Big 12 Team Preview: Oklahoma Sooners

Posted by Kory Carpenter on November 4th, 2013

Over the next two weeks, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: Oklahoma.

Where We Left Off: Oklahoma returned to the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since Blake Griffin was in Norman. It was a short trip, however, as the Sooners lost to San Diego State in the round of 64, 70-55. Head coach Lon Kruger enters his third season at Oklahoma and is one of the most experienced coaches in the country. He has gone largely unnoticed, though, especially this year in a league that has (rightfully) been focused on Andrew Wiggins and Marcus Smart and the budding rivalry between the two players and their schools. Kruger, on the other hand, is slowly turning things around at Oklahoma. He won 15 games his first season and 20 games last year. If he continues that upward tick this season he should get consideration for Big 12 Coach of the Year because his top three scorers are now gone.

Lon Kruger Will Face Plenty of Tests Early This Season (AP).

Lon Kruger Will Face Plenty of Tests Early This Season (AP).

Positives: Sophomore guard Buddy Hield gained meaningful experience last season as a freshman, averaging 25.1 MPG, 7.8 PPG, and 4.2 RPG. He deferred to upperclassmen like Romero Osby, Steven Pledger and Amath M’Baye, all of whom are gone. Hield could become the best offensive weapon for Kruger, which would mean good things for the future. Senior forward Cameron Clark also returns for the Sooners. Clark averaged 6.5 PPG last season while shooting over 50 percent from the floor. Those two players, along with sophomore guards Je’lon Hornbeak (22.7 MPG, 5.6 PPG last season) and Isaiah Cousins (15.7 MPG) look to form the core for the Sooners offensively. Expect Hield and Clark to shoulder a lot of the load offensively early in the season.

Negatives: The Sooners averaged 70.6 PPG as a team last season and nearly 50 of those points per contest do not return this year. The top three leading scorers — Romero Osby, Steven Pledger, Amath M’Baye — account for most of the missing production, averaging 37.7 PPG themselves. It’s unclear how that will affect returning players and if they will be able to maintain a similar offensive output. The 2013 recruiting class doesn’t look like it will make an impact this season either. Kruger signed a pair of three-star players, Frank Booker and Jordan Woodard, as well as unranked Keshaun Hamilton. It was a quiet recruiting class after signing Hield and Hornbeak, both four-star recruits in the class of 2012. With momentum following a five-win improvement last season, the Sooners will have surprised a lot of people if they continue that climb up the win totals column this season.

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Big 12 M5: 10.28.13 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on October 28th, 2013

