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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Big 12 M5: 11.10.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 10th, 2014

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  1. Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star has a terrific extended profile on Kansas phenom Kelly Oubre. The piece details his upbringing from leaving New Orleans in anticipation of Hurricane Katrina, through his explosion on to the national recruiting scene at Findlay Prep, to where he is now, mere days away from making his debut for one of the most storied programs in college basketball. Oubre displays a maturity beyond his years through carefully-collected thoughts and a contemplative attitude. Given Kansas’ roster, it doesn’t look like he’ll have to shoulder a huge load during his freshman season, but he could very well be the Jayhawks’ X-factor in 2015.
  2. The typical caveats of preseason games apply here, but Iowa State newcomer Bryce Dejean-Jones looked ready to take on a big role with the Cyclones as the team smoked Viterbo (La Crosse., Wisconsin) 115-48 on Friday night. Both Royce White and DeAndre Kane hit the ground running in their sole seasons in Ames under Fred Hoiberg, so it will be fun to see if Dejean-Jones will be able to do the same thing starting Friday in the team’s season opener against Oakland.
  3. Oklahoma State knows that despite being picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 12, this season is an important one for the future of the program. As a result, the Pokes are trying to build chemistry by spending more time together off the court, according to The Tulsa World. The article brings up the notion that, with an egoless squad, both Travis Ford and the team are hopeful they can improve on last year’s massive disappointment. While that may sound like eye-rolling coachspeak, the tone isn’t all that dissimilar from the mindset Texas head coach Rick Barnes took after Julien Lewis, Sheldon McClellan, Ioannis Papapetrou and Myck Kabongo all left Austin in 2013. This year’s team doesn’t look nearly as good as last year’s Texas team, but the Cowboys are probably as good a bet as any team in the bottom of the Big 12 to outperform their expectations.
  4. Bruce Weber‘s third season with Kansas State should bring increased expectations, according to Kellis Robinett of The Wichita Eagle. The Wildcats will need to replace about 30 percent of their scoring production from last season, but that should be doable given a roster featuring a stud guard in Marcus Foster and a promising trio of newcomers in Brandon BoldenJustin Edwards and Stephen Hurt. Weber led Kansas State to its first back-to-back 20-win seasons since 1977, but early NCAA Tournament losses have prevented the program from getting a little more respect on a national scale.
  5. Oklahoma sophomore Jordan Woodard cracked the preseason Bob Cousy Award watch list last week, and it’s not hard to see why. As a freshman, Woodard displayed advanced poise and confidence on his way to a fantastic debut season. With a year now under his belt, college basketball fans can expect him to make a big leap. While it will be a lot of fun to watch him lead the Sooners’ high-octane offense, the quality of Oklahoma’s defense is what will really need to improve this year.
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If You Ask Around, Oklahoma Has Already Lost to North Dakota State

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 20th, 2014

The brackets were released late Sunday afternoon with #5 Oklahoma pitted against #12 North Dakota State in the West Region. Almost immediately, the near consensus was that the Sooners will get upset by the Bison. The Dallas Morning News compiled this list of predictions from various ESPN and CBS Sports personalities on Oklahoma’s NCAA Tournament forecast. That pessimism isn’t just relegated to the analysts; social media followed suit as well. It’s the classic #5/#12 game that most filling out a bracket anoint as a mark-it-down upset (they’re doing it with Cincinnati-Harvard too). But not all upset options are created equally.

Lon Kruger is the only coach in NCAA history to take five different teams to the tournament. (Young Kwak/Associated Press)

Lon Kruger is the only coach to take five different schools to the NCAA tournament. But he still gets no respect, no respect at all. (Young Kwak/Associated Press)

Does it make sense to pick against Oklahoma? Absolutely. The Sooners are constructed to be unappealing on purpose. There aren’t any superstar freshmen, All-American talent or a big-name head coach. And despite all this, it was Lon Kruger’s team that finished second in the best conference in college basketball. He came into 2013-14 without five of his top eight scorers from last season, but that didn’t matter — this year’s guard-oriented offense is averaging a surprising 82 points per game. Yeah, a Lon Kruger coached team is doing this. The four-guard (Cameron Clark, Jordan Woodard, Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins), one forward (Ryan Spangler) lineup that Kruger went with to start the season was risky because it appeared it would get outmuscled against bigger opponents. But interestingly enough, the Sooners were able to pull off season sweeps against Baylor and Texas, two teams with long and skilled frontcourts.

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Big 12 M5: 01.21.14 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on January 21st, 2014

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  1. Ken Corbitt of the Topeka Capital-Journal has a good stat here about how well the Kansas State defense has played recently. The Wildcats are 14-4 overall, 4-1 in Big 12 play, and are #22 in the national rankings after beating West Virginia by 22 points on Saturday. Head coach Bruce Weber probably summed it up best when he told Corbitt: “If you guard people, it gives you a chance to win.”
  2. Last season wasn’t a fluke for West Virginia, it seems. The Mountaineers are firmly in the Big 12 cellar with Texas Tech and TCU after losing their last three games. They are 10-8 on the season and haven’t beaten anyone of note, unless you count the two aforementioned teams. Other than that, West Virginia is 0-7 against power conference schools this season.
  3. There is a reason Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith is considered a pretty good coach. His Red Raiders knocked off a ranked Baylor squad last week and have a decent chance to even up their Big 12 record at 3-3 on Wednesday when they travel to West Virginia. “We haven’t always played with the intelligence we should,” Smith told Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News. “But the majority of them have been through things, and the experience of playing in the Big 12 has been a big help.”
  4. Kansas freshman center Joel Embiid went from an unknown player from Cameroon to the potential No. 1 overall pick in next summer’s NBA Draft in the span of about 12 months. Even Self, who told Embiid he would be the top pick one day, didn’t think it would be so soon. “You’re going to be the No. 1 pick,” Self told Embiid (courtesy of Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star) “Now, it may not be this year, but you will be a No. 1 pick.” Self is right. It may not be this year. But don’t bet against it at this point. Embiid contributed 12 points, four rebounds, and a block in last night’s 78-68 win over Baylor. 
  5. If Oklahoma wants to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament and make a run in March, freshman guard Jordan Woodard playing well would go a long way toward that goal. As Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman points out, Woodard had a four to one assist-to-turnover ratio in the Sooners’ 66-64 win over Baylor on Saturday. “I think he knows that we have confidence in him,” sophomore forward Ryan Spangler told Aber.
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Big 12 M5: 01.06.14 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 6th, 2014

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  1. Is it time to hit the panic button in Lawrence? San Diego State walked into Allen Fieldhouse on Sunday and beat Kansas, 71-67, ending the Jayhawks’ 68-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents. The Aztecs committed five more turnovers, blocked five fewer shots, had five fewer assists, and took 10 fewer free throw attempts than Bill Self’s team, and still somehow managed to get the huge win. It doesn’t get any easier for Kansas, though, as their first five Big 12 games over the next couple of weeks come against Oklahoma, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Baylor.
  2. Speaking of panic buttons, Oklahoma State opened up Big 12 competition with a loss to still-streaking Kansas State. CollegeBasketballTalk cites Michael Cobbins’ season-ending injury as a key reason for the loss. Although Kansas State only outrebounded the Cowboys by one board, Cobbins’ presence would have been helpful against Thomas Gipson, who went for six of his 11 points in the final five minutes of the game. It’ll be something to continue to monitor as Travis Ford’s team deals with strong frontcourts at Kansas, Baylor and Iowa State midway through conference play.
  3. Oklahoma got its best win of the season on Saturday, rallying to beat arch-rival Texas, 88-85. The game could have ended differently for the Sooners, as Isaiah Cousins received two technical fouls that resulted in an ejection after elbowing Texas guard Demarcus Holland late in the game. In the first half, Cousins and Texas guard Isaiah Taylor were hit with technical fouls for jawing at each other. Fortunately, Jordan Woodard stepped up to score the Sooners’ final 10 points, sealing the win with two free throws at the 1:08 mark. Up next, Kansas invades the Lloyd Noble Center on Wednesday night.
  4. Another day and another win for unbeaten Iowa State. The Cyclones got out in front of Texas Tech by 15 before the Red Raiders mounted a comeback to tie the game with 12:33 in the second half. Enter the Cyclones’ Monte Morris. He checked in seconds later and finished the half with five points, one steal and a blocked shot in the 73-62 victory. I guess we can add Morris to the arsenal of Fred Hoiberg’s many weapons at his disposal.
  5. West Virginia basketball fans will remember Saturday’s win against TCU as its own version of “The Flu Game.” (Eh, maybe not). In addition to the Horned Frogs’ front line, Eron Harris battled the flu all week and still dropped 22 in WVU’s 74-69 win in Fort Worth. “I was sick all week—sick out of my mind,” Harris told MetroNews. “It was the flu. I just couldn’t go (during the week of practices), but I felt better waking up today (Saturday).” First there was Michael Jordan and now… Eron Harris. That’s a fair comparison in my book.
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Big 12 M5: 12.17.13 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on December 17th, 2013

