March is sadistic. For all but one school, the month — and the few days of April we tend to group with it — inevitably ends in sorrow. For some teams like Texas or USC, that ending is abrupt, brought on by last second heroics that put an end to a once-promising season. For others, the ending is an excruciating wait. So it was for Oklahoma last season. Midway through the campaign, the Sooners were the top-ranked team in the AP poll. By the end of it, they had made the school’s first Final Four since 2002. In Houston, though, Oklahoma was steamrolled, losing to eventual national champion Villanova by the largest margin in Final Four history. With each missed three-pointer, the conclusion became clearer. It was like watching a car accident in slow motion.
Now, Lon Kruger‘s team will have to rebuild its proverbial car and the model will look substantially different than last season. Gone are starters Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. The NPOY Hield, of course, will leave the biggest shoes to fill, but Cousins was a dogged defender and effective three-point shooter while Spangler was an experienced stretch four who brought a certain toughness to the team. Gone are 66.5 percent of the team’s total scoring and 59.2 percent of its total minutes played. Also gone is 7’0″ center Akolda Manyang, a potentially valuable rotation piece who was dismissed after being arrested for aggravated robbery. With so much of its Final Four roster no longer residing in Norman, Kruger will put one of his returning upperclassmen into the driver’s seat of the new model.