Tuesday January 6th, 2015

The moment when it became clear that Oklahoma’s domination of Texas on Monday night was no fluke came with 15:14 remaining in the second half. Sooners senior forward TaShawn Thomas drove to the basket and posterized Longhorns center Cameron Ridley with a forceful one-handed dunk to give Oklahoma a 24-point lead in what became a 70-49 road win.

That was also the moment when it became clear that the Sooners should be taken very seriously as a Big 12 title contender and perhaps even a Final Four threat.

Oklahoma’s win won’t generate as much buzz as some of the season’s other eye-opening outcomes, like Kentucky’s rout of Kansas or Duke’s win at Wisconsin, both of which came in the season’s first few weeks. Monday’s win could even play second fiddle to the other eye-opening win of the night, which was secured by No. 13 Notre Dame over No. 18 North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

But the 16th-ranked Sooners nonetheless issued a statement in blowing out the 10th-ranked Longhorns. They trailed only once, at 3-2, opened their first double-digit lead less than eight minutes into the game and after holding Texas to just 14 first-half points, its fewest ever in Big 12 play, never let the ‘Horns get any closer in the second half.

The Big 12 is the nation’s toughest and deepest conference this season -- six of its 10 teams are ranked -- and it will also be the nation’s most legitimate regular season conference race, as the 10-team league will enable the schools to play a traditional round-robin schedule by facing each league foe both at home and away.

That’s why Oklahoma’s road win will have resonance long after Ridley and the Longhorns recover from the embarrassment they suffered on Monday. By picking up a true road win to go with the home win they got over then-No. 22 Baylor last Saturday, the Sooners gave themselves an early leg up on the rest of the league.

That conference, of course, has been dominated by Kansas, which has won 10 straight regular season Big 12 crowns. But with that 32-point loss to Kentucky and a 25-point loss to Temple already on their ledger, it seems the Jayhawks have come back to the pack enough to make the conference race more interesting.

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Texas was expected to be KU’s primary challenger, especially after getting senior point guard Isaiah Taylor back from a wrist injury last weekend. But he shot only 4-for-13 on Monday and is just 6-for-23 in two games since returning. If he is to regain his pre-injury form he’ll have to do it against a daunting schedule that includes a road game at Oklahoma State and then four games out of five against ranked opponents. By the time that gauntlet is over we’ll have a much better idea whether or not the Longhorns can challenge for the conference crown.

Oklahoma, meanwhile, might be the most overlooked team in the country. It entered the week ranked No. 16 by the AP but was 10th overall according to the adjusted offensive and defensive metrics at kenpom.com. Only one other team, North Carolina (No. 8 on KenPom, No. 18 in the poll), had a bigger discrepancy, and the Tar Heels proved again in their loss to Notre Dame that they are not as good as their computer numbers suggest. The Sooners, though, have proven to be even better. After Monday’s win their adjusted defensive efficiency is third-best in the nation, and they held Texas to 30 percent shooting on its home floor while also out-rebounding a frontline that puts the long in Longhorns.

Thomas contributed 11 of his team’s 42 rebounds, but it was his dunk on Monday that will be remembered as the game’s signature play. It was also the signature play of Oklahoma’s revival, as this is clearly the best Sooners team since Blake Griffin left Norman in 2009, having led OU to the Elite Eight.

Oklahoma hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since, and if Thomas’ jam lacked the hangtime of what Griffin used to provide, it was at least as demonstrative, sending a simple message: the Sooners are back.

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