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  1. The Big 12 conference announced its weekly awards on Monday, and not surprisingly, Iowa State forward Georges Niang was the Big 12 Player of the Week after scoring a career-high 24 points in an 85-82 win over Iowa on Friday. Cyclones’ head coach Fred Hoiberg got the program going with his ability to lure transfers to Ames, but talented high school players like Niang will keep Iowa State relevant for as long as Hoiberg is around. Oklahoma freshman guard Jordan Woodard was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Week after also scoring 24 points and adding eight assists in a win over Tulsa.
  2. CBSSports.com writer Gary Parrish was not happy in this week’s poll attacks, and it’s not hard to blame him. He went after Doug Doughty of the Roanoke Times yesterday, and it was a good read. Doughty left Kansas off his ballot while ranking Oklahoma 22nd. I’ll let you read Parrish’s argument through the link because it takes care of everything, but I’ll also add this: Does Doughty also think 10-0 Toledo is better than 9-1 Louisville or 9-1 Oklahoma State?
  3. John Helsley of The Oklahoman has a good article on the improved Oklahoma State defense and what that could mean for the Cowboys moving forward. As Helsley notes, the Oklahoma State offense wasn’t great over the weekend against Louisiana Tech, but its defense made it a 15-point Cowboys win. “When your defense is on point, that’s what matters,” said Marcus Smart, and who could argue with him on that point?
  4. Kansas State is on a five-game winning streak, but head coach Bruce Weber knows the next two weeks won’t be easy for his Wildcats. “We have finals but I told the guys these last three games are like our finals of the non-conference,” he told Ken Corbitt of the Topeka Capital-Journal. Kansas State faces Gonzaga in Wichita on Saturday before playing Tulane in Brooklyn and hosting George Washington on December 31.
  5. Peter Bean of BurntOrangeNation has a good article on the rebuilt Texas Longhorns roster and the job head coach Rick Barnes has done so far this season. The Longhorns are 9-1 and will take on North Carolina in Chapel Hill tomorrow night on ESPN2. Junior forward Jonathan Holmes is leading the team with 12.9 PPG and is second in rebounding with 6.8 RPG for a team that faces its toughest test of the season tomorrow night in the Dean Smith Center.
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Big 12 M5: 11.05.13 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 5th, 2013

