated with the lack of transparency from the committee.

“I have not been told a reason,” Moser said Tuesday. “That day, I know there’s a lot of talk about bracketologists. I didn’t know this, I guess there’s like 120 of them. But if you take the top 20 reputable ones, there’s not one that didn’t have us in. Two years ago, we were the last team out and I’ll have to say personally, there was a lot of split. As hard as it was, there’s some compelling things that were told to me … I could see it.

“I feel totally different right now. … The response I'm getting from people in the media and other coaches (is),  ‘I don’t know what to say Porter, we had you in.’ I can't get an answer from anybody to tell me why and I think that's where the flaw comes in the process.”

While the committee's chair, Charles McClellan, made the media rounds in the hours preceding the bracket reveal, Moser has yet to receive a formal explanation.

Side-by-side graphics featuring the Sooners’ resume compared with other bubble teams’ resumes that made the tournament such as Virginia and Michigan State, have flooded social media with arguments over every metric. While struggle persisted, Moser’s team seemed different this season. The players were more athletic, bigger and faster than in the past.

Josh Eilert, who served as West Virginia’s interim head coach during the 2023-24 season, told The Oklahoman this week that the main difference he saw when scouting and playing against the Sooners this season was the increased athleticism on the roster.

“As a head coach, I saw some changes and I think he's adapted well for his personnel,” Eilert said. “I think his team and system last year was 100% congruent with what he did this year. And that's what makes a really good coach. He plays to his guys’ strengths and he adapts well to his guys’ strengths.”

Moser’s qualm with the committee is the lack of transparency of what a tournament team is.

Do they have high NET ratings? Strength of record? Strength of schedule? KenPom? BPI? Did the committee refuse to place nine Big 12 teams in?

“There’s not a formal process of feedback; you get bits and pieces,” Moser said. “And then you hear things and that's, I think, where the complaint of the coaches is. There's no transparency and there's such generalities and for every team, whether they got in or why they didn't get in has different reasons.”

More: Why didn't OU make the NCAA Tournament? Blame the non-conference schedule

Why did Oklahoma decline its NIT invitation?

Twenty minutes.

That’s all the time OU had to process the emotions of missing the NCAA Tournament. Tears, hugs and anger made up the majority of it, so when the NIT invite came through, the players, coaches and administration made the decision they felt was right at the time.

“Never was a thought,” Moser said of the NIT. “And it's absolutely not to disparage the NIT. I think it's a storied tournament. It's not to say to or for people to infer that some coaches wanted to go start on the portal. That's not where we were. It wasn’t even about those two things.”

Pittsburgh, St. John’s. Memphis, Ole Miss, Indiana and Syracuse came to the same conclusion. Television pundits and radio talk shows didn’t hesitate to torch the programs’ decision, citing more opportunities for players to play.

But those who know Moser best say his dedication to the Sooners and his players has never been in question.

“I told my guys, I said I will coach, I will develop, I will teach, I will compete for this school to the last bounce,” Moser said. “So nobody can infer what it is. It was an incredible raw emotion that these kids had to make a decision in 15 minutes after heartbreaking news with some guys that will never have a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament again. And that's the fact of the matter.”

It was clear once conference play began in January that Moser held a specific regard for this season’s group. Similarly to the 1989 Creighton team Moser played on, not a single player had played in the NCAA Tournament before.

The team used that fact as positive fuel to reach the big dance and give seniors Le’Tre Darthard, Maks Klanjseck and Rivaldo Soares the opportunity to end their careers with a tournament appearance. Soares in particular wore his emotions on his sleeve throughout the last month, giving all he could with an injured ankle, averaging 16.4 points per game over the last five contests.

“I have to (make the tournament),” Soares told The Oklahoman following its second round exit in the Big 12 tournament. “There’s no choice.”

Moser paused during his remarks Tuesday and was emotional thinking of his players and their families’ commitment to the program over the last year.