morning5_big12

  1. When former Memphis transfer and current Kansas Jayhawk Tarik Black began his search for a school to set up camp with for his final year of college, Bill Self recognized Black as an opportunity to provide leadership and toughness to his very young Kansas team. What Black received in exchange was a summer-long date with KU strength coach Andrea Hudy, who helped him tone up, which in turn has helped improve both his jumping ability and quickness. Black has been active in early practices this season, giving up his body for loose balls and setting an example for some of KU’s youngsters. While many of Self’s freshmen have garnered the media’s attention, Black might be just as important in providing physicality to a Kansas frontcourt that otherwise would lack toughness.
  2. The new college basketball rule changes have created quite a buzz in the last few weeks, impacting the way Kansas State guard Will Spradling thinks about playing defense. K-State head coach Bruce Weber said that after taking a charge in practice, Spradling will go back and review film to determine if the call would hold in live action. In addition to the new emphasis on the charge rule, defenders will be unable to “hand check” an offensive player in an effort to clean up the game this season, although many believe the rule changes will instead result in more free throw attempts. After teams tip off the season in exhibition play this week, we have a feeling Spradling won’t be the only one reviewing his defensive approach.
  3. Oklahoma State kicked off its exhibition schedule with an 80-70 win on Sunday against Campbellsville, an NAIA opponent from Kentucky, and it appears Travis Ford was underwhelmed with the effort, to say the least. In his post-game comments, Ford stated that after great practices the first two weeks of the season, his team has been lackluster during the last week and Sunday’s performance mirrored that stagnation. We know Marcus Smart’s team certainly has the ability to win big time games like it did in Lawrence last season, but to have a realistic shot to win a conference title, sustained focus night in and night out in the Big 12 is crucial.
  4. Lon Kruger’s team enters the 2013-14 season with the difficult task of not only replacing the scoring from former players Romero Osby and Amath M’Baye, among others, but also filling the leadership void left by last year’s group. Enter Cameron Clark, who recently spoke about having a conversation with Osby, who told Clark to work hard and lead by example. Clark’s teammate Buddy Hield has noticed a difference in his demeanor this year, and said that while Clark is not overly vocal, when he talks his teammates tend to listen. It will be interesting to see if Clark’s leadership can help Oklahoma stay in the upper echelon of Big 12 teams this season.
  5. The biggest complaint surrounding Bruce Weber’s tenure at Illinois was his inability to sustain consistent success after making the NCAA championship game with players recruited by Bill Self. After experiencing tremendous success in his first season at Kansas State, many wonder if Weber can learn from his previous experience to keep his team among the league’s elite.  On Saturday night, Weber received a verbal commitment from 6’5″ combo guard Tre Harris, who currently attends Fishburne Military Academy in Virginia. Harris is considered a good shooter and will pair with fellow 2014 commitment Stephen Harris to bring viable scoring threats to the Wildcats next season.
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Big 12 M5: 10.23.13 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on October 23rd, 2013

morning5_big12

  1. Maybe it was because of the comments that Marcus Smart made about Andrew Wiggins, maybe it was because he actually believed it, or maybe it was because he was just trying to quell any war of words that may have been brewing, but Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford had nothing but  praise for Kansas heading into the season, and he was not shy about claiming the Jayhawks are still the team to beat, even with Marcus Smart leading the Cowboys this year.  “Winning a Big 12 Championship is something that we strive to do. It’s something we talk about, but we fully grasp that Kansas is still a team to beat.”
  2. One team that has flown under the radar this pre-season has been Kansas State, who had a disappointing exit in last season’s NCAA Tournament after losing to #13 seed La Salle in the Round of 64. As Blair Kerkhoff of The Kansas City Star points out here, the last six years of Kansas State basketball have had a go-to guy heading into the season, from Michael Beasley to Jacob Pullen to Rodney McGruder. Now, 6’7″ senior wing Shane Southwell thinks he can be the next guy to star for the Wildcats. He averaged 8.4 points last season and needs to bump that number up into double digits to make Kansas State competitive in the top-heavy Big 12 this season.
  3. Speaking of the top-heavy Big 12, maybe you have heard that there is a pretty good team practicing in Lawrence. Kansas coach Bill Self is no stranger to talent or expectations, and this team has as much of both as any team he has coached in his career, especially after Andrew Wiggins announced his plans to play at Kansas this year before bolting for the NBA. Self is quick to squash the comparisons to all-time greats, but admits he has a once-a-decade (or better) talent on his hands. “He’s not LeBron,” He told Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. “He’s not Durant. He’s not Wilt. He’s Andrew. And Andrew will impact our college game and our program in a huge, huge, huge way.”
  4. It’s clearly a 2-team race at the top of the Big 12 this season, but it appears to be wide open after that. With the departures of Amath M’Baye, Romero Osby, and Sam Grooms, senior forward Cameron Clark has slowly become a leader for the Sooners and head coach Lon Kruger. “Everbody listens to him,” sophomore Buddy Hield told Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman at Big 12 Media Day yesterday. “When he’s got something to say, everybody shuts up.”
  5. With scoring on the decline, the NCAA has been trying to alter little things here and there to fix things recently, and this season’s new emphasis on hand-checking could do just that. It might take a while for teams to adjust, however. “We’ve had two scrimmages where we’ve had Big 12 refs,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg told The Des Moines Register‘s Randy Peterson. “In one of our scrimmages, we were in the double bonus at the 10-minute mark.” Eventually, the new rules should bring forth cleaner games and more offense, and everyone should love that. But November and December could give us slow, drawn-out whistlefests as teams try to adjust.
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Big 12 M5: 12.18.12 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on December 18th, 2012

