This is part one of a three part season preview for Oklahoma Sooners Men’s Basketball. Look for parts two and three, as well as constant coverage of Sooner basketball throughout the season here on isportsweb.com.
When Lon Kruger took the job as the head man of the Oklahoma Sooners basketball program, the chief objective was clear: rebuild. Kruger was no stranger to this notion; he had built a reputation off of well…building programs. Still, coming off of consecutive losing seasons and facing NCAA infractions, it was dubbed by many his toughest project yet. Certainly it wasn’t too daunting of a task for Kruger, the rebuilding wizard, but it appeared the process would require patience. Surprisingly, only one year later, it may have already reached fruition.
His inaugural season went about as well as expected for the situation he had entered. The Sooners finished with a 15-16 record, simply lacking the strength, depth and talent to stay on pace with the top tier Big 12 teams. There were however, a few bright spots in Kruger’s first year at the helm; a win on the road against a tournament-bound Kansas State team, as well as several close games against stiff competition. All shedding some light on an otherwise mediocre season. The team proved it was maybe just one or two extra bodies in the rotation away from getting over the hump. So Kruger went out and found them.
He quietly assembled a solid group of newcomers in hope that some fresh blood could be just what his team needed to get back to relevance. His 2012 recruiting class may lack the star-power of the Kentucky’s and UCLA’s of the college basketball kingdom, but it is certainly not devoid of talent. With two players ranked nationally (Buddy Hield and Jelon Hornbeak), this class looks to provide the depth the Sooners didn’t have last season, but that’s not the only reason that Kruger has this team poised for a resurgence.
If there’s a popular adage in college basketball, it’s that experience wins. The Sooners certainly fit that bill returning all five starters (four seniors and one junior) from last season including Steven Pledger (16.2 PPG) and Romero Osby (12.9 PPG 7.3 RPG), both of whom were voted preseason Big 12 honorable mention. That senior talent should prove very beneficial, particularly in closing out games, something the young, inexperienced Sooners struggled with in Kruger’s first season. A year with Kruger’s system under their belt shouldn’t hurt either. With the returning talent and the new additions to the roster, the team is already looking at a substantial amelioration, but perhaps what could have the biggest impact on the Sooners success is a guy who observed from the bench all of last season.
Amath M’Baye was said to be the most talented player on the Sooner roster last season, but was sidelined due to NCAA rules after transferring from Wyoming. The versatile 6-foot-9 forward quickly became the talk of the town, receiving rave reviews in practice from onlookers. After attending the Adidas Nations Camp as a counselor over the summer, M’Baye was called the “biggest surprise” by nbadraft.net, and is currently projected as a second-round draft pick by the website. As if that wasn’t enough, M’Baye earned Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors this preseason, adding to an already growing list of accolades.
If M’Baye is able to live up to the hype, he could be just what the Sooners need to propel them back into the tournament. It won’t however, come without difficulty.
There are still many questions surrounding the team as the season approaches.
Will the freshmen really be able to provide an immediate impact? Will Cameron Clark finally live up to his potential? Is M’Baye really the missing piece? Can the new and old talent mix to form a cohesive unit?
Not to mention, the Big 12 is one of the, if not the, deepest conference in college basketball this season. Nobody dares doubt the Kansas Jayhawks, who have won eight consecutive league titles, but spots 2-8 could fall in any order. Coming in under the radar, the Sooners were picked to finish 7th by the league’s coaches, but certainly have potential to finish higher. Nonetheless, in a league seemingly oozing with potential tourney teams, it’s going to be an uphill battle, especially for a team with something to prove like Oklahoma.
However, everything certainly points to a comeback season for Kruger and the Sooners.
With the seasoned veterans returning, and new weapons added to the arsenal the outlook is a positive one. The team should aim for a tournament bid after three years of absence from the dance. No one expected this huge of a turnaround in such a short amount of time, but Sooner fans certainly have something to look forward to this season. Basketball is finally back in Norman.
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