Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE
The countdown is becoming increasingly difficult to project how the conference will shake out this season, but the show must go on. As I've highlighted, spots 2-8 are up for grabs and your guess is as good as mine. At #7, the Oklahoma Sooners.
2011-2012 Record: 15-16, 5-13
Key Additions: F Amath M'Baye, transfer from Wyoming
Lon Kruger had his work cut out for him entering his initial campaign in Norman. The Sooners' program was coming off a nasty stretch of scandals and inconsistent results during the Jeff Capel era. Competitive but inconsistent is probably a good way to describe last season for the Sooners. Kruger saw his team sweep ranked Kansas State teams, but also suffer an 18-point blowout loss to Texas Tech, which proved to be the Red Raiders' lone conference win.
The good news is that Kruger has a proven history of turning programs around and a school like Oklahoma certainly doesn't lack for historical success on the hardwood. An NCAA tournament appearance is an attainable goal for this veteran team, which would be the first since Blake Griffin led the Sooners to the Elite Eight in 2009.
Leading the way will be a quartet of returning senior starters, led by sharpshooter guard, Steven Pledger. His 16.2 PPG led the Sooners and he proved to be an accurate marksman from downtown, draining 41% of his three-point attempts. He'll have help inside from senior forwards Andrew Fitzgerald (12.1 PPG, 5.0 REB) and Romero Osby (12.9 PPG, 7.3 REB).
The Sooners will have one of the most experienced frontcourts in the league. Fitzgerald offers a physical presence on the block while the versatile Osby proved to be an inside-outside threat a season ago. Junior F Cameron Clark joins the seniors up front. Clark is more of a true wing, but his athleticism and height (6'6") allows him to fill a lot roles on the floor. Tyler Neal was a dependable 6th man last year and he'll continue to assume that tag this year. The big addition inside is Wyoming transfer Amath M'Baye. The 6'9" junior averaged 12.0 points and 5.7 rebounds as a sophomore for the Cowboys in 2010-2011 and was voted preseason Newcomer of the Year by Big 12 coaches (more on this later). The frontcourt depth and versatility the Sooners have will allow them to play big or small, depending on the opponent and appears to be a real strength of the team.
I already highlighted Pledger, but fellow senior Sam Grooms could be the key to this team. Grooms dished out 6 assists a game last year and led the Big 12 in assist-to-turnover ratio. Rarely a threat to score, Grooms' playmaking ability will be vital to how well Kruger's offense functions. If there's one concern for this team, it could be backcourt depth. The Sooners will rely on freshmen Buddy Hield, Jelon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins to fight for back-up minutes in the guard rotation. This is a solid backcourt, but it will be interesting to watch how the depth develops and whether or not Grooms can raise his level of play to compliment Pledger's scoring.
Why They'll Finish 7th
I really like the experience on this team and Kruger is one of the best in the business at getting the most out of his teams. I considered putting Oklahoma higher in the league standings, but I still have questions about the inconsistency we saw from this team a year ago. A 7th place finish might be good enough to land the Sooners an NCAA bid, but at the very least, they'll be in the bubble discussion for most of the winter, which is a big upgrade over the past few seasons.
Why I Don't Know Shit
Oklahoma was last in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 68.5 points a year ago. There's still major defensive questions on this team, and although returning five starters looks good on paper, this is still a team that went 5-13 in league play and suffered too many double-digit losses.
I mentioned earlier that M'Baye was named preseason Newcomer of the Year by the Big 12 coaches. M'Baye put up good numbers as a sophomore at Wyoming, but how in the hell did he get this award over Iowa State's Will Clyburn? Two years ago, Clyburn played at Utah, which was in the same league as Wyoming and Clyburn had superior numbers, scoring 17 points and grabbing 7 rebounds a game. Furthermore, M'Baye joins a crowded frontcourt that's already returning a few starters while Clyburn is a clear-cut starter for the Cyclones and likely will be ISU's leading scorer. Can someone explain the logic behind this to me?