morning5_big12

  1. The Big 12 announced the weekly winners for Big 12 player and rookie of the week. POTW honors went to Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim. Though he only played one game last week, Ejim filled up the stat sheet against Drake with 21 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and four steals in 31 minutes. It was Ejim’s 11th career double-double and he has already registered four of them on the young season. This week’s ROTW is now a repeat winner. Baylor freshman Isaiah Austin won the award with his dominant performance in the Bears’ 85-68 win over Lamar on December 12. All the seven-footer did was put up season highs in points (23) and rebounds (17) against a helpless Cardinals’ front line. I have a feeling Austin will win another ROTW honor before season’s end.
  2. Back on March 2, Chris Lowery was fired as head coach at Southern Illinois, and just seven days later, his former boss Bruce Weber was fired at Illinois. So when Weber landed feet first in Manhattan, Kansas, during the offseason, Lowery was on the short list of possible assistants to call. Even though the season is young, I’ll go ahead and call this a home run hire. In his first three seasons at SIU, Weber had just one NIT appearance but once Lowery came on staff in 2001, the Salukis made the NCAA Tournament twice including a run to the Sweet Sixteen. He even joined Weber at Illinois for a year to help guide another Sweet Sixteen team. Now if only he and Weber could sign a lifetime deal at K-State…
  3. Burnt Orange Nation gives us a recap of the first month of basketball for Big 12 teams. I can’t remember a season when the Big 12 has had so many teams show signs of incompetence. West Virginia was supposed to succeed the role of Missouri with a solid history and recent success, yet they find themselves at 4-5. Texas‘ crop of talented young guys can’t put the ball in the hoop; Baylor has been a vulnerable team at home; and then a collection of teams (Oklahoma, Iowa State and Kansas State) have solid records but haven’t been able to get wins against significant opponents yet. Hopefully, next month’s recap will be more flattering for the Big 12.
  4. We know Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger is into trying new things, seeing how he changes jobs every five years (I kid) but Saturday’s win over Texas A&M saw Kruger add what The Norman Transcript calls a “new wrinkle” to another possible lineup. The Sooners went with a four-guard set with 6’6″ forward Cameron Clark at the center position for a large part of the second half. Clark went on to score 12 of his 17 points in that half and, while his team searches for an identity, Kruger left the door open for the Sooners to experiment with that lineup in the future.
  5. To borrow a line from Houston Rockets radio voice Craig Ackerman, Baylor very nearly pooped their big boy pants again last night to USC Upstate but rebounded in the second half to beat the Spartans 73-57. Cory Jefferson ruled the paint going 6-of-8 from the field for 17 points to lead all scorers. Fresh off his second ROTW award, Isaiah Austin recorded his second consecutive double-double (12 points, 10 boards) while the best all-around game went to A.J. Walton who threw in 10 points, four rebounds, eight dimes and five steals. It’s another tally in the win column for Scott Drew, but the uneasy feeling about the Bears playing at the Ferrell Center isn’t going away just yet.
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Big 12 Summer Update: Oklahoma Sooners

Posted by dnspewak on July 18th, 2012

In an effort to remind you that college basketball does in fact exist during the summer, Big 12 microsite writers Danny Spewak (@dspewak) and Jeremy Pfingsten (@jeremylp21) will roll out three summer updates per week during the next month. The goal is to compile every bit of news and information from the summer months for each team and package it into neat, easy-to-read capsules for your convenience. Next on the list — Danny’s update on Oklahoma. 

