Big 12 Burning Questions: Oklahoma Sooners

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 3rd, 2017

This preview is part of RTC’s 2017-18 preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Trae Young will make a difference, but will the Sooner offense be good enough?

Everyone knew Oklahoma would regress after losing National Player of the Year Buddy Hield and his terrific supporting cast from the Sooners’ 2016 Final Four run, but you’d still be hard-pressed to find someone who predicted an 11-20 overall campaign. Reprising his role at point guard but expected to do more, senior Jordan Woodard started out strongly before sustaining a leg injury midway through the season, followed by a career-ending ACL injury in February. The team’s defense was plenty good (0.96 PPP allowed), but the offense was far cry from the BuddyBall era, plummeting from 16th nationally to 118th. Head coach Lon Kruger landed top-flight point guard Trae Young to replace Woodard, but Kruger will need significant contributions from more than just the precocious freshman to return to the postseason. Young is considered more of a scorer than a facilitator, and the Sooners need offense any way they can get it this season — they were especially woeful on close looks, shooting just 55 percent on attempts at the rim, per Young isn’t a burner, but while he lacks the elite quickness of someone like Jawun Evans, his developing frame should allow him to withstand contact and create dump-off opportunities for his teammates.

Trae Young gives Oklahoma the point guard it sorely needs, but the backcourt as a unit needs to take a big step forward in 2017-18 (Patrick Gorski/Sportswire).

One Sooner who didn’t have any issues finishing down low was 6’10” center Khadeem Lattin. Now a senior, Lattin will be one of the best big men in the Big 12. His defense will continue to be his calling card, but if Young is the real deal on the perimeter, Lattin should also be able to contribute more offensively than he did in his first three seasons. He’ll also have some help down low with the rotation of freshman Brady Manek, a Euro-style stretch four who impressed in the Sooners’ summer trip to New Zealand, and 6’7″ Kristian Doolittle, who averaged 11.2 PPG in Big 12 play as a freshman. Unfortunately for Kruger, Doolittle won’t make his debut until mid-December after being suspended for academic reasons, but it should present Manek with some opportunities to develop and find a place in the rotation. Junior Jamuni McNeace and sophomore Matt Freeman will give Oklahoma additional depth in the post.

As deep as the Sooners’ frontcourt is, considerable development in the backcourt will be crucial. Fortunately, there’s quite a bit of promise to be found. We’ve already discussed Young, but it’s tough to find enough good things to say about sophomore Kameron McGusty. While not a point guard, McGusty was very sure-handed in his debut season and ascended faster than most had projected, leading the team in scoring during Big 12 play (14.4 PPG) and earning enough trust for Kruger to insert him into the starting lineup in early January. At the wing, look for Oklahoma to skew big with 6’6″ Rashard Odomes rather than 6’4″ junior Christian James, who shot an ice-cold 23 percent from deep against league opponents last year.

Hield was so incredible that it was easy to lose sight of the fact that those Sooners had two other rotation mainstays shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc as well, which in turn spread the floor and generated easy looks down low. Last year, it was a completely different story as a poor three-point shooting team (34.3% 3FG) played a role in Oklahoma having its worst shooting year inside the arc since 2004. This season, McGusty will be the only returning player who shot at least 35 percent from distance with at least 50 attempts. Oklahoma doesn’t need to set the nets on fire the way it did in 2016 to get back to the NCAA Tournament, but they need to be good enough for opponents to respect them so that Lattin, Manek and Doolittle will get quality shots in the paint. Young will help, but the backcourt as a group and not just him will determine this team’s destiny.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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