OU starters breakdown

Here's a look at the Sooners' starting 5 on the eve of Big 12 play

Here is a quick look at each of the five starters for Oklahoma:

TaShawn Thomas

Non-conference grade: A-. It took a little while for Thomas to get going and get acclimated to the Sooners’ attack, but once he did, he changed it. With Thomas, Oklahoma values its possessions and works the ball inside. Oklahoma isn’t playing better defense because it wants to, it’s playing better defense because of Thomas. Ok, maybe a little because they want to.

What changes in conference play: Most likely? Thomas becomes even more involved, and he might even end the season as Oklahoma’s top scorer in Big 12 play. Right now, he’s only five points per game behind Hield without scoring much of anything through the first half of the non-conference schedule. With each game, Thomas should become more of an emphasis in the Sooners’ offense.

Biggest individual question: How will he fair against athletic big men? Thomas has gone to work on big, unathletic guys as well as smaller forwards who can partial match his athleticism. He isn’t a giant inside, and this is the best competition he will have consistently faced his entire career.

Level of importance to Oklahoma (1 to 10): 9. No player in the starting lineup is completely irreplaceable because of the new balance that the Sooners have found. Thomas is as close as it gets, though. His ability to play on both ends of the court makes him the best big on the team.

Ryan Spangler

Non-conference grade:B+. And that might be just because his rebounding totals are down thanks to having Thomas in the lineup. Spangler showed the next level in his game – shooting just under 50 percent from behind the 3-point arc. Oklahoma goes four deep up front, allowing Spangler to conserve more energy. His numbers are down a bit, but his effectiveness is as high as ever.

What changes in conference play: Nothing ever seems to change with Spangler. He rebounds and he plays defense – both better than most. His point totals might dip because conference teams aren’t going to be afraid to challenge him.

Biggest individual question: Can he maintain an offensive rhythm? Some of Oklahoma’s toughest games have been Spangler’s worst offensive outputs. That doesn’t mean a lot, but if Spangler can be an offensive threat in conference play, it rounds out the Sooners.

Level of importance to Oklahoma: 6. That’s just his all-around game. What Spangler does on the boards is incredible, and Oklahoma can’t lose that.

Buddy Hield

Non-conference grade:B-. I’ve found out that Hield never scores quietly. He’s still the top scorer on the team, but he battled through a shooting slump midway through the non-conference season and hasn’t been as dominant – consistently – as he’s needed to be. When he scores a lot, he shoots a lot.

What changes in conference play: If Hield wants to make the jump to the next level after this season, he has to prove it now. Right now, he doesn’t look like a first-round pick, and there’s no sense in going to the NBA if he’s not one. It’s really up to Hield how different he wants to be.

Biggest individual question: Can he continue to defend the way he has been? Hield’s defense, although not impenetrable, has been good. He’s not the best defender on the court, but his secondary defense and focus in the rotation has been there. The biggest question for a top scorer is always what he does on the other end.

Level of importance to Oklahoma: 7, which is much lower than most would have thought before the season. He’s not the only scorer on the team and is hardly the best guard in the back court. He’s still the only player who can take a game over with a simple switch.

Isaiah Cousins

Non-conference grade: A-. Cousins has always brought the goods on defense, but he looks so much better with his team playing defense behind him. On offense, he has been remarkably consistent. He has scored in double figures in five of the past six games and shot at least 40 percent in all but one.

Biggest individual question: Is he still willing to go inside? Oklahoma doesn’t have many players who can put the ball on the ground and score around the basket. Woodard is a pass-first driver who absorbs contact, but Cousins is the team’s slasher. It will be tougher sledding in conference play, so he’ll need to be willing and able to bang.

What changes in conference play: There will be stretches when Cousins’ disappears. Going through Big 12 play in a more significant role than last season could have an effect on him. He’ll still finish the season with a double figure average, but there’s a chance he’ll hide on the stat sheet for a game or two.

Level of importance to Oklahoma: 7. Cousins has started doing all the little things for Oklahoma, including stepping in at point guard occasionally when Woodard needs to be spelled.

Jordan Woodard

Non-conference grade:B. It’s trending up, too. Woodard didn’t have a good early conference season, and it’s tough to pinpoint why. He didn’t run the team the way he would have wanted, but now, he’s settling in to his role.

What changes in conference play:Woodard keeps getting better. He’ll chip in a few double-digit assist games against some of the lower competition, but he’ll need to be a leveling point for Oklahoma when it faces challenges.

Biggest individual question: Can he protect the ball like he has in the past? Woodard was one of the best point guards in the conference last year and maybe even top 30 in the country. During the first part of the season, he had a 1.3 assist-to-turnover ratio. Through the last five games, it’s at 4.8. Which Woodard does OU get in league play?

Level of importance to Oklahoma:8. There’s just not much point guard depth behind Woodard. Dinjiyl Walker can do it, but he’s not a natural one. Cousins has stepped in on occasion, which is not a knock on Walker, but more because someone has to do it. Woodard isn’t the most valuable on the court, but he’s probably the biggest loss if he goes off of it.

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