Oklahoma Sooners

2011-12 Record: 15-16 (5-13)

Lon Kruger isn’t used to losing. He reached a Final Four at Florida, an Elite Eight at Kansas State, and qualified for seven combined NCAA Tournaments at Illinois and UNLV. This man has been everywhere and won everywhere — well, except for that failed NBA experiment with the Atlanta Hawks — but his first season at Oklahoma did not fare so well. After making promising progress against a fairly weak non-conference slate, Kruger’s team fell flat in Big 12 play. His tactical ability and coaching expertise allowed a roster with a few decent parts to hang tough for the most part, but an eighth-place finish and a losing record will not sit well with Kruger this summer. This is not a program in turmoil anymore, though, no matter how bad the record looks from a year ago. Kruger will indoctrinate his first true recruiting class this summer to mix with the return of his entire starting lineup. His cast of newcomers include a few stud freshman and, most importantly, Wyoming transfer Amath M’Baye, who just might be the biggest story of the whole summer in Norman.

Lon Kruger Has An Impressive Track Record

Summer Orientation: The early reviews on M’Baye are already flattering. The Wyoming transfer, who started every game as a sophomore in 2010-11, is an impact newcomer in every sense of the phrase. He brings worldly experience to the Sooners, having lived in France, Senegal, California and, of course, Wyoming. But his skills are as intriguing as his background. Kruger said M’Baye polished his game considerably as he sat out in 2011-12, improving as both a ball-handler and perimeter player. He’s no longer just a 6’9” forward with a mid-range game and post skills. Now, Kruger said he’s combining that tall, lanky frame with an ability to attack off the dribble and use his elite athleticism to his advantage. His teammates have had nothing but praise for M’Baye, who averaged 12.0 points per game as a sophomore, since he arrived on campus last year. Andrew Fitzgerald called him “very athletic and really competitive” while practicing against him last year, and says he “could be one of the best players in the Big 12.” It is easy to overrate Division I transfers, but M’Baye appears to add a new element to Oklahoma because of his unique versatility as an inside-outside type swingman.

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The Final Game: How a Star and a Walk-On Finished Their Careers in Kansas City

Posted by dnspewak on March 28th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 Microsite writer. He wrote this piece after covering the first two days of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.  You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

One senior exits the court at the Sprint Center with 53 seconds remaining, walking gingerly toward his coach as an entire arena stands to applaud his four years of contributions. He will be remembered in college for playing more minutes than any player in program history — 4,322 to be exact. He is a former high school legend who set a state record for most points in a single season, once totaling 61 points in a single contest. He is a star and always will be. A name nobody around his parts will or could ever forget.

A night earlier, another senior enters the court at the Sprint Center with 21.2 seconds remaining on the clock, jogging toward his teammates as a few supporters in the stands politely applaud his four years of contributions. He will be remembered in college for hardly ever playing any minutes — 111 to be exact. He is a former high school point guard who won a 2008 state title without even scoring five points per game for his team, a man who has never been a star and never will be. A name most people around his parts will immediately forget.

T.J. Franklin and Keiton Page played their last games in Kansas City, Mo. (Photos by Oklahoma Sooners and NewsOK.com)

From a statistical standpoint, Keiton Page and T.J. Franklin could not possibly be any different. At the same time, they could not possibly be more alike. They are two seniors beloved by their teammates and coaches. They are two seniors considered within their respective programs as unquestioned leaders, guys who always say and do the right thing. They are two seniors who represent the best of college athletics.

This is not a story just about a household name and a walk-on. It is a story about two seniors who saw their careers end in the span of 24 hours in Kansas City, Missouri. A story about what it’s like to pour your entire life into one sport and see it all evaporate in the matter of two hours. A story about how Page and Franklin are entirely different and yet entirely the same. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Morning Five: 02.06.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on February 6th, 2012

  1. In the aftermath of Missouri‘s victory over Kansas on Saturday, The Sporting News helps keep the win in perspective. Yes, the Tigers could not afford to lose the final home game against the Jayhawks with the series ending after 2011-12, and they could not afford to slip in the Big 12 standings. By all accounts, it was a monumental win. But it’s also a long season, something Bill Self knows very well. “I’m leaving here disappointed we lost, but I’m leaving here knowing we’ve got a good team.” On the Missouri side, Kim English tried not to oversell the win either: “Just a game we needed to win to continue our quest to win the Big 12.” The storylines are now all set for the February 25 rematch, a game that actually could define the season for both programs.
  2. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had a different take on MU’s win, as Bryan Burwell accurately captured the drama and hype of the whole weekend. It’s interesting to note here that Hubert Davis, no stranger to raucous crowds after his career at North Carolina, said the atmosphere was as charged as any he’d ever experienced. That’s high praise for MU. But we also think Davis would say the same thing if he attends the Border War rematch in three weeks.
  3. After a midseason surge, Oklahoma has now fallen back to earth. The Sooners have lost four of five games, but there’s a formula to get Lon Kruger’s team back on track. A couple of things stand out here. First, the writer has advocated for Cameron Clark as a permanent bench player, an issue we’ve written extensively about this year. Also, he says the Sooners should use more zone to hide their lack of depth and utilize Romero Osby better offensively. Perhaps the most interesting part of the article is the idea that Carl Blair should handle the ball more in order to give starting point guard Sam Grooms a break. Ballhandling may be OU’s biggest concern, so maybe Kruger will heed this advice. Or not. Either way, he knows what he’s doing — we’re sure of that.
  4. Missouri and Kansas aren’t the only rivals ending their series after the season. Texas and Texas A&M are experiencing the same thing with the Aggies leaving for the SEC, and one writer took a look back at the most memorable games of the last 30 years. You’ll surely remember some of the games included from the past decade, especially the 2006 and 2007 matchups. In the first of those two, ice-in-the-veins point guard Acie Law made a buzzer-beater, and in the rematch the next season, Kevin Durant overcame Law’s heroics in an overtime win. Enough of this nostalgia. Play each other, people!
  5. Royce White’s terrific season has earned him some national buzz, meaning he’s now showing up on the NBA’s radar. According to Jalen Rose, though, White should stay in school. Rose said the forward would be a Player of the Year candidate next season, and it’s hard to disagree with him. White’s rise to the top has been amazing — and fast. We knew he could play when he attended Minnesota as a blue-chip recruit, but nobody could have envisioned the kind of production he’s putting up as a Cyclone this season.
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Big 12 Weekend Primer

Posted by dnspewak on January 21st, 2012

For the second time in less than a week, all eyes will be on the Big 12. Missouri and Baylor, both ranked in the top-five, will square off in Waco on Saturday afternoon in college basketball’s prime matchup. Elsewhere, Oklahoma will look to win its third straight game as it heads to College Station, while Kansas will renew its rivalry with Texas in Austin.

GAME OF THE WEEKEND

  • Missouri at Baylor, Saturday, 1:05 p.m. CT (ESPN)

Baylor Will Look to Celebrate Again When it Hosts Missouri(AP/C. Riedel)

The Ferrell Center will host two top five opponents for the first time on Saturday, and it’s not a stretch to say this may be the most important home game in Baylor history. Now in his ninth season, it’s amazing that Scott Drew has built a program prestigious enough to play a game with this kind of national attention. His Bears have not lost at home this season, and Missouri’s only loss came on the road at Kansas State. The Tigers quieted the critics a bit by winning at Iowa State, but they did not look comfortable in Manhattan and fell out of contention in that game immediately. Kansas State’s physical bigs held Ricardo Ratliffe to just one field goal attempt, forcing him into foul trouble and taking him out of the game entirely. And here’s the bad news for Missouri: The Bears’ big men are even more athletically intimidating. Ratliffe and Steve Moore are the only two scholarship forwards on this Missouri roster, but they’ll have to somehow deal with Perry Jones, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy, not to mention players like Cory Jefferson and Anthony Jones off the bench. If you’re counting, that’s five players taller than 6’7”, and most of them can dunk like they’re playing with a Fisher Price basket. The Tigers simply cannot compete with that kind of size. Perhaps we’ll see a lot of 2-3 zone out of Frank Haith, something he’s not opposed to doing. In fact, Missouri has zoned opponents on many occasions this season, and it’s been effective at times. The problem is, Baylor has the guards this year to deal with any kind of defense. Brady Heslip can burn teams who pay too much attention to the paint, and Pierre Jackson has changed the entire dynamic of this team with his ballhandling, penetration and passing skills. If Heslip can knock down some shots and Baylor dominates the paint, this game could be over by halftime. However, the Bears have trouble holding on to the ball sometimes, and they also did not play very well defensively in a loss to Kansas on Monday. Also, while Missouri may not have played very well in Manhattan, Waco is hardly the same environment. Yes, it’s an enormous game this weekeend. The crowd will not be weak, not by any means. But they don’t make many places like Bramlage Coliseum, and MU has never played well there. It won in Ames, and it should not be taken lightly on the road at the Ferrell Center.

The key individual matchup is… Missouri’s guards against Baylor’s forwards. Missouri is mismatched with every single team it plays. That’s just what happens when you start four guards. Against Baylor, though, that mismatched is magnified. The Bears start Jones, Acy and Miller on the frontline, and they almost always have three bigs on the floor at the same time. Missouri rarely even has both Ratliffe and Moore in the game at the same time. In fact, it’s be physically impossible for the Tigers to play three forwards unless they inserted walk-on Andy Rosburg or former football player Andrew Jones, and that’s not going to happen. But Missouri has compensated all year for this lack of size. On Saturday, it’ll be especially important for Marcus Denmon to try to take advantage of his favorable matchup with his quickness. It’s also important for the Tigers to rebound well as a team and make up for their lack of size with extra effort and energy on the boards.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 1.20.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on January 20th, 2012

  1. Surprise! Kansas is the only undefeated team remaining in the Big 12 and has already defeated one of its main rivals for the league title (Baylor) at home. That leaves Kansas in a strong position in the conference right now, although it’s still too early to hang any banners. The Jayhawks still need to travel to Waco, Columbia, Manhattan, and Ames, but Bill Self’s teams have traditionally played well on the road. As even Self has admitted, though, this year’s team is not a vintage Kansas team, so it will be interesting to keep an eye on how this team fares. After seven years of either sharing or winning the Big 12 outright though you have to give the Jayhawks the benefit of the doubt here. It’s unlikely this team, which still features a Wooden Award front-runner in Thomas Robinson, will fall apart on tough road environments.
  2. Sometimes, it’s nice to have a little fun with All-Conference teams. Commentator Mitch Holthus put together several different teams, all of which had nothing to do with basketball. We don’t have any arguments with most of his picks, but where is Ricardo Ratliffe on the WWE team? He’s as chiseled as it gets in the Big 12. And with regards to that coaching card game, let’s try to find a spot for Fred Hoiberg. Just to liven things up a bit.
  3. Frank Haith would also have an interesting story to tell at that card game if Holthus selected him. You are probably sick of reading the Frank Haith reclamation stories, but it has been awhile since we have posted one. And this article is particularly well-written, weaving his days at Miami along with the scandal and the controversial hiring at Missouri. If the Tigers keep winning, you will be reading a lot more of these pieces especially from the national media. Haith is an underdog, and that is something America will never have enough of.
  4. Oklahoma did not begin Big 12 play with a bang, but it could actually take control of fifth place in the Big 12 with a win this weekend at Texas A&M. It’s a winnable game for the Sooners, who have won two straight league games after an 0-3 start. It’s only a matter of time before Lon Kruger works his magic, and there’s no reason this team can’t sneak into at least the NIT. Steven Pledger is learning to deal with the pressure of expectations, according to the article, and Andrew Fitzgerald and Romero Osby can cause a lot of problems for Big 12 teams when they play well. Kruger’s program will only continue to improve given time, but his first team isn’t a pushover by any means.
  5. And staying with the Sooners, sophomore Cameron Clark is embracing his new role as a reserve. Clark seemed like a definite starter heading into the season, but Kruger’s decision to bring him off the bench has helped his game. Clark scored 10 points in 14 minutes against Kansas State and added 10 against Texas Tech. That’s the sign of a mature player. Clark probably did not expect to lose his starting role, but he’s responding well to his coach’s decision whether he likes it or not. One day, Clark will probably find his way back into the starting lineup. For now, though, OU will be just fine if he keeps up this kind of production.
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Big 12 Morning Five: 01.17.12 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on January 17th, 2012

