Big 12 M5: Still Awake For the Marathon Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 18th, 2014

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  1. Ah yes, it’s that wonderful time of the year when the Los Angeles Athletic Club releases its annual preseason top 50 for the Wooden Award. We’ll have more on this later this morning, but the Big 12 is well-represented with 10 players making the list. As important as the organization wants us to think the Wooden Award is, it really doesn’t mean all that much to college basketball fans and it means even less to those who start watching games in March. Also, why is a preseason list being released during the regular season? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the whole thing? Last year’s preseason list didn’t have Nick Johnson, Tyler Ennis, Nik Stauskas or Casey Prather on it, but lo and behold, there they were, announced as four of the Wooden Award finalists in March. Yesterday, our Chris Stone summed up this lunacy quite clearly in fewer than 140 characters. The solution: Throw out the preseason list and stick with announcing the 15 finalists in March. It’ll save us all a lot of grief.
  2. The NCAA announced the sites and hosts for its early and regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament from 2016-18, and the Big 12 Conference will serve as an official host in each of those years. In 2016, Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena will be home to first and second round games; in 2017, Kansas City is welcomed back to NCAA Tournament duties as the Sprint Center hosts the Midwest Regional; in 2018, Dallas’ American Airlines Center will be the home of first and second round match-ups. This doesn’t even include Iowa State hosting a site for 2016 first and second round games in nearby Des Moines. The last early or regional round hosted by a Big 12 school or the conference itself was in 2013, but now we’ll be getting three years in a row within the league’s footprint beginning in 2016. Season ticket holders, rejoice.
  3. Baylor made quick work of McNeese State in its season opener on Friday night, 80-39. The Bears’ two transfers, Deng Deng and Lester Medford, made instant impacts for their team, combining for 29 points on the night. But buried in the story, or the last sentence of this recap, is the news that Taurean Prince was suspended and did not play due to a violation of team rules. Outside of that, that’s all anyone seems to know. Whatever it is, the Waco media should probably look into it further.
  4. With West Virginia’s 2-0 start to the season, Bob Huggins has moved into 15th place on the all-time wins list in Division I men’s basketball history. Many think that this will be a bounce-back year for Huggins and West Virginia basketball, and after reviewing the Mountaineers’ numbers in their first two games, it might just be. West Virginia has shot the ball 66 more times than the opposition, scored 51 points off of 44 turnovers, and have 35 more rebounds. Granted, their competition level wasn’t very high with games against Monmouth and Lafayette, but those are similar to characteristics of past West Virginia teams that were regular participants in the NCAA Tournament. They’ve got to start somewhere.
  5. Kansas State also improved to 2-0 on the season with a nice win against UMKC on Monday. While that’s all fine and dandy, we must have another look at Brandon Bolden‘s blocked shot of Southern Utah’s John Marshall from over the weekend. It’s made its way around the web over the past few days and we at Rush The Court sincerely apologize for not commenting on this sooner. The block was so clean that it was dirty. Marshall took a spill on the floor afterward and Bolden leers at him, perhaps disappointed that he had to do Marshall like that. Go ahead, watch it a few hundred more times and create your own exposition of the play. It’s more fun that way.
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Observations From The Big 12’s Opening Weekend

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 17th, 2014

The Big 12 got off to a running start this weekend. The competition wasn’t exactly stout, as the Big 12 faced just one KenPom top 100 opponent (Kansas, vs. UC Santa Barbara), but as of Monday afternoon, the conference sat at an unblemished 13-0 and is the only league other the Big East to sport an undefeated record. The quality of the opposition heats up this week, but before we look forward, it’s helpful to look back and make note of some relevant observations.

Newcomer Myles Turner made a huge impression with two strong performances over the weekend. (Jenna VonHofe/Daily Texan)

Newcomer Myles Turner made a huge impression with two strong performances over the weekend. (Jenna VonHofe/Daily Texan)

