Syracuse, N.Y. – With Oklahoma’s season in the books, the eyes immediately turn to the 2015-16 season, when the Sooners could be poised for an even bigger run if a few things fall their way.
The biggest question posed to Oklahoma revolves around junior guard Buddy Hield’s future with the team: Will he stay or will he go?
Hield has no direct timeline to make a decision, but coach Lon Kruger has said all along that Hield will look into his options.
If Hield comes back, the Sooners will yet again return four members of the starting lineup and likely will start next season with three seniors and two juniors in the starting five – with all five players having started the past two seasons each.
“What this group did moving forward is really exciting: How genuine they are, how hard they work, how much they like each other,” Kruger said after Oklahoma’s loss to Michigan State. “Those are all the things you’re looking for in a group. You’ve got it in this group. We’ve got the pieces. We’ll be a year older next year. I like this group a lot.”
Here’s a look at what Oklahoma won’t be returning and what the Sooners lineup could look like next season:
Who OU loses:
TaShawn Thomas - 11.6 pts, 6.5 rebs
Thomas was the perfect fit for Oklahoma in his last and only year with the Sooners. He provided Oklahoma with its first real consistent scoring threat inside since Lon Kruger took over as coach four years ago. Even in his final year of collegiate basketball, Thomas developed on the offensive end – taking his aggression and assertiveness to another level.
D.J. Bennett - 1.9 pts, 1.7 rebs
Playing his best basketball in his final games with the Sooners, Bennett spent two years at Oklahoma after transferring from Indian Hills Community College. Bennett was the first forward off the bench early in this season and provided solid help-side defense for the Sooners’ second unit.
A walk-on all four years at Oklahoma, Fraschilla never played much for the Sooners but was an emotional leader in the locker room. His presence – and his trick-shot videos – will be missed far more than his game.
Who OU returns:
Projected starting lineup
PG, Jordan Woodard, Jr. - 9.3. pts, 3.8 assts
Mired in an early season slump, Woodard transformed himself late in the season. While Woodard was still uncomfortable under pressure at times, he showed great potential with his play. Woodard’s junior year could be a very special one.
SG, Isaiah Cousins, Sr. - 11.7 pts, 4.6 rebs
If anyone was allergic to big games, it was Cousins, who couldn’t find consistency on the big stage. While he was far better this year than as a sophomore, Cousins still can take that next step when it comes to being a scorer – and next year he should.
SF, Buddy Hield, Sr. - 17.4 pts, 5.4 rebs
Hield was a big-time scorer, even if he didn’t play like it in the final two to four weeks of the season. He’s a dominant scorer in the college level, and in his final year with the Sooners, expect Hield to develop in all the other phases of his game – ball-handling, defending and overall focus.
PF, Ryan Spangler, Sr. - 9.7 pts, 8.2 rebs
If there is one part of Spangler’s game that could improve next season, it’s his effectiveness inside offensively. Oklahoma will need it because he’ll likely be the most refined option in the low post. If he can put up a 10-10 average year, there’s not much else to ask for from the Oklahoma-born product.
C, Akolda Manyang, Jr.
Manyang steps into the starting lineup on Day 1, although he might not keep it by the end of the season, and is an immediate game-changer on defense for the Sooners. It’s been a while since Oklahoma had a 7-footer with Manyang’s shot-blocking ability. He’ll be a project on offense, but his defense will shine.
Frank Booker, G - If Booker can stay healthy and develop a little in the off-season, he will be a talented force off the bench for Oklahoma – capable of averaging up to eight points per game
Dinjiyl Walker, G - This will be a proving offseason for Walker because in his first year with the Sooners, he couldn’t find a place. He’d be best suited as the direct back-up point guard, but his skills might not lend to that role.
Christian James, G - Coming off a serious leg injury, there’s a good chance that James catches a redshirt. Physical for a wing, James could be a solid rotation player very soon.
Rashard Odomes, G/F - A gifted high school scorer that averaged more than 25 points and shot better than 50 percent from behind the arc, Odomes will likely play right away. With his 6-foot-6 frame, he could be a dangerous spot-up shooter.
Dante Buford, G/F - After a forced year removed from the team, Buford could be an immediate force for Oklahoma. Considered before his academic issues this season to be an immediate rotation player, a redshirt year will make Buford a potential star off the bench and likely starter for Hield two years from now. It’s not hard to see him averaging double digits off the bench.
Khadeem Lattin, F - A real special talent, Lattin thrived off the bench while still learning how to play at the collegiate level. He could be in the starting lineup as soon as Big 12 Conference season, but another full year off the bench will likely make him a stand-out, two-year starter in the future.
Jamuni McNeace, F - On muscle mass and physical size, McNeace is the second biggest forward on the Sooners’ roster behind Spangler. He’ll play a role similar to Bennett’s this season – spot duty more often than not. As a junior, McNeace could be a starter. As long as he continues his exponentially rate of improvement.