Hoops: The Good and the Bad

The Sooners struggled off to a 2-3 start but have since won five in a row to make it to 7-3 going into final couple weeks of their nonconference slate. Ther are reasons to be encouraged and discouraged from what we have seen from the young Sooner squad.

This is the first part of a two-part series detailing the progress of the Sooners in the nonconference and the reasons why it has or hasn't been a good start.

First, we'll include why it hasn't been a good nonconference start followed by why it has in the second part.

Three reasons why nonconference play has been discouraging:

3. Weak inside presence
The Sooners haven't developed much of an inside presence in their first 10 games of the year. Freshman forward Tiny Gallon has been the one real bright spot in the paint, as he started nine of the 10 games and is averaging just less than a double-double at 11.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. But he is the only post averaging those types of numbers. Senior Ryan Wright has provided only 3.3 points and 3.7 boards per game, averaging 18 minutes of playing time per game. And freshman forward Andrew Fitzgerald and junior Orlando Allen have played limited minutes and haven't produced a whole lot.

2. Right now OU would be a bubble team
With a mediocre start, call it a poor start in their first five, the Sooners are squarely sitting on the bubble, at best. After starting the season inside the Top 20, OU dropped a few games it shouldn't have, and now they aren't receiving votes in either of the two major polls, the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Polls. While OU has looked better over its recent five game winning streak, it would be hard to argue that the Sooners should be in the tournament as of today.

1. Sooners looked dreadful in three of their four contests away from home
OU was down double digits for majority of the game at head coach Jeff Capel's former school, Virginia Commonwealth, and it dropped that one in an 82-69 decision. Then, the Sooners played ugly in losses in the Great Alaska Shootout to San Diego (76-64) and Houston (100-93) , both of which obviously were played on a neutral floor, but they struggled away from home, nonetheless. OU rebounded last weekend with a 78-73 overtime win at Utah, but besides that, the Sooners have left their game at home in road contests, something that could be concerning come conference play.

In the previous part, Sooners Illustrated detailed the three reasons why OU's 7-3 start, during which the Sooners dropped three of their first five before rolling off the past five, was actually a discouraging beginning to the 2009-10 campaign.

Now it's time for the three reasons why there is some upside to the first 10 games of the Sooner season.

Three reasons why nonconference play has been encouraging:

3. The guard play has been solid
Preseason National Player of the Year, sophomore guard Willie Warren hasn't been quite as electric as most expected he would be throughout the entire year, but he has still been solid. Warren is averaging just less than 20 points per game and right at five assists per game. He was spectacular in the Sooners' latest game, a 27-point, eight rebound outing in which he willed OU to victory. Senior Tony Crocker has played well also, averaging 13.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, including a career-high 16 rebounds in a game against Arkansas. Junior Cade Davis has been effectively defensively, and freshmen guards Steven Pledger and Tommy Mason-Griffin have produced as well.

2. OU finally proved it can win a big road game
There's a lot to say for this one. On one hand, it can be argued that the Sooners lost three games away from home they should have won, one of which was in a tough environment and two on a neutral court. But on the other hand, the Sooners probably won the toughest of those four games away from the Lloyd Noble Center, when they took care of Utah the other night in Salt Lake City. OU had every chance to lose that game and, like winning teams, found a way to pull out a victory in overtime. This is certainly encouraging that they can win a game in a challenging atmosphere of this caliber.

1. The youth is starting to come of age
If the Sooners are to make it where they want to be, the crop of youth must produce. And it is showing signs of starting to do just that. Mason-Griffin grew up a lot at the end of that Utah game, when he missed a huge free throw in regulation and came back to ice it with several huge makes from the charity stripe in OT. Pledger has shown the ability to hit big shots. And freshman forward Tiny Gallon's presence in the post has been evident, as he is averaging 11.9 points per game and 9.4 rebounds, stats the Sooners will need him to continue to provide in order to have a successful conference run.

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