When reflecting on the 2023-24 OU team, he’ll remember their unequivocal buy-in to what he preached daily and their camaraderie among each other.

“The resiliency of this group sticks out to me,” Moser said. “Guys like Le’Tre Darthard and Rivaldo Soares, the absolute passion and urgency to make the tournament on an everyday basis. You just felt it in the film session. … There wasn't infighting, there wasn't jealousy. There weren't a lot of outside factors with this group.

“It was about Oklahoma. About being the best we could be to put ourselves in a position to be in the tournament and advance.”

More: Porter Moser: OU basketball 'devastated' by NCAA Tournament omission, declines NIT invite

Where do the Sooners go from here?

While most prognosticators believe OU was an NCAA Tournament team this season, there’s no question Moser and the Sooners still have a ways to go to get to where they want to be.

The investment into basketball is never going to be at the level football is at Oklahoma. When Moser arrived in Norman in 2021, the practice gym was upgraded, the locker rooms are currently under construction and the coaching staff was given the impression other facilities would be improved as well.

David Patrick, who served as an assistant on Moser’s staff during his first season at OU and is now the head coach at Sacramento State, has experience coaching in the SEC at schools like LSU and Arkansas. He remembers conversations with Moser and athletic director Joe Castiglione about the program’s effort to build new facilities.

With the Sooners’ move to the SEC less than four months away, it’s crucial for Oklahoma to be proactive in improving its facilities.

“Those little pieces, even though it's not Xs and Os,” Patrick told The Oklahoman this week, “it's important once you go into the SEC because that’s like warfare over there in terms of some of the facilities and stuff. … They’re going to have to make that step sooner than later for them to hit the ground running in the SEC.”

There are no doubt improvements to be made, whether in the NIL space or improving facilities, which is ongoing as the next Norman planning commission meeting to discuss the proposed $1 billion University North Park entertainment district is scheduled for April 11.

Norman City Council adopted a resolution to consider a project plan and create a tax increment finance district review committee in connection with the entertainment district in November. Since that time, the council has not had further discussions about the entertainment district in its public meetings, but discussions about the project, which contains a multi-purpose venue that would host concerts and shows, as well as OU basketball and women's gymnastics meets, have been postponed from the city’s planning commission three times since December.

OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. provided an update on the project last Tuesday at the Board of Regents meeting, saying he’s still optimistic the plan will come to fruition.

“Collaboration takes a lot of time,” Harroz Jr. said.

“I’m proud of the group that is together, I know it’s a big ask. I really think that the future of Norman depends on it. I don’t think that’s an overstatement so we need to get it right the first time. Obviously, we tried this a number of years back and it didn’t work. I think it’s different this time, I think a lot of people see that those communities that are growing, make investments like this.

“I’m optimistic, it’s not certain. But I am optimistic and I’m proud of the way it’s being done, which is really collaborative. Working with city council members, working with and bringing together the OU business sector.”

While the amount of NIL dollars a program has is a difficult thing to measure in college sports, Moser offered a glimpse into the Sooners’ situation Tuesday, saying this season was the first where he felt like “we really had some,” adding “we made a huge jump.”

Former OU and current Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young even chimed in on X, posting a message that said he wished the Sooners could’ve used the NIT money it would’ve received to spend on high school recruits.

Moser chose his words carefully Tuesday and refused to speak about his roster’s future or what his team will look like next season.

It’s inevitable there will be some turnover as nearly 300 players entered their names into the transfer portal the first day it opened Monday and there have already been reports of the Sooners reaching out to some of those players.

While the future of the program’s investment and the number of players who will still walk the halls of Lloyd Noble Center a year from today is unknown, Moser’s relentless attempt at returning to the NCAA Tournament will remain.

“I will always start with, ‘Where could we have been better?’” Moser said. “The reality is we’re not (an NCAA Tournament team) and I know that will fuel me.”

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OU basketball, Porter Moser confused after NCAA Tournament omission