  1. Cameron Clark had a productive freshman season for Oklahoma leading many (like yours truly) to believe he would break out as a sophomore this year. He hasn’t reached star status yet, but Clark is starting to emerge as of late. The 6’6” guard scored 10 points in a win over Kansas State, and his coaches and teammates say they are starting to see him play with more and more confidence as the year progresses. Romero Osby even says Clark is one of the best players on the floor every time he plays a game, which is high praise coming from one of the Big 12’s best rebounders. And here’s an interesting fact: Clark averages 13.1 points per game during Oklahoma wins and just 6.3 points per game in losses. Sounds like he’s a forgotten piece of Lon Kruger‘s team.
  2. In another part of the state, Oklahoma State is trying to find a way to recover from a 40-point beatdown by Baylor this weekend. But at least one writer says we shouldn’t give up the on the Cowboys just yet. No, Oklahoma State won’t compete for a Big 12 title with all of the injuries and transfers it has dealt with so far, but the guy has a point. This team is still 2-2 in the league, and if LeBryan Nash ever emerges as a star, this team could finally find a way to score consistently. This team is already fairly solid defensively, so just a little boost from Nash, Keiton Page and perhaps another option could help Travis Ford at least salvage a post-season berth and winning league record.
  3. Texas is a mainstay in the NCAA tournament. In fact, Rick Barnes has never missed the Big Dance since arriving in Austin 13 seasons ago. That streak may end this season, unless Texas can find a way to finish above .500 in the Big 12 and knock off a few quality opponents. The young Longhorns are still getting inconsistent production out of Myck Kabongo, but you have to think he and the rest of the freshmen on this team will step up to help J’Covan Brown one of these days. Luckily, Texas will still has several contests with Baylor, Kansas, and Missouri looming so it has a chance to improve its resume before March.
  4. After Kansas State‘s loss to Baylor, Frank Martin did not throw his hands in the air and simply attribute the loss to playing against a great team. Instead, he punished a few players (like Angel Rodriguez) by making them run stairs while the rest of the team watched tape. Martin then relegated Rodriguez to the bench against Oklahoma, a game it lost in Norman by nine points– though it was uglier than that margin would suggest. Although Martin’s tactics seem like a little much, the man knows what he’s doing. Last season, after his pre-season top-25 team hit a free-fall in the middle of the season, Martin rallied that group and recovered just fine. Although the 1-3 record in the Big 12 doesn’t look very good, Martin will find a way to turn things around.
  5. The NBA comparisons for Royce White are ridiculous. Fred Hoiberg says he’s Kevin Garnett; Frank Haith says he’s Magic Johnson. And now, Travis Ford says he’s Jamal Mashburn. Ford says White is one of the best ball-handling forwards he’s see in the Big 12, and the guy certainly deserves every accolade opposing coaches give him. But this is starting to get a little wild. Why not let him establish himself instead of placing him on a pedestal next to NBA greats? At least White has a sense of humor about all of this. Remember, he did say that Haith’s comparison to Magic was “outrageous.”
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New Look Oklahoma Sooners Thriving Under Lon Kruger

Posted by dnspewak on December 15th, 2011

Nobody’s going to hang a banner at the Lloyd Noble Center for Oklahoma‘s modest 7-1 start, especially considering the Sooners’ non-conference strength of schedule ranks 100th in the nation. Keep in mind that OU has not yet played a true road game. It lost to the best team on its schedule (Saint Louis) by 20 points. It arguably has not faced an NCAA Tournament team yet and its second-leading scorer transferred earlier this month.

