Kruger ready for year No. 4

It was a great third season for Lon Kruger at Oklahoma. The best part is year No. 4 could be even better.

That's just the way it goes in a tournament setting. Only one team is going to end the season on a high note. For Oklahoma basketball, it will have to wait at least another year as the Sooners were upset in the round of 64 in the NCAA tournament by North Dakota State.

Despite finishing the season with back-to-back losses, OU coach Lon Kruger is no doubt excited about the last season and maybe even more excited about what's to come.

He addressed the media one final time Monday to discuss all things Sooner basketball.

"It's typical when the season ends abruptly that there is great disappointment," Kruger said. "With time, things get back to normal and they get to working out and start focusing on next year. It's kind of a process you go through when the season ends. It's a good group. They'll bounce back."

Unlike last year, most of the key components are returning to Norman. Last year OU had to replace nearly 70 percent of its scoring from the 2012-13 season. Going into next season, that's not even close to being the case.

OU will return 73 percent of its scoring, 75 percent of its rebounding and 88 percent of its assists. Included in that is leading scorer Buddy Hield as he will be one of four returning starters for next season.

And the kicker there, though, is none of them will be seniors. Three juniors (Hield, Ryan Spangler, Isaiah Cousins) and sophomore Jordan Woodard all coming back.

"It seemed like everyone improved significantly from the year before," Kruger said. "As a team, it was a good step there. The excitement and enthusiasm for continuing that momentum and going forward – we have to keep getting better."

To do so the Sooners are going to need more consistency from their post players. Spangler was solid in his first season at OU after transferring from Gonzaga. But even he started to wear down a bit toward the end of the season.

The offseason is important for a lot of guys but maybe none more so than forward/center D.J. Bennett. Kruger is setting the tone early with Bennett.

"We need D.J. to jump in there and play a lot more minutes," Kruger said. "I thought in stretches he had really good minutes this year. He has to invest in this offseason in a way that he is prepared to have consistently really good minutes and a lot of them. He's got the capability to do that."

Nobody expected OU to place second in the Big 12 this season. But with so much talent coming back and only losing seniors Tyler Neal and Cam Clark, a lot is going to be expected for Kruger's bunch next season.

Everybody who is supposed to be back looks like they will be back.

"No comment or conversation about anyone not being here," Kruger said. "I have talked to all of them and they have all indicated it (staying). At the end of the year, you always talk about what was good, what we need to improve on individually as well as a group.

"There's always the craziness out there with agents and different decisions. You're always asked that question specifically, but no surprises there. All have indicated feeling good about coming back and getting better."

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories