Oklahoma Sooners open 2015-16 season with Memphis Tigers

OU faces a test inside in a rare road opener

Sooners Illustrated will present three things to watch before every men’s basketball game during the 2015-16 season.

No. 8 Oklahoma Sooners (0-0) at Memphis Tigers (1-0)

When: 4 p.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN/107.7 FM

Series: Memphis, 0-6

One last time

Three of Oklahoma’s longest-tenured players will open the season for the final time this afternoon. It’s a season that comes with high expectations for Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler.

“It’s big-time,” Spangler said. “We feel like we have some business we need to take care of this year that we haven’t in our career. It’ll be a big start to go to Memphis on the road in the first game and get a win and bring it back home.”

The trio helped Oklahoma to a 25-point to open the season last year against Southeastern Louisiana. In their first start as a complete unit along with point guard Jordan Woodard, Oklahoma beat Alabama, 82-73. The Sooners haven’t lost a season opener under Kruger.

The last time Oklahoma started the season with a loss was in 2002 – 68-62 against Alabama in a top-10 matchup. Oklahoma went to the Elite Eight that year.

A smaller Shaq

Oklahoma’s youthful front court will get an early test against Memphis, which failed to win 20 games last year for the first time since the 1999-2000 season and lost four of its final five games.

The Tigers have eight freshmen on the roster, but the biggest weapon is 6-foot-9, 231-pound Shaq Goodwin, who averaged 9.6 points and 7.1 rebounds last year. Oklahoma focused on Goodwin specifically for a brief time in their final home practice Monday before leaving for Memphis.

He’ll be a big test for Oklahoma bench forwards Dante Buford and Jamuni McNeace, who will both be playing in their first game Tuesday.

“It’ll show them,” Spangler said. “It’ll open their eyes and show them that you have to be smart and not get fouls but you have to be able to push him around a little bit and not let him get his way.”

Dedric and K.J. Lawson, freshman brothers who are both 6-foot-7, join Goodwin in the frontcourt.

Starting on the road

The last time Oklahoma went on the road for a season opener was 1982. The Sooners lost that game, 65-54, to UNLV.

Oklahoma has gone on the road just seven times since 1950 and last won a season-opening road game outside of the state of Oklahoma in 1968, although they’ve had a road opener just twice since then.

Much more recently, Spangler and Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger spoke about the positives of playing lesser competition at home to get in a groove, but Spangler said that “to be the best, you want to go and play some really good teams away.”

Kruger believes his team has the experience to be ready.

“Even though it’s a real tough opener on the road, we’ve got a veteran group,” Kruger said. “I think it’s helped us focus in practice, knowing that right off the bat we’ve got a really tough road game. We’ll see. It’ll be a tough one, we don’t mind when or where. We’ll have to play well to win. It’s not going to just happen.”

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