  • Kansas’ Freshmen Debut In Hot And Cold Fashions: The extremely early returns on Jayhawks freshmen Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre are mixed. The former played just 12 minutes against UC Santa Barbara, but scored nine points and brought down four rebounds while Oubre barely played long enough to make a dent in the box score (zero points, two rebounds, an assist and a turnover in just four minutes). The limited minutes for both players are explainable. It was revealed that Alexander played through some wrist soreness after dunking particularly hard during one of Kansas’ prior exhibition games, and it’s well-known that Bill Self prefers experience over unpolished players in the early part of the season. Either way, it will be very interesting to see how both players are deployed tomorrow night against Kentucky, as their size and athleticism will be very important if the Jayhawks are to knock off the #1 team in the Champions Classic.
  • Myles Turner Hits The Ground Running: The Longhorns’ stud forward didn’t start Friday’s game against North Dakota State, but he entered at the 16:05 mark of the first half and nailed the first three shots of his career: a tough turnaround jumper from the baseline; a 17-foot jumper; and a beautiful step-back fadeaway. Turner went on to finish with 15 points, but he wasn’t done. On Sunday afternoon, he put up 10 points to go along with seven rebounds and a staggering six blocks in an 85-53 thrashing of Alcorn State. Despite the quality of the opposition, it’s very tough to hold back the excitement for this freshman. Turner will get a national audience on Thursday when the Longhorns head to Madison Square Garden to take on Iowa in the 2K Sports Classic.

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Oklahoma’s TaShawn Thomas Ruled Eligible With Huge Big 12 Implications

Posted by Chris Stone on November 17th, 2014

On the eve of Oklahoma’s first regular season game, Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports announced via Twitter that the NCAA issued a ruling regarding the eligibility of Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas. In a move that has massive implications for the top of the Big 12, the NCAA granted Thomas a waiver to play immediately, ruling him eligible for the entire 2014-15 season. The addition of the 6’8″ power forward will be welcome in Norman after the team lost seniors Cameron Clark and Tyler Neal from last year’s 23-10 team. Thomas, who transferred from Houston after the termination of head coach James Dickey, figures to be a starter for the Sooners in a loaded Big 12 race despite a subpar four-point, four-turnover opening game on Sunday.

TaShawn Thomas was ruled eligible by the NCAA on Saturday night

TaShawn Thomas was ruled eligible to play for Oklahoma by the NCAA on Saturday night

For head coach Lon Kruger, the addition of Thomas provides the Sooners with a talented forward to pair with junior Ryan Spangler in the frontcourt. During his junior season at Houston, Thomas averaged 15.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, so he will provide Oklahoma with a legitimate go-to scoring option on the blocks. According to hoop-math.com, Thomas took nearly 60 percent of his field goals at the rim last season and converted a superb 73.1 percent of them. The second team All-AAC forward also brings a defensive presence that should significantly help the Sooners in the paint. Thomas averaged 2.7 blocks per game last year, rejecting a robust 8.5 percent of opponents’ shots while he was on the floor. That rim-protection will be valuable for a team that finished 91st in adjusted defensive efficiency and blocked only 10.2 percent of opponents’ shots last season.

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Big 12 M5: 11.17.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 17th, 2014

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  1. Oklahoma finally got resolution to a major question mark heading into the season when TaShawn Thomas was declared immediately eligible by the NCAA on Saturday night. Thomas nearly did it all in his three years at Houston as a scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker. Now that he will play alongside Ryan Spangler, these two will make yet another lethal frontcourt in the Big 12. On paper alone, one could make arguments as to why Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Iowa State each have legitimate chances of making a run to this year’s Final Four.
  2. Last week, we previewed a Texas team facing a potential dilemma in bringing back most of its core while trying to find enough playing time for highly-touted freshman Myles Turner. Turner was impressive in his collegiate debut on Friday night versus North Dakota State and was equally efficient (10 points on 4-of-7 shooting, seven boards, six blocks) off the bench in a subsequent win over Alcorn State on Sunday. At the same time, we should manage our expectations of Turner’s output given the light competition in the first two games. Must… resist… superlatives!
  3. Kansas’ own sparkling freshman Cliff Alexander scored nine points and grabbed four rebounds in 12 minutes in Friday’s opening win against UC Santa Barbara. Alexander, however, is already dealing with an injury early into his college career. He hurt his right wrist on a dunk in Kansas’ second exhibition game and was icing it after the game Friday. Hopefully this doesn’t become a serious issue as the season wears along. Jayhawks fans wouldn’t want to deal with a similar experience to Joel Embiid’s back injury that got progressively worse late last year.
  4. I’m mildly surprised that it took Georges Niang until his junior year to cross 1,000 career points at Iowa State, although he would have definitely passed it in March had he not suffered a season-ending injury. Niang hurdled the 1,000 mark with a 30-point performance on 9-of 15 shooting against Oakland on Friday night. Assuming he continues at his 14.3 PPG pace over the next two years, Niang will reach the 2,000 point milestone in his 138th college game. I’d say that that was food for thought but [/puts sunglasses on] Niang has gotten better with portion control.
  5. The father-son coaching matchup that you may not have heard quite so much about also went down on college basketball’s first weekend. Texas Tech’s Tubby Smith defeated his son, GG Smith, the head coach of Loyola (MD), 71-59 in Lubbock Friday night. Viva The Matadors named freshman forward Norense Odiase as its star of the game, and with good reason, as Odiase put up 16 points, 10 rebounds (six offensive) and three blocks for a squad with very few big men to choose from. Other newcomers like Keenan Evans (10 points, 2-of-3 from three) and Devaugntah Williams (13 points on 4-of-6 from the floor) also made their presences known. Competition will ramp up quickly as Texas Tech travels to LSU as a part of the 24-hour hoops marathon on Tuesday.

