Sooners Illustrated has put together a quick guide to the season, breaking down some of the major points you’ll need to know about the Oklahoma Sooners.
Here you go . . . . .
Non-conference lookahead: - The highlight of the first semester for the Sooners will come in the Bahamas at the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament. Oklahoma will open with UCLA and then draw either Butler or North Carolina. The Sooners will wrap up the tournament with a third NCAA Tournament-quality opponent. Among the rest of the non-conference road, the Sooners go to Creighton early and play Washington in a neutral site game in Las Vegas. Oklahoma also plays host to Missouri in the Big 12/SEC Challenge and has a New Year’s Eve game against George Mason.
Big 12 lookahead: - The conference season starts off quick for the Sooners and ends even faster. Oklahoma plays Texas, which was picked to finish second in the conference, in the second game of the league season followed two games later by a trip to Morgantown and Bedlam at home. The Sooners then play four of their final seven games against teams that were ranked in the preseason poll, including a season-finale at home against Kansas. In between, there’s a large collection of winnable games with Texas, Iowa State and Oklahoma State coming to Norman.
Toughest game: - On Jan. 19, Oklahoma goes to Kansas for a 9 p.m. tip on Big Monday. A nationally televised game against the kings of the Big 12 conference in Phog Allen Fieldhouse: It doesn’t get any tougher than that. Not by a long shot.
Really, the toughest game: - Oklahoma will be in the same situation two weeks earlier: On national television in a late game against Texas. This one is bigger for two reasons. It’s early on the conference season, and it’s against the team that Oklahoma has to get past to have a chance at a top five seed in the NCAA Tournament. An upset win against Texas in Austin would jumpstart Oklahoma’s Big 12 season, but a loss could be troubling with trips to Morgantown, WV, and Kansas in the next two weeks.
Best player: Buddy Hield - There’s no question that Hield is the best scorer on his team. He might be the best scorer in the Big 12 Conference. It’s not hard to make a case that he wants to be the best scorer in the country. What can’t be argued though is that Hield is the best player on Oklahoma’s roster. He’s the most dynamic scorer and can create his own shot at any point. His point average more than doubled last year, and while it probably won’t double again, another eight-point-per-game jump to 24 points per game isn’t out of the question.
Most underrated player: Jordan Woodard - If Woodard was three inches taller, he’d be a potential All-American. Instead, he’s a great college point guard that not enough people notice. He has an ever-improving, pull-up jumper and is one of the better distributors in the Big 12. He has a penchant for finding cracks in the defense and a willingness to go inside, where he finishes around the rim well despite being listed at 6-foot. As a sophomore, Woodard is the most likely to surprise the nation with his play on the court this season. Oklahoma will need him to take that next step.
Biggest weapon: Isaiah Cousins - There are few players than can be as scary as Cousins. He has the ability and length to play any of the three backcourt positions and can score outside of the paint. His past has proven that he can be very streaky on the court. If those first couple shots fall for Cousins, it’s likely most of them will fall. Cousins probably comes after Hield, Woodard and Ryan Spangler on the list of worries for other teams. From there, he can be very dangerous.
A name to learn: Khadeem Lattin - If the exhibition season is any kind of predictor, Lattin will play an immediate role for the Sooners. In the first game, he showed some offensive flash. In the second, he played well defensively. In both games, he pulled down double-digit rebounds. He might be the best offensive big that’s currently eligible on the roster. Remember though, he’s still a freshman.
Projected rotation: Kruger has penciled in Hield, Cousins, Woodard, Ryan Spangler and D.J. Bennett as the team’s starters. Expect Lattin to be the first – and only – big off the bench with Dinjiyl Walker giving Woodard and occasional rest at point guard and Frank Booker as the primary wing scorer off the bench. If forward TaShawn Thomas is eligible, a lot can change.
Biggest question for the Sooners: Can Buddy Hield take his game to another level? Aside from the most obvious question of Thomas’ eligibility, Hield’s development will leave the biggest question mark in the Sooners’ locker room. Oklahoma will need more from Hield this year, especially after eligibility issues did a number on Oklahoma’s depth. Hield will have to put forth more than just 15 points per game if he wants to live up to his preseason All-Big 12 billing and lead the Sooners to their first NCAA Tournament victory since 2009.
Worst-case scenario: Thomas is ruled ineligible, and like last year, there’s no relief for Spangler, who is less and less effective as the season goes on. Hield struggles under the pressure and finishes third on the team in scoring – behind Woodard and Cousins. Oklahoma makes the tournament but as an eight seed and is bounced in the first round by upstart Dayton.
Best-case scenario: With Thomas healthy, the Sooners go 10 deep. Lattin becomes a contributor offensively off the bench, giving Oklahoma much needed interior offense and allowing Spangler to rest and not wear down late in the season. Hield averages two dozen points per game, and Cousins is efficient. Woodard is in the running for All-Big 12 point guard, and the Sooners make a run to the Elite Eight before losing in the last seconds to Duke.
Predicted finish: Oklahoma has a favorable non-conference schedule with plenty of good tests. There are a few bumps in the road in the non-conference season, and without Thomas early, Oklahoma doesn’t look like a contender in the Bahamas at the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament. But Thomas comes back and Oklahoma wins 11 straight, including an upset of Texas at home, before closing the season with a loss to Kansas. Oklahoma finishes 22-8 The Sooners early another five seed and make a run to the Sweet 16 before losing to one of the tournament’s top seeds.