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Sooners' Tournament Hopes Depend On Vanquishing February Struggles

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

February may be a time of love for most people, but the Oklahoma Sooners have anything but a love affair with the month.

Since going 5-2 during February in 2009, the Sooners have gone a combined 3-21 over the past three seasons, collecting exactly one win in each of those seasons. It's a disturbing trend, especially since Oklahoma didn't enter the month already on a downward spiral in any of those years.

In fact, in 2011, the Sooners were on a four-game winning streak, including a win at home against Baylor to open up play in February.

Yet, like clockwork, the Sooners have tanked in February, and tanked hard. It's a trend Oklahoma was hoping to break this season, but the month has started with consecutive losses—a tight, defensive struggle against Kansas State in Norman on Saturday followed by a half-hearted blowout at Iowa State on Monday.

Now all of a sudden, the Sooners are 5-4 in a sub-standard Big 12 conference with Kansas coming to Norman Saturday afternoon. After their stunning loss at TCU Wednesday night, the Jayhawks will most likely be fired up and looking to get back or track. But, the same could be said for the Sooners, who know their NCAA tournament hopes, once thought to be pretty solid, are now in a precarious position.

Or are they?

At this point, all the college basketball experts have Oklahoma pegged to be in the tournament as a 9- or10-seed. Despite this latest swoon, the Sooners have buoyed themselves with a tough schedule that currently ranks No. 8 in the most recent RPI, where the Sooners as a team are ranked No. 20.

Oklahoma's schedule isn't loaded with a lot of big-time opponents, but has a lot of quality teams on it. So far, the Sooners have played 14 games against teams in the RPI top-100, with Oral Roberts (106) and Northwestern State (101) on the outside looking in.

The Sooners have fared well against those teams so far, going 7-7 in the 14 games. Losses at Arkansas and at home to Stephen F. Austin certainly hurt, but they aren't horrible losses that will be the difference in OU making the tournament or heading to the NIT.

However, the past doesn't have as much of an impact on the Sooners' postseason hopes as the future does. Games still remain at Oklahoma State and at home against Baylor, Iowa State, and of course Kansas on Saturday, all of whom are in the top-50 of the RPI. The Sooners are 2-5 against top-50 teams and would love to have at least two wins against that quartet of teams in addition to taking care of business against Big 12 bottom feeders TCU, Texas Tech, Texas and West Virginia.

The Sooners are caught in the middle of a perfect storm. The NCAA tournament is a place Oklahoma hasn't been since Blake Griffin was dunking on the rims in Lloyd Noble Center, and the hopes of getting there this season hang on OU's ability to reverse the disturbing February trend of the past three years.

It's a tall order, given how the Sooners have been playing, but conquering February is necessary if the Sooners want to taste the postseason, not only this season, but for years to come.

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