 

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Big 12 Predictions: Player and Newcomer of the Year

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2014

It’s been a fun run-up to the season here at the Big 12 microsite, with plenty of discussion on the strength and depth of the conference and whether any team is poised to knock Kansas from its perch at the top of the standings. We finish things off with the group’s selections for Big 12 Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year.

Player Of The Year

The new and improved Georges Niang will be the Big 12's best player. (Nirmalendu Majumdar)

The new and improved Georges Niang will be the Big 12’s best player, according to three of our four experts. (Nirmalendu Majumdar/AP)

  • Kory Carpenter: Georges Niang, Iowa State - I wanted to go with Juwan Staten here, but I think he’ll have to be even better than he was last season for the media to give him the award again. Niang averaged 16.7 PPG/4.5 RPG/3.6 APG last season and looks to have gotten into great shape this offseason while recovering from foot surgery. He lost about 25 pounds and re-tooled his diet. That, along with the wide-open attack of Iowa State, should lead to plenty of buckets for the svelter forward this season.
  • Brian Goodman: Niang – A Cyclone will take home the hardware for the second straight year as Niang will pace Fred Hoiberg’s balanced attack. Though he may get more attention from opposing defenses with Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane now gone, he has a great ball-handler in Monte’ Morris who will be able to get him touches in spite of that. Niang will take care of the rest from there. I also look for the junior to deliver better rebounding numbers due to his improved conditioning. 

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Big 12 Season Preview: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: Kansas.

Kansas

Strengths: Coaching and talent. It sounds simple, but when you’ve won 10 straight conference titles, why complicate things? Consider this: Last season, the Jayhawks won the Big 12 by two games and had two of the top three picks in the NBA Draft, yet the season was considered by many to be the most disappointing of Bill Self‘s tenure (and not just because of the early NCAA Tournament flameout to Stanford, though that certainly had a lot to do with it). That’s a major testament to Self’s ability to coach and develop talent, but it also speaks to the annual expectation his track record breeds. The Jayhawks reload yet again, with Kelly Oubre replacing Andrew Wiggins on the wing and Cliff Alexander taking Joel Embiid’s spot down low. Wayne Selden is back with a healthy knee and Perry Ellis is a reliable stalwart in the post. Add a high-ceiling wild card in Svi Mykhaliuk, who Self says is sometimes the best player on the floor in practice, and you’re looking at yet another Kansas team that will be expected to win the Big 12 and, come March, should be among the smartest picks to make a run to Indianapolis.

The Cliff Alexander hype train is already leaving the station. (The Kansas City Star)

The Cliff Alexander hype train is already leaving the station. (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