But so what? Compared to last season’s 14-18 campaign, these Sooners are playing with an entirely different attitude on both ends of the floor under first-year head coach Lon Kruger. Despite the slip-up against SLU in the 76 Classic finals, Oklahoma appears to have improved in almost every facet of basketball, thanks in part to a higher overall level of maturity and the addition of two impact transfers. Kruger’s team manhandled Arkansas and Washington State, and it overpowered a good Santa Clara team by dominating the rebounding margin.

Oklahoma Already Has Half As Many Wins As 2010-11

From both a basketball and statistical standpoint, Oklahoma is a new team with point guard Sam Grooms (junior college) and forward Romero Osby (Mississippi State). It’s not hyperbole to suggest they are both lifesavers at their respective positions, and they’ve filled missing links by contributing in other areas besides scoring. Grooms, for example, doesn’t look to score much, but that’s not his role on this team after unseating Carl Blair as the starting point guard. Instead, he’s found his groove as the lead guard by deferring to Steven Pledger, who is enjoying a breakout junior season. Pledger has averaged nearly 18 points per game without forcing anything, and a lot of that has to do with Grooms’ efficiency at the point guard spot. Pledger also has less pressure thanks to the productivity of a several other scorers like Osby, Andrew Fitzgerald, Cameron Clark and, most recently, Tyler Neal, whose minutes have skyrocketed after Calvin Newell‘s transfer. The individual scoring totals for these players don’t matter much, though. Most importantly, with Grooms leading the way, Kruger’s team shares the ball, takes good shots, and has limited its turnovers. That’s a complete turnaround from the 2010-11 season, when the Sooners ranked dead last in the Big 12 in several offensive categories.

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ATB: Weekend Edition — A. Davis, Boeheim, Tu, Big East/SEC & Dunkdafied…

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2011

This Weekend’s Lede. Every Week a Playoff… Until It Isn’t. No matter your opinion on whether Oklahoma State or Alabama should have the right to play LSU for the BCS national championship next month, can we at least come to an agreement that college football’s tired meme of “every week a playoff” has once again been blown out of the water as farcical? Look, we all know that the NCAA Tournament system is far from perfect in terms of anointing the best team as the champion, but like every other major American sport, at least every team that has a reasonable claim to the crown gets a chance to prove its worth on the hardwood. The old saying goes, “in order to be the best, you have to beat the best,” but as this comical CFB playoff scenario shows, at least one deserving school will get no such chance to do that. On to basketball…

Your Watercooler Moment. Anthony Davis’ Game-Saving Block.

Kentucky vs. North Carolina. North Carolina vs. Kentucky. What else could it be? Saturday afternoon’s tilt in Lexington was one of those rare fulfilling games where the action on the floor not only lived up to the hype, but exceeded it. And the hype for this game was extraordinary, especially considering that it took place on the first Saturday in December rather than sometime deep in March. Our post-game takes on what we’d seen in the one-point Kentucky win are located here, but the long and short of it is this: Carolina should feel as if they were only a play away from winning a difficult road game that didn’t cater to its strengths (61% on threes, but only 33% on twos), while Kentucky should feel that its extremely young but talented team stood toe-to-toe with the other most talented team in America and didn’t blink. Both UNC and UK should be playing in New Orleans next Spring, and if we’re lucky they’ll tip off for the fourth time in just over 16 months with nothing less than the national championship on the line.

Five More Weekend Storylines.

  1. Big East Dominates SEC in Challenge. Coming into Friday, the SEC was tied with the Big East at 2-2 in this year’s Challenge. The Big East then won the next six games before dropping the final two Saturday evening to finish at 8-4. The most impressive wins over the weekend were Pittsburgh and Cincinnati’s road wins at Tennessee and Georgia, respectively(the Big East had four roadies), and as we noted in our commentary on Saturday, the Big East appears to be an eight- or nine-team NCAA Tournament conference, whereas the SEC seems to deserve roughly half that. Nothing too surprising here, just further confirmation that the Big East, along with the Big Ten, are the top two conferences in college basketball this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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