Oklahoma Sooners have freshmen and interior rotation fueling a stout defense

Sooners Illustrated examines three key points as Oklahoma prepares for its next matchup.

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

Central Arkansas (1-5) at No. 6 Oklahoma (4-0)

When: 7 p.m.

TV/Radio: SSTV/107.7 FM

Series: Oklahoma, 1-0

Piecing together the freshman puzzle

In the season opener against Memphis, forward Dante Buford saw extended minutes. Last weekend against Wisconsin, it was Rashard Odomes who got extra minutes at power forward. Buford has started working back on the win a little bit, and fellow freshman Christian James has worked at both wing spots.

It’s a mix-and-match sort of game for the Sooners’ first-year players.

“That’ll happen for a while,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “It’s who’s comfortable and who’s getting results. It gets to the point in the season where early on you play everyone as much as you can, but at some point, you’re playing based on production.”

Odomes, James and Buford have seen time – or will see time – at different spots in Oklahoma’s rotation. It’s a good way to get some early-season playing time on a team with four seniors and the quartet of three-year starters.

Odomes had played power forward only briefly in high school but laughed when asked if playing the position in college was the same. He’s comfortable in that spot though as he continues to learn the schemes.

“Coach Kruger really knows what he’s doing,” Odomes said. “He knows what’s best for me. He feels like I’m real versatile where we can put me at the 4 or the 3 and I will be successful at either spot.”

Stepping up the defense

It might be hard to imagine Oklahoma improving on its field goal defense from last year, when the Sooners ranked 11th in the nation and posted the best mark since the 1960-61 season. Oklahoma held its opponents to just 38.6 percent from the field.

This year though, Oklahoma ranks first in the country through the first four games of the season. Sooners’ opponents are shooting 31.4 percent from the field.

“The biggest thing is making sure every possession we think about it,” Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler said. “Last year, we were pretty good on the defensive end but not as good as this year. . . . This year, we’ve let a couple possession slip but mostly we’re thinking for the most part about what the offense is going to do to us and which each guy likes to do. We’re taking that away.”

Oklahoma is also holding opponents to 23.2 percent from behind the 3-point arc – sixth in the nation – and 34.8 in defensive rebounds per game, which is second in the country. The Sooners have allowed just 41 second-chance points this season.

A new way to find points in the paint

Oklahoma has scored 159 points in the paint through three games this season, never scoring fewer than 34. That’s 48 percent of the Sooners’ total points.

But it’s not the traditional way. Kruger knows that the traditional post player is becoming a thing of the past.

“Very few people just score in the paint with the back to the bucket, post-up,” he said. “Most of it is driving and kick, offensive board. That’s definitely the way the game has gone.”

Oklahoma has a plethora of dribble-drive scorers, but Spangler remains its lone back-to-the-basket post threat. Although, even he’s developed an outside shot – making four 3-pointers this season after just 13 in the last two years combined.

Being able to throw the ball inside late is still a commodity Oklahoma wants to possess.

“You’d love that,” said Kruger, who called this group of post players the best he’s had at Oklahoma. “. . . That’s nice to have, whether it be scoring or getting to the foul line.”

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