Weaknesses: The Jayhawks have enjoyed tremendous success since Sherron Collins left the program in 2010, but ask fans and people close the program and they’ll tell you they’d feel even better if their team had steady play at the point guard spot. It’s definitely not for a lack of trying, though. Since Collins’ departure, the Jayhawks have been connected in various degrees to several of the top floor generals available, including Emmanuel Mudiay, Tyus Jones, Mark Lyons, Gabe York and Cat Barber. For assorted reasons, though, all of them found other landing spots, leaving Kansas to make do with a group of which each had their share of moments and headaches — Josh Selby, Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe. The Jayhawks have proven that they can succeed in spite of the point guard issue, but that doesn’t mean it’s a preferable position. Additionally, Kansas needs to rebound from a pedestrian defensive showing (by their standards). The Jayhawks finished last season with their worst defensive efficiency ranking of the KenPom era (#31), due to a combination of a brutal schedule, inexperience, injuries and uncharacteristically poor backcourt defense. This year’s non-conference schedule isn’t less daunting nor is this year’s team significantly more experienced (if at all), but on the other hand, it’s tough to imagine a Self team letting him down on the defensive end for a second straight year. Still, Kansas will have to quiet those concerns if it is to live up to its potential.

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Big 12 M5: 11.14.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2014

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  1. Yesterday, we talked about Iowa State‘s plans to play in a neutral court event next Thanksgiving. Late Thursday night, we learned about another team planning ahead. In 2016, Kansas will tip off its season against Indiana from a military base in Pearl Harbor as part of the Armed Forces Classic. One of the biggest ongoing storylines in college basketball is how the sport can better market the start of the season, and while this event doesn’t always have the fanfare of the Champions Classic or some of the other 24-Hour Marathon battles, it has helped bring the start of the season to the national spotlight.
  2. Oklahoma State blog Pistols Firing has 20 predictions for the Cowboys’ season. As discussed in our conference preview Thursday, we aren’t very high on Travis Ford’s team, we can definitely see some of the more positive predictions coming true, such as OSU outperforming its expectations to finish sixth, Le’Bryan Nash making first-team all-conference and Travis Ford holding onto his job.
  3. Outside of the conference, tonight’s Louisville-Minnesota match-up is getting headlines as it pits Rick Pitino against his son, Richard, but right here in the Big 12 is another father-son battle as Tubby Smith and the Texas Tech Red Raiders will open their season against his Smith’s son, G.G. Smith, who is making his head coaching debut with Loyola (Maryland). Smith cut his teeth with the Greyhounds as an assistant under former Loyola head coach Jimmy Patsos for six years.
  4. Remember last year when Kansas State lost three of its first five games (including its debut against Northern Colardo) leading to some warranted bubble conversation before Thanksgiving even hit? The Wildcats will look to avoid a similar fate when it tips off against Southern Utah tonight. As the 342nd-ranked team in the country according to KenPom, we don’t expect the Thunderbirds to pull this season’s opening night upset, but the Wildcats should now know more than anyone how important it is to take care of business early in the season.
  5. For a program the reached the Sweet 16 last year, there hasn’t been much chatter around Baylor. Part of that is because the Bears lost what had been the cornerstones of their program over the last two years in Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin and Brady Heslip, and another part of that is because the Bears don’t have the incoming star power that Kansas, Texas and Iowa State has. Still, Scott Drew is excited for the lights to come on tonight when his team squares off against McNeese State, as he should, because the Bears still have a lot of remaining talent in Rico Gathers, Kenny Chery, Royce O’Neale, Taurean Prince and redshirt freshmen Johnathan Motley and Al Freeman.
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Big 12 Preseason Predictions: Standings and First Team Picks

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 13th, 2014

With tip-off mere hours away, we enlisted the Big 12 microsite’s contributors — Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter), Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman), Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) — to stake their claims on how the Big 12 will shake out.

Predicted Finish

The unique thing that has separated the Big 12 from other power conferences over the years is the fact that it hasn’t taken more than three seconds to pencil in a winner. The bulk of the work comes in identifying which team is going to finish behind Kansas, and from there, predicting which of those is going to be in the running for NCAA Tournament bids and in which order. Moving toward the bottom of the standings, we always hold out some hope that Texas Tech and TCU can field a roster capable of making us think twice about putting them in the cellar, but their time hasn’t come just yet. Here are our Preseason Big 12 Predicted Standings.

Standings

Insights

  • No Surprise Here, Kansas is the Team to Beat: Between Bill Self’s track record and yet another top-notch collection of talent arriving in Lawrence, it’s a fool’s errand to bet against the Jayhawks now. It may take some time for Kansas to rise to its ultimate potential, but until proven otherwise, it is the unanimous alpha dog in Big 12 basketball. We’ll leave the bold picks to other outlets.

