OU's biggest NCAA question

Sooners have to find bench production for a deep run in the tournament

The biggest question facing Oklahoma on the eve of the NCAA Tournament is the same puzzle the Sooners’ faced at the start of the regular season.

It obviously still hasn’t been solved.

Oklahoma has a starting five that could rival any in the country – maybe other than Kentucky. What the Sooners are missing is an elite player or consistent scorer coming off the bench.

“We’re going to need that down the stretch,” high-scoring guard Buddy Hield said after a strong performance by the bench against Texas. “Every game we play now.”

No. 3 Oklahoma (22-10) will need a bigger presence off the bench. The Sooners got just two points from their bench in Kansas City – and only had a combined 63 minutes in two games. The points were almost by accident, as freshman forward Khadeem Lattin’s seemed to have to real intention of scoring on his tip-in against Iowa State.

During the last five games, Oklahoma’s bench has produced just 25 points. If not for 3-point specialist Frank Booker, the Sooners’ bench would have just nine points.

Without Booker, Oklahoma’s bench has just 28 points in the final nine games.

The Sooners will need more than that – much more than that.

Here’s a quick look at the four key members of the Oklahoma bench:

Dinjiyl Walker - Brought in to potentially be a back-up point guard, Walker never developed beyond a shooting guard. He has struggled to score much of the season, surpassing 10 points only once and never playing more than 20 minutes in a game. He hasn’t scored in the past five games and has attempted no more than two shots in each of those games – playing at least 10 minutes only once.

Frank Booker - Marred by a back injury and a string of academic issues, Booker’s play has been inconsistent. He closed the season with the best performances of the season, though. He was averaging just less than nine points per game in the final seven games before going scoreless in the Big 12 Tournament. Booker didn’t play in the first half against Oklahoma State because of academic issues and hasn’t made a shot in three of the Sooners past four games.

Khadeem Lattin - It was never going to be Lattin’s job to score this season – only rebound, run the court and block shots. Still, seven scoreless games in the final nine – and only six total points – isn’t exactly the scoring output the Sooners needed. Lattin has hit just two shots since Feb. 7, but he is averaging a block every 10 games minutes and a rebound every three minutes and 20 seconds.

D.J. Bennett - Passed up by Lattin, the former transfer has been lost in the depth chart. Since Jan. 24, Bennett has nine points, nine rebounds and eight personal fouls. He didn’t play in five of the Sooners’ final 12 games, playing more than six minutes only once during that stretch.

Oklahoma will need a bigger bench for the Sooners to make a run. It’s that simple.

“We’ve got to find somebody to spark us and get us going, come with high energy and be ready,” Hield said about breaking the bad luck of back-to-back first-round losses in the NCAA Tournament.

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories