Earlier this month, the Big 12 released it’s preseason men’s basketball coaches poll tagging the Jayhawks to once again win the conference for the 11th straight season. Kansas received 6 first place votes among the league coaches, with Texas picked second (3 first place votes), and Oklahoma third (1 first place vote).
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Although both very talented; Kansas has lost over 50 percent of it’s production in most every statistical category from a year ago, and although a very strong defensive team, Texas needs to improve on the offensive end finishing in the bottom third in points (71.8), field goal percentage (42 percent) and 3-point field goal percentage (30 percent). Long story short, the Oklahoma Sooners, along with a handful of others have a punchers change of keeping the Jayhawks from winning an 11th consecutive conference title.
The Sooners finished last season 23-10 overall (12-6 in the Big 12) finishing in second place in the conference. They return four starters from last seasons team which averaged 79 points per game (second in the league), including junior Buddy Hield, who averaged 17.5 points per contest and the leagues’ leading rebounder in junior Ryan Spangler (9.3 per game).
Lon Kruger is entering his fourth year at Oklahoma which historically has been a great year when at other programs compiling a combined 115-49 record.
Hield, named to the preseason All-Big 12 team, is a former 4-star recruit and top 20 shooting guard coming out of high school, will be entering his junior season after a strong sophomore campaign that resulted in being named to the second team All-Big 12 starting all 33 games and ranked second in the league with 1.4 steals per game and shot an outstanding 43 percent from 3-point distance during conference play.
Spangler was once the Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year and Parade All-American coming out of high school before initially signing and spending his freshmen year at Gonzaga before transferring back home before the 2012-13 season. Last year as a sophomore, he shot a team high 58 percent from the field and had 10 double-doubles. Including a six-game stretch of averaging 13.2 points and 13.5 rebounds (January 11-27th).
The Sooner signed four freshmen this year and added junior college transfer Dinjiyl Walker from Iowa Western Community College, and University of Houston senior transfer TaShawn Thomas. Thomas (6-foot-8 inches and 240 pounds) lead Houston in scoring and rebounding last season and is required to sit out this season due to NCAA rules, but Oklahoma has filed an appeal hoping to get him eligible this season.
If Thomas is cleared, the Sooners would instantly add another scorer down low who shot 59 percent from the field and averaged 15.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.7 blocks a year ago. This combined with what they have returning and an already potent offense which finished second in the league a year ago could spell trouble for other Big 12 teams. As of last week, Sooners coach Lon Kruger said a decision has not yet been made by the NCAA on the appeal.
Feb 22, 2014; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners forward Ryan Spangler (00) handles the ball against Kansas State Wildcats forward Thomas Gipson (42) during the second half at Lloyd Noble Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
The Sooners will be tested early this season with a November 19th trip to Omaha to play Creighton, as well as participating in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament over Thanksgiving playing UCLA, and the winner of Butler or North Carolina. And a familiar foe will travel to Norman, Oklahoma, in Missouri on Friday December 5th.
Therefore, Lon Kruger’s squad should be well tested come January 3rd and their first conference game hosting Baylor. Interesting enough, the last conference game of the season will be hosting Kansas. Depending on how the conference shakes out, this could very well be for the Big 12 regular season championship.
About the head coach
Lon Kruger is a future Hall of Fame coach with over 500 collegiate wins and the only Division 1 coach to ever take 5 different schools to the NCAA Tournament. He is entering his 4th year at Oklahoma which historically has been a great year when at other programs compiling a combined 115-49 record; UNLV (27-8 NCAA 2nd round), Illinois (22-10 NCAA 2nd round), Florida (29-8 NCAA Final Four), Kansas State (17-15 NCAA first round) and University of Texas Pan-American (20-8). History has a tendency to repeat itself, and with the talent returning and a future NBA player in Thomas potentially joining last years cast – Oklahoma fans should be excited for the season to begin.