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Big 12 Whiffs in First Day of Early Signing Period

Posted by Chris Stone on November 13th, 2014

Wednesday marked the beginning of the early signing period in college basketball, and the Big 12 is off to a rather slow start. Midway through the day, Eric Bossi, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, tweeted, “As of this moment, the Big 12 is getting lapped by the field.” So far, the conference has only managed to sign five top 100 recruits, according to Rivals, and by way of a comparison, former conference member Texas A&M — certainly no traditional basketball power by any stretch — has already signed four top 100 players. Here’s a quick look at each of the top 100 players that signed with the Big 12 yesterday.

Rick Barnes is Carrying the Big 12 Recruiting Flag This Week (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

Rick Barnes is Carrying the Big 12 Recruiting Flag This Week (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

  • Jawun Evans (Oklahoma State) – Evans is the highest ranked player to commit to the Big 12 from the Class of 2015. He’s been described by ESPN‘s Fran Fraschilla as a “classic college point guard.” And according to Jerry Meyer of 247Sports, Evans is “lightning quick with the basketball, excels at penetrating defenses and has a great balance to his decision making.” It would seem likely that Evans will compete for a starting spot in Stillwater as soon as he steps on campus.
  • Kerwin Roach Jr. (Texas) – Roach committed to the Longhorns in late October and officially signed with Texas on Wednesday. He was attracted to Texas because of their development of elite guards, including D.J. Augustin and T.J. Ford. Roach, the Texas 5A state record holder in the triple jump, will offer the Longhorns incredible athleticism on the perimeter. Head coach Rick Barnes praised his basketball IQ, scoring ability and work ethic in announcing the signing.

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Big 12 Season Preview: Texas Longhorns

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 12th, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: Texas. 

Texas

Hey look, Rick Barnes magically became a good coach again! Some may have actually had this thought, but no, he didn’t become a terrible coach after one bad season. Those calling for his termination have to remember that Barnes has taken the program to heights not seen since the midway point of the 20th century. It’s hard to believe the same Texas team picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 Preseason Coaches Poll last season won 24 games and made it to the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32. Now with virtually everyone back on board for another year, the Longhorns are primed to jostle with the Jayhawks atop the Big 12 standings. Just like old times.

Did we mention Rick Barnes won Big 12 Coach of the Year? No? Well yeah, he did. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

Did we mention Rick Barnes won 2013-14 Big 12 Coach of the Year? No? Well yeah, he did. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

Strengths: A team full of freshmen and sophomores at key positions a year ago grew up rather quickly. Most can point to their December win at North Carolina as a turning point in the season. Then you throw in some tournament experience, a blue-chip recruit and a largely intact rotation, this has the makings of a colossal year in Austin. Myles Turner is the blue-chip center out of the Dallas area. The center and forward spots are in capable hands even without Turner but there’s little reason to believe a player of his talent will not have a role carved out for him by Barnes. The fascinating thing about Texas is that they don’t beat you with a star or two. At any time, all five guys on the floor for the Longhorns can beat you in a multitude of ways. Isaiah Taylor showed great polish as a freshman driving and dishing. Jonathan Holmes successfully took on the role as top scorer, rebounder and big shot-maker (see buzzer beater vs Kansas State). A slimmed down Cameron Ridley still clogged up the paint scoring easy buckets, improving at the free throw line and altering shots on the defensive end. Aside from Taylor, Holmes and Ridley, guys like Demarcus Holland, Connor Lammert, Javan Felix and Prince Ibeh were hustling after nearly every rebound (ranked fourth nationally; sixth nationally in offensive rebound percentage per Kenpom) and block (ninth nationally in block percentage per Kenpom). I could understand if a fan of another team became annoyed watching them. They were like a fly that would buzz past your ear every few seconds but you could never find and destroy. It would not be a stretch to expect the same effort this time around.

