Sooners Illustrated counts down the men's basketball program

From Akolda Manyang to zero, Oklahoma Sooners preview one letter at a time.


Akolda Manyang – The Sooners need the big man to be a game-changer if they want to fully accomplish their goals: 7-feet and even longer fingertip-to-fingertip is a great weapon to have.


Buddy Hield – No doubt the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year needs to be a big part of Oklahoma’s offense and defense. He’s looking for the best season of his career and nothing less.


– Coach Lon Kruger – Helping Oklahoma to its first NCAA Tournament win since 2009 last season, Kruger has seen a marked improvement in his first four years. Kruger was the Big 12 Coach of the Year last season and is the only coach to lead five schools to an NCAA Tournament win and the only coach with a Sweet 16 appearance at four schools.


– Defense – One year after having one of the worst defenses in the country, Oklahoma finished 11th nationally with a 38.6 percent field goal mark. It was the lowest percentage allowed since the 1959-60 season.


– Experience – From last year’s roster, Oklahoma returns 75 percent of its scoring, 69 percent of its rebounding and 83 percent of its assists. Four players in its starting lineup are in their third year as starters.


– Freedom of movement – The new NCAA rules will pay huge dividends for Oklahoma, a team that loves to attack the basket. Already having been fouled nearly 50 times in the exhibition season, Oklahoma will spend a lot of time at the free-throw line.


– Guard play – Simply put, it’s the most important fact for Oklahoma, which has to get great movement and shooting all season.


– Hawaii – By the time the Sooners come back from a little Christmas vacation, we’ll know a lot more about them. Oklahoma’s most likely opponents in the Diamond Head Classic? Washington State, Northern Iowa and BYU.


– Inside offense – Oklahoma has to find an interior attack somewhere. It will be able to go without for much of the season, but someone has to replace TaShawn Thomas, who was the Big 12 Newcomer of the year after averaging 11.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. From the looks of things, it’ll be everybody.


– Jordan Woodard – If there was a perfect time for Woodard to take his game to another level, this is the season. After this year, Oklahoma goes into a bit of a re-building mode. All of the weapons around Woodard are at their best. He has to be at his a year early.


– Kansas Jayhawks – The big dog in the Big 12. If there’s one team Oklahoma would love to sweep, it’s the Jayhawks.


– Lloyd Noble Center – It turned into quite a home-court advantage with a nearly revived student section. Oklahoma will need it to be a big one again this year if the Sooners are going to challenge for the Big 12 regular season title.


– March Madness – This is the goal, but Oklahoma has its sights set on a high seed in the NCAA Tournament and preferably one that comes with being the Big 12 regular season champion. Everything that Oklahoma can prove this year depends on March.


– New Year – By the time 2016 hits, Oklahoma will have to be playing its best basketball of the season. In three days, the Sooners face Iowa State and Kansas then get Iowa State again two weeks later. OU needs its New Year’s resolutions in place.


– Oklahoma City – That’s step one of the goal this year. OKC will host first- and second-round games this season in the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners are aiming for a top three seed and semi-home court advantage early.


– Pick-and-roll – There wasn’t a ton of pick-and-roll in Oklahoma’s offense last year, but with the make-up of the frontcourt, there should be more this season. Khadeem Lattin, Dante Buford and even Ryan Spangler all have the ability to knock down an open shot or finish around the rim. The Sooners will add some of this NBA-style offense with a little pick-and-pop thrown in too.


– Question mark? – Can Oklahoma survive with a lineup at looks to only have one true big at times? The Sooners will more often than not go with the group that looks more like two seasons ago than last year’s Sweet 16 team. It’s not a bad thing though. College basketball has turned away from a two-big lineup – for the most part.


– Rotation – Eventually, who comes off the bench when will be key, but right now, Kruger is still trying to figure it out. More than a set rhythm, Kruger will likely play hunches this year. He’ll ride the hot-hand of a bench that could be seven players deep.


 Spangler, Ryan – Alright, that broke the rules a little bit. Spangler will be important for Oklahoma. He has to develop a little offensive game and has thus far shown that he might be.


– Three-pointer – Oklahoma returns the Big 12 leader in 3-point percentage (Cousins) and 3-pointers made (Hield). It’s not going away.


– Up-tempo – More depth equals a chance for Oklahoma to get out in the open court even more. A really good defense spurred the tempo last year, but Oklahoma will try to crank it up even higher on occasion.


Villanova Wildcats – Look, this is going to be the single best backcourt battle in the nation this season. It’ll be a fun one to watch. If Oklahoma can run with Villanova, it’ll be a good sign for the Sooners – win or lose.


Wisconsin Badgers – Oklahoma’s first test of the season comes just after Thanksgiving, although the Wisconsin is an unknown after losing two players to the NBA Draft. Nigel Hayes will be the best player OU sees in the non-conference season.


– X-Factor – What kept Oklahoma from the Big 12 title last year was its play on the road – losing to Kansas State, Baylor, Kansas, Iowa State and West Virginia away from home. The Sooners had a losing record away from the LNC. With a lot of youth in the rotation, how Oklahoma handles a tough environment could be a tipping point. They’ll face Villanova and Memphis away from home, then go on the road to Kansas early.


– Youth – Oklahoma potentially has 11 players in its rotation. Only four of those players have more than 405 minutes played, which is only 10 full games. There’s a lot for this group, which includes five rotation players who haven't played a game, to learn.


– Zero – The number of in-season starting lineup changes for Oklahoma during the past two years combined. The Sooners are the only team in the country with that mark, although that’ll probably change this year.

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories