NORMAN, Okla. - Your weekend Big 12 basketball factoid: The Big 12 had six schools in the latest top 50 of the RPI. The total is more than the ACC, Pac-12 and SEC and equaled the Big Ten.
What does that have to do with Saturday's 223rd version of men's basketball Bedlam? Well, it's mid-January and the Kentucky Derby-like back stretch positioning for the NCAA Tournament is in full swing.
For Oklahoma, the final score, 77-68, was in the home team's favor. With 16 Big 12 Conference games remaining, beating Oklahoma State didn't fall into a "must win" category. Semi-must, maybe?
The Sooners (11-3, 2-0) led from the start and held off the Cowboys (11-4, 1-2) in the second half. Oklahoma State pulled to within two with over nine minutes remaining but OU switched to a zone and limited the Cowboys to one field goal over an eight-minute stretch.
According the latest bracket projections by two national bracketologists (Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com and Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com), Oklahoma is pegged as a No. 11 seed or a No. 10 seed. In those RPI rankings mentioned above, Oklahoma is solid at No. 18 and Oklahoma State is No. 30.
In bracket speak, that's thin ice. It means the Sooners would be considered one of the last at-large teams. With a "bad loss" - at home to Stephen F. Austin - already in Oklahoma's resume, keeping the home fires burning in Big 12 play is crucial. The Sooners opened Big 12 play with a victory at West Virginia.
"It's important to back up the road win with a home win," Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. "We didn't give that road win back. We're still on course."
Oklahoma jumped off to a 7-0 lead and controlled the first half.
"We kind of panicked," said Oklahoma State's Markel Brown, who had 19 to top the Cowboys' scoring effort. "OU came out and made plays, they played harder. We have to find a way to get some road wins in the Big 12. There's some kind of spell on us."
True that. The Cowboys haven't won in Norman since 2004 and Travis Ford is 0-5 in Bedlam games in Lloyd Noble Center. And since 2010, Oklahoma State has lost 18 of 19 Big 12 road games.
"We turned it over way too much in the first half," Ford said. "We fought back but they had something to counter. I don't think we played with a sense of urgency, we weren't reacting early. You can't expect a scouting report is going to do it for you. You've got to compete. The message we sent early wasn't good."
The Cowboys were limited because freshman point guard Marcus Smart played just 27 minutes because of foul trouble. He finished with 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting, had six rebounds, three assists, four turnovers and three steals.
"Having Smart out takes toughness out of the game," Brown said. "It takes me out of position when I have to play the point. That was a big issue. We've got to find a way to keep him out of foul trouble."
Despite all their foibles, Oklahoma State's full-court pressure and overall defense fueled a rally. LeBryan Nash made one of two free throws with 9:34 remaining to pull the Cowboys to withing 52-50. The Sooners nearly turned it over at midcourt, but after maintaining possession, the ball found its way to Steven Pledger and his 3-pointer restored order.
Oklahoma made 8 of 13 3-pointers and was 19-of-21 at the free throw line.
"We maintained our composure and kept our poise down the stretch," Kruger said. "We made plays for each other and overcame some sloppy play. It's a building process and we feel better about ourselves, trust ourselves and it reinforces what we work on in practice."
Junior Amath M'Baye, voted as the preseason newcomer of the year by Big 12 coaches, scored seven of his 15 points on three straight possessions that allowed the Sooners to stretch the lead to 70-57 with 3:49 remaining. M'Baye made a 3-pointer from in front of the OU bench, converted a layup off a Sam Grooms lob pass and then threw down a rim-rattling dunk on an out-of-bounds play, also on a pass from Grooms.
"I'm pretty sure all three of those were assisted, so that seven-point stretch wasn't mine, it was the team's," M'Baye said.
Oklahoma had five starters returning from last season, but seniors Romero Osby and Pledger are the only holdover starters. M'Baye along with freshmen Buddy Hield and Je'lon Hornbeak complete the starting lineup. Grooms, Andrew Fitzgerald and Cameron Clark started last season.
"Those guys could pout about not starting but they're not, they contribute when they get out there," said Osby who led OU with 17 points. "Our chemistry is really good. The young guys are getting more comfortable. That is unique to have five starters from last year coming back and having three of them coming off the bench."