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Big 12 M5: 11.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 12th, 2014

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  1. We lead off with a pretty crazy bit of trivia. If you follow Friend of RTC, Fran Fraschilla, on Twitter, you may already know that Kansas freshman Svi Mikhailiuk won’t turn 18 until next June 10. But did you know that makes him eight years younger — to the day — than former Iowa State star DeAndre Kane, who played in the Big 12 just last season? We doubt they’ll be celebrating birthdays together, but remembering that Kane spent an extra year in prep school and had to sit out the 2009-10 season as a partial qualifier at Marshall, then looking at how Mykhailiuk became eligible as prospect from overseas just highlights the NCAA clearinghouse aerobics that can lead to such a bizarre circumstance.
  2. The season is about to tip off, but the Iowa State brass is already hard at work preparing next year’s slate. The Cyclones will participate in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida, over Thanksgiving weekend just over a year from now. They’ll headline the eight-team event along with Virginia Tech, Illinois and UAB. We don’t know much about what Iowa State will look like by then, but with a quick glance at the Cyclones’ roster, Georges Niang will likely be around, as will Naz Long, Monte Morris and two of the three transfers we profiled yesterday.
  3. Kansas steamrolled intrastate opponent Emporia State, 109-56, in its final tune-up before the first real game on Friday against UC Santa Barbara. Perry Ellis and Landen Lucas led the way with 13 points each, but eight other Jayhawks scored in double-figures, so it was very much a balanced attack. Perhaps the biggest takeaway, though, was how composed freshman Devonte’ Graham looked running the point guard position. As always, the quality of competition has to be taken into consideration, but a steady hand initiating the offense is one of just a few things missing from last season’s team that can really take this year’s squad to the next level.
  4. For the first time since Blake Griffin was the BMOC in Norman, Oklahoma will open the season with legitimate expectations. Many of those come with the caveat of Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas becoming eligible, but they’re there nonetheless. Fortunately, the Sooners have an experienced head coach in Lon Kruger who knows a thing or two about resurrecting teams from the dead and getting them in position to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
  5. College Basketball Talk‘s Rob Dauster wrote a piece that looks at the culture change Rick Barnes orchestrated with Texas that led the program to where it is today. We’ve discussed a few times how cleansing the program of selfish egos at the close of the 2013 campaign and the ensuing offseason set the team on a better course. While things like team chemistry and leadership can be tough to observe or quantify from an outside perspective, it’s not hard at all to spot when those things aren’t there, and that was definitely the case if you watched even just one game of Longhorns basketball in 2012-13.
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Big 12 Season Preview: Oklahoma Sooners

Posted by KoryCarpenter on November 11th, 2014

This week, the Big 12 microsite will finish previewing each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: Oklahoma.

Strengths: Guards Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, and Jordan Woodard return for the Sooners, giving them potentially one of the best backcourts in the Big 12. Hield averaged 16.4 PPG and shot 38.6 percent from beyond the arc last season, both major improvements from his freshman season. The 6’4″ junior was a second-team All-Big 12 selection and was second in the conference with 1.4 steals per game. Jordan Woodard saw significant minutes (28 MPG) as a freshman and landed on the Bob Cousy Award watch list heading into this season after averaging 10.3 PPG, 4.6 APG, and 2.2 RPG last season. Isaiah Cousins was named the team’s most improved player last season after averaging 11 PPG and 4.2 RPG, and along with Hield and Woodard will give the Sooners one of the most experienced backcourts in the Big 12. They will be joined by junior forward Ryan Spangler, who started every game last season and led the Big 12 with 9.3 RPG. There are definitely holes to fill from last year’s team, but a lineup with Hield, Cousins, Woodard, and Spangler in it is a good place to start for head coach Lon Kruger.

Lon Kruger has talent this season, but will depth become a problem?

Lon Kruger has talent this season, but will depth become a problem?

Weaknesses: The loss of Cameron Clark could be huge for Oklahoma this season. Clark, a 6’7″ forward, might have been the most important player on last year’s team. He was certainly the most important big man. His departure leaves plenty of question marks down low for the Sooners. Spangler should be improved and will help, but that’s about it. There’s senior forward D.J. Bennett, I guess. But Bennett only averaged 9.1 MPG last season, so it’s hard to say what kind of impact he will have in 2014-15. The presumed fifth starter alongside Spangler looks to be Houston transfer Tashawn Thomas. That’s if he is ruled eligible by the NCAA. Thomas averaged 14.5 PPG and 8.7 RPG in three seasons at Houston. He elected to transfer this summer after Houston coach James Dickey left the program, and is waiting to see if the NCAA will let him play immediately for Lon Kruger. If that is the case, it would go a long way in solidifying an otherwise thin rotation for the Sooners. If not, we’ll see just how much of a load Spangler can carry.

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