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  1. On Monday the Associated Press released its All-America team and the only player who received a unanimous selection was Marcus Smart of Oklahoma StateKansas superfrosh Andrew Wiggins was also named to the team, along with Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Louisville’s Russ Smith and Michigan’s Mitch McGary. I’m afraid people who don’t follow college hoops might get the wrong idea based on this preseason All-America team. They might look at the list and think, ‘Gee whiz, that Big 12 is really stacked this season,’ when the reality is that teams ranked below the top three face a multitude of questions marks. I guess the upside is that they will be tricked into watching more Big 12 basketball than they normally would. That doesn’t sound too bad, right?
  2. No Ejim, no problem for Iowa State in its exhibition win on Monday night. The Cyclones throttled Augustana (SD) by a score of 90-68 as DeAndre Kane picked up the double-double duties in the absence of Melvin Ejim. Kane shot a crisp 6-of-8 from the field for 19 points while grabbing 10 rebounds. Matt Thomas, one of the team’s two four-star freshman recruits, nailed 3-of-4 from three-point range and piled up 16 points. Sophomore Georges Niang struggled from the floor in missing 10 shots, including all four three-pointers, while managing to score 10, grab seven boards, and dish out a team-high six assists. You’re encouraged by the offensive output if you’re Fred Hoiberg but still, he’d prefer to have a healthy Ejim out there just like the rest of us.
  3. In slightly less encouraging exhibition newsOklahoma trailed at the half, 41-38, in its game against Oklahoma Christian but managed to win going away, 88-76. Sophomore guard Buddy Hield has battled foot problems dating back to late last season but appeared to be in full health, scoring 19 of his 29 points in the Sooners’ second half comeback. Freshman Jordan Woodard scored 17 points while also dropping six dimes and pulling down five rebounds. The team OU struggled with is a Division I member of the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA for short). That’s right. Imagine what would happen if the Sooners played an actual member of the NCAA. Who do they play in their first game? Alabama? On Friday? Oh… that’s not good.
  4. While coaches around the country continue to voice displeasure with the way referees will call fouls this season, there is one coach out there who might not have that big of a beef with it. That man might be Bob Huggins, who coached his Mountaineers to an 89-70 exhibition win over Fairmont State on Monday night. WVU made 37 of its 54 free throw attempts, and last year’s leading scorer Eron Harris hit 15 of them to help him reach 30 points for the game. But don’t let the 89 points fool you: The Mountaineers were able to make 20-of-49 field goal attempts so it appears their shooting problem from last season might creep up again. WVU’s 54 free throws combined with Fairmont State’s 28 gave us 82 total. In an exhibition game. You would have to be a special kind of person to sit through a game like that.
  5. Texas made news on the recruiting trail Monday with junior college power forward Obinna Oleka committing to the Longhorns. Brad Winton of JucoRecruiting.com reported the State College of Florida prospect chose Texas over Charlotte, Old Dominion, Southern Miss and South Florida. I know talent can come from anywhere, but I didn’t think I’d see a day where a name brand like Texas would be getting players who would otherwise go to places like Old Dominion or South Florida. Are the days of chasing talent that Kentucky, Florida or Kansas also want long gone for the Longhorns? Odd times in Austin for sure.
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Sizing Up a Key Freshman at Every Big 12 School

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 29th, 2013

Brian Goodman is the lead Big 12 correspondent for RTC. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman

The 2012-13 season saw a handful of freshmen throughout the Big 12 make their presences felt around the league. Everyone knows about Marcus Smart, but he was far from the only rookie player who proved himself capable. Perry Ellis, Isaiah Austin, Rico Gathers and Georges Niang also showed opposing players and coaches that they belonged in the conference too. Further down the standings, Josh Gray, Javan Felix and Terry Henderson gave glimpses of what they can do when given opportunities to show their stuff  (although Gray later transferred out of the conference).

Andrew Wiggins will be the top freshman in the Big 12, but after him, it's not so black and white. (credit: ESPN.com)

Andrew Wiggins will be the top freshman in the Big 12, but after him, it’s not so black and white. (credit: ESPN.com)

Once again, the Big 12 will welcome a stellar class of incoming talent this season. We took a look around the conference and plucked one freshman from each team who we think will make the strongest impression. Top to bottom, the Big 12 doesn’t offer quite the depth the SEC — which claims eight of the top 12 prospects from ESPNU’s Top 100 (just to use one recruiting service) — will roll out, but we’re looking forward to watching newcomers from every Big 12 team make strong impressions in their opening campaigns.

Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: Like you, we’ve seen the YouTube clips and read the scouting reports and articles in publications ranging from Sports Illustrated to GQ. Also, like you, we’re ready for Wiggins to make his debut and show everyone in actual games why he’s been the projected top overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft for so long. We agree with Bill Self in that we don’t expect Wiggins to average 20 points per game – today’s suppressed scoring environments and Self’s reputation as a coach who prefers a balanced attack makes that outcome a longshot. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t think the phenom will make a huge impact on both ends of the floor.

Matt Thomas, Iowa State: Despite starting just two games last season, Tyrus McGee was the Cyclones’ second-leading scorer thanks to a white-hot 46.4% shooting clip from long range. Now that he’s gone, though, Fred Hoiberg needs someone to fill the shooting void, and we can easily see Thomas emerging as that guy. The 51st-ranked recruit on ESPNU’s Top 100, Thomas boasts the kind of range that can break games open and cut deficits in a hurry. Once he commands the attention of the league’s defenses, passing lanes will open up to deliver the ball to the likes of Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang.

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