Sooners couldn’t finish off success

Josh Cohen

Out too “soon” · Buddy Hield’s heroics were not enough to propel the Sooners to the championship game, as Oklahoma fell to Villanova. - Photo courtesy of Siandhara Bonnet | OU Daily

Out too “soon” · Buddy Hield’s heroics were not enough to propel the Sooners to the championship game, as Oklahoma fell to Villanova. – Photo courtesy of Siandhara Bonnet | OU Daily

Oklahoma was dismantled by eventual champion Villanova in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.

It was a shocking performance from the Sooners, who now find themselves in the college basketball history books for undesirable reasons. Lon Kruger’s seemingly incredible team lost by 44 points in the most iconic round of the sport’s most iconic competition. It was, even for the most neutral fan, quite hard to watch.

Yet OU was the real champion of the two biggest college sports for the 2015-16 season. The Sooners advanced to the national semifinal in both football and in men’s basketball.

Of course, no one is going to argue against winning titles. But widely appreciated yet less verbalized by college sports fans is the notion that their team is nationally relevant. It is the feeling that your team’s performance on any given day will impact a program a couple thousand miles away.

Florida and Ohio State owned the 2006-07 campaign in both football and men’s hoops, as the Gators downed the Buckeyes in the title game in both sports that season. Unsurprisingly, those four teams had special, program-defining players: Percy Harvin and Al Horford in Gainesville, Troy Smith and Mike Conley in Columbus.

Oklahoma’s stars achieved similar levels of national recognition. Baker Mayfield’s youthful enthusiasm encapsulated the beauty of college football, while Buddy Hield’s versatility on the court was truly something to behold.

OU football and basketball fell flat after halftime in the College Football Playoff and in the Final Four — the former against Clemson and the latter against Villanova. The Sooners failed to score after the half against the Tigers in that CFP matchup, and their hardwood counterparts were outscored 53-23 by the Wildcats in that debacle of a Final Four contest.

Maybe Oklahoma struggles against large cats. Maybe OU’s uninspiring performances in such monumental games isn’t actually the biggest of deals.

Oklahoma’s success leading up to those games forces college sports fans to compare the enjoyment quotient of having a great season as opposed to doing so while also taking home the hardware.

Only two programs will claim the two most prominent titles in intercollegiate Division I athletics each year. Alabama did what Alabama does and snagged that oddly tall CFP trophy in January, but the Sooners were only one game away from facing the Tide. Meanwhile, OU basketball came awfully close — not really, but technically — to playing North Carolina for all the marbles.

The fact that one school actually came this close to rivaling the 2006-07 Florida Gators as two-sport champs ought to make fans of other colleges at least somewhat envious. And while OU fans continue to ruminate on what could have been, the journey — from late August through early April — has been a source of true indulgence for the Sooner faithful.

Any hey-good-job-almost-winning banners or plaques from this season that turn up in the athletic facilities in Norman will likely be greeted by a shrug from those who witnessed — let alone partook in — the postseason collapses.

But the slowly recovering OU fans can find solace in the fact that their teams were contending until the very end. Well, almost.

Josh Cohen is a sophomore majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. His column, “Cohen’s Corner,” runs Tuesdays.