The countdown is back after a weekend
bender hiatus that extended into a long and dismal Monday at work. With the hang over wearing off, I knew it was time to get back to talking Big 12 basketball and I may still have some booze in my system, because I'm finally going against the preseason coach's poll. Most pundits have pretty much unanimously agreed about the bottom four teams in the Big 12, slotting TCU, Texas Tech, Texas and West Virginia is some order, but I see things a little differently. After losing their top three scorers, including first team all-Big 12 forward Romero Osby, I'm calling for a Sooner slide in 2013-2014.
Lon Kruger is one of the most well-respected coaches in all of college basketball and he took Oklahoma back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since Blake Griffin was wearing the crimson and cream, but this will be a transitional year in Norman. I think Kruger has done an excellent job recruiting guards and the sophomore trio of Buddy Hield, Je'lon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins might end up making me look like a fool, but I just don't see the same potential in the front court. There's no Osby, no Amath M'Baye and no Andrew Fitzgerald and thus, no hope for a second straight NCAA tournament bid.
Unofficial Team Motto For 2013-2014
What time does the Thunder game start?
Who's Worth Knowing About
I already mentioned Hield, Hornbeak and Cousins, but they're worth mentioning again. Hield especially was playing excellent basketball for a freshman prior to breaking a bone in his foot last February and just wasn't the same after coming back five games later. Ironically enough, Hornbeak suffered a foot injury this summer and was expected to miss 6-8 weeks, but should be ready to go for the season opener. Injuries aside, the three sophomore guards give Oklahoma a fighting chance. Adding to that mix is the versatile Cameron Clark. The senior swing man was a fixture in OU's starting line up as a freshman and sophomore, but settled into a 6th-man role as a junior coming off the bench in all 32 games he played. Given OU's lack of depth up front, Clark will likely slide back into the starting line up and be expected to match up against bigger forwards each night. Senior forward Tyler Neal is the only other Sooner that logged any type of playing time a season ago.
Say Something Nice About Oklahoma
While I'm not too high on the Sooners this year, I fully expect Kruger to consistently have Oklahoma in the tournament hunt going forward. Kruger has already landed a couple of 3-star forwards for 2014 in Kadeem Lattin and Jamuni McNeace. Lattin is just outside of the Rivals Top 100 for the class of 2014.
And Now An Uncalled For Cheap Shot
I respect the hell out of Lon Kruger, but he is getting absolutely destroyed by Travis Ford on the recruiting trail. I think Kruger is a much better coach, but it doesn't really matter when Ford is consistently pulling in multiple four and five-star guys year after year.
Last Season Against Iowa State
Iowa State destroyed the Sooners in Ames, winning 83-64 as Iowa State nailed 11 3's and led wire to wire. The Sooners got their revenge in Norman, dominating a frustrated Cyclone squad 86-69 in what was one of Iowa State's worst defensive performances on the year. These two teams met again in the Big 12 tournament and for 30 minutes, Oklahoma looked like the better team, but some second half magic allowed Iowa State to overcome a double-digit deficit and win the grudge match, 73-66.
Why Oklahoma Will Finish 7th
It's really pretty black and white as far as I'm concerned. Talented and athletic back court, but painfully thin inside. Oklahoma is going to get abused in the paint. The only hope is that 6'10" 275-pound Keshaun Hamilton can log serious minutes and provide some semblance of reliable post play. Gonzaga transfer, Ryan Spangler is another guy that could surprise. Spangler played in 22 games as a freshman with the Zags and comes to Norman with the reputation as a hard-nosed rebounder. Still, it's difficult to see where the inside scoring is going to come from. On that note, I'm not all that convinced this team will be able to shoot very well outside either. Steven Pledger was the only reliable outside threat on the Sooners' roster a season ago, but he's long gone, leaving only Hornbeak as a guy that could consistently knock down shots from the perimeter. Hornbeak wasn't exactly a long range marksmen, however, hitting on only 33% of his treys. Hield really struggled (23.8%) while Cousins wasn't much better (25%). Spotty outside shooting + major questions inside = lackluster season.
And Now the Final Prediction
If not for Kruger, I might have called for a bigger slide out of this team, but I think Kruger is too good of a coach and there's just enough talent on the roster to keep this season from being an outright disaster. While the NCAA tournament won't be in this team's future, I think they have NIT potential and should be salty enough to finish above .500 and 6-8 games in conference play. Hield could be an all-conference type by year's end.