All about defense for Sooners

Basketball season is almost here and the focus is defense at OU.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Nobody’s underestimating Oklahoma basketball this season. Now in their fourth year under coach Lon Kruger, the Sooners are expected to be one of the best teams in the Big 12 conference.

Offensively there aren’t too many teams in the nation that can compare with what the Sooners are doing. OU averaged 81 points per game and no doubt scoring more this season wouldn’t surprise anybody.

The glaring weakness was always defense. No matter how much Kruger and his staff harped on it, there were always some lapses on the defensive side of the floor.

That won’t be the case this year, said Kruger and his players at Big 12 media day Wednesday at the Sprint Center.

“I do,” said Kruger about the team being better on defense. “That’s an area we have to do a better job with. Last year we knew we could score a little. We had confidence on the offensive end. I think that took away from the sincerity a little bit on the defensive end, and we can’t afford to do that.”

His preaching of defense finally hit home during the last two games of the season as OU was bounced in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament and upset as a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. Scoring 81 points is nice but allowing 76 points per game wasn’t going to get the job done.

“We’re way better than we were last year,” forward Ryan Spangler said. “We’re communicating better. The coaches have sort of ingrained it into us, and we are taking it to heart.

“I think, in our heads as younger guys, we wanted to run. We realized the last two games of the season we couldn’t just do that. We’re already better.”

How much better this team can be is a mystery. It’s an incredibly experienced group, led by juniors Spangler, Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins. Nearly 70 percent of OU’s scoring returns this season.

The leadership Cameron Clark brought to the table is gone, but Kruger isn’t worried about the leadership issue because of what those three, and sophomore guard Jordan Woodard, have shown in the summer and in practice.

“The key is always – players,” Kruger said. “The experience that they gained from last year, I think, will help. They know how tough it is to win conference games. They know how tough it is to win postseason games. They want to do that.”

The Sooners have been predicted third in the Big 12 preseason poll and received one first-place vote from one of the coaches. Depending on the availability of TaShawn Thomas, the ceiling could get even higher.

Thomas transferred from Houston in the spring and is still waiting word on whether or not he’ll be eligible to play this season. Kruger said there was no new developments Wednesday morning.

Thomas would add another defensive presence. But even without him, OU’s defense will be a focal point throughout the season.

“It’s a way better defensive team,” Hield said. “We’re locked in and focused. Nobody is nonchalant and waiting. We feel like we can get some stops on defense and get out and run. We’re ready to make that next step on defense.”

And if it does, you can expect OU to make a deeper run in the NCAA tournament.

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