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March 5, 2014

Sooners finding stride as calendar turns

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Just a few days before Oklahoma pulled off a historic sweep of Texas last Saturday, senior Tyler Neal spoke about how much it meant for him to be playing not just for a bid to the NCAA tournament but for high seeding in it.

Having spent the last four years in the program, he's seen the Sooners rise from an abysmal 14-18 record as a freshman to already having won more games this season than in any other he's played.

HD: WEST VIRGINIA (16-13, 8-8) VS. OKLAHOMA (21-9, 10-6) WED 8PM


"It's been a fun last year, and what's more fun is that each game we can just build on our progress and keep improving to improve our standing in the postseason," Neal said. "That's something that I haven't really experienced until this year."

The Sooners were invited to the big dance last year. But it's fair to say they squeaked into an opening round game in Philadelphia only to be soundly beaten by a good San Diego State squad.

This season OU has surprised many with how well it has played through the first days of March, including bracketologist Shelby Mast.

"I really didn't expect them to do much this year," Mast said. "They were good last year, but I wasn't sold on them this year. But they've got a good team.

"They play well together, and they've got eight top 50 wins. There's not too many other teams that have that amount of top 50 wins."

Mast is the founder of Bracket W.A.G., a website devoted to predicting how the NCAA tournament committee will pick the 68 Division I teams invited to the tournament. He's the official bracketologist for USA Today and has been the official bracketologist for collegeinsider.com and the Indianapolis Star.

When the NCAA committee announced its intentions two years ago to put together its Super 10 Committee, made of 10 "über" college basketball fans, Mast was one of the people who earned the nod.

Mast, a Desoto, Texas, native started his website in 2005 to see if he could do a better job of predicting the tournament field than ESPN's Joe Lunardi. He claims he's been more accurate than Lunardi more times than not.

Following the Sooners win against the Longhorns, Mast projected the Sooners as a No. 4-seed in the Midwest Regional in San Diego, taking on Iona.

Bracketologist for CBS Sports' Jerry Palm also makes Oklahoma a 4-seed. He projects it to open the tournament in Spokane. But he has OU playing Toledo instead of Iona.

Lunardi's most recent projection forecasted the same travel itinerary with Oklahoma heading to Spokane, but as a No. 5 seed taking on Brigham Young.

Mast says the Sooners haven't hit their ceiling yet. If a couple teams falter, OU could slide into a 3-seed.

"I could see them and Iowa State swapping," he said. "I've got Iowa State as a 3-seed. Maybe Michigan falling down a notch, but that would be tough. It's going to be tough but not out of the question."

On the other hand, if the Sooners were to hit a rough patch, they should still be in good shape with seeding because of the number of quality wins they have on their resume.

"They've got that one bad loss to Texas Tech, but the way the committee's voted the last two years they put more emphasis on the good wins than on the bad losses," Mast said.

Either way, the Sooners are making noise.

"They're kind of a surprise team for me," Mast said.



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