Why it’s a Travesty OU’s Sam Grooms Isn’t Seeing More TimePosted by dnspewak on January 7th, 2013
When the Big 12 released its 2011-12 All-Conference teams last March, it included a who’s who of elite, nationally-recognized point guards. Tyshawn Taylor of the national runner-up Kansas Jayhawks made the first team. The dynamic Pierre Jackson of Baylor made the second team. Missouri’s Phil Pressey, the league’s leader in assists, made the third team, star Texas freshman Myck Kabongo earned an honorable mention, and the voters even named MU’s Michael Dixon the Sixth Man of the Year.
Sam Grooms did not make that list. At all. Not even an honorable mention for the Oklahoma point guard. And when the 2012-13 preseason awards came out this fall, he didn’t make that list, either. Jackson and Kabongo did, but the Big 12’s returning leader in assists was nowhere to be found. Entering this season, it seemed perplexing how much people ignored Grooms and discarded him as a second-rate point guard in this league. Other than Pressey, who moved on to the SEC and was named that league’s preseason Player of the Year, no player in the Big 12 averaged more assists than Grooms a year ago when he dropped six dimes per game. His assist-to-turnover ratio was a stunning 3:1. When Big 12 play heated up, the junior college transfer emerged as a true floor general in spite of his team’s inability to win a basketball game. The statistics tell the entire story. In a five-game stretch last February against the likes of Kansas, Iowa State, Missouri, Texas Tech and Texas, he dished out 43 assists against 11 turnovers and even notched a career-high 17 points against the Tigers. Lon Kruger told a local newspaper Grooms was doing a “terrific job.” Even though Oklahoma’s season ended with a thud with a loss in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament, it was clear Grooms had nothing to do with the Sooners’ slide. On the contrary: He was the bright spot on a 15-16 team. His command for the point guard position and feel for the game was all so promising as Kruger attempted to build for the future. Nobody knew much about Grooms, but we did. I even named him the eighth-best player in the entire conference as he entered his senior year.
So in what universe does a player like that lose playing time as a senior? Grooms’ minutes have dropped from 31.5 per game a year ago to 16.8 this year. He started every game in 2011-12. He’s started zero games in 2012-13. What sort of dark, chaotic world do we live in that the Big 12’s returning assists leader sees his minutes cut in half? Kruger does have more depth this season, playing nine players between 16-26 minutes per game. That includes freshmen Je’lon Hornbeak, Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins, all of whom are exactly 6’3” and probably more naturally molded to play off the ball. Hornbeak and Hield have started every game and have played both the point and two-guard. Cousins has started 10 games. Kruger’s personnel decisions paid off in OU’s league opener against West Virginia this weekend, especially with Hield, who did the dirty work by tallying five assists and seven rebounds. He’s also possibly the best individual defender on the team, so it’s not as though Kruger is playing a bunch of scrubs. He’s not singling out Grooms, either. For example, Kruger has benched other former starters like Andrew Fitzgerald as well.
But Hornbeak, Hield and Cousins are not Sam Grooms. They don’t have assist-to-turnover ratios of 3:1 — in fact, they’re all sitting at about 1:1 right now. Grooms, meanwhile, still leads the freakin’ team in assists, despite the fact he plays the least amount of minutes of anybody in the nine-man rotation. When he missed a game due to a concussion in December, Oklahoma lost by a point to a good Stephen F. Austin team. It’s not as though Grooms is even a defensive liability or anything. He doesn’t have the same length as the other guards at his six-foot size’, but he’s built like a rock at close to 200 pounds. There is simply no plausible explanation for cutting Grooms’ minutes in half, and the results through 13 games do not reveal a significantly improved Oklahoma team just yet.
The Sooners are 10-3 right now with a classic jury’s-still-out resume — a lack of quality wins but some encouraging play nonetheless. The three freshmen guards seem to have promising futures, but benching Grooms hasn’t made the slighest bit of difference. Oklahoma lost to Gonzaga in the Old Spice Classic by 25 points and had six team assists — Grooms played 14 minutes in that game. The Sooners lost to Arkansas and to Stephen F. Austin and have seen their offensive efficiency numbers drop across the board. Oklahoma ranks 291st nationally in assists percentage, 147th in efficiency, 253th in effective shooting percentage, 260th in assists per game, and 172nd in assist-to-turnover ratio. It’s not as though the Sooners were an offensive juggernaut when Grooms started every game last year, but here’s the point: Grooms was not the problem a year ago. This year’s team has more depth in the backcourt, a newcomer at wing in Amath M’Baye, and veterans like Romero Osby, Steven Pledger, Cameron Clark and Fitzgerald. Keep Grooms on the floor and see what happens with this new team.
Kruger knows more about basketball than any of us idiots with a keyboard out here. He’s won everywhere he’s been and deserves the benefit of the doubt with regard to his decisions on playing time. It’s just very, very hard to justify benching a guy like Grooms, who did nothing but good things last season. You’d think a steady senior like that would be a building block, but Kruger has opted to place more trust in his freshmen. It worked against West Virginia in the opener. Now, we’ll have to see if it works in a Bedlam showdown against Oklahoma State this weekend — and beyond.