Buddy Hield and Ryan Spangler made sure to punctuate their blowout win over intrastate rival Oklahoma State on Saturday:
While seniors TaShawn Thomas and Ryan Spangler lead the way for No. 16 Oklahoma in the front court, 6-foot-9 freshman forward Khadeem Lattin is one of two interior players (D.J. Bennett being the other) who are called upon to give either of those two starters a break on occasion. In the Sooners’ 87-68 win at Tulsa Saturday, Lattin chipped in with five points and four rebounds in 11 minutes of action.
Unfortunately for Lattin, he also suffered a right knee injury in the second half of Saturday’s game. The good news is that he returned to the Oklahoma bench shortly thereafter, and according to Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman the injury isn’t thought to be a serious one.
But a few minutes after Lattin was helped to the locker room, he returned to the bench smiling and conversing freely with his teammates while he wore an ice pack.
“They’re checking his knee out a little bit further now but the trainer, Alex (Brown), said he could’ve gone back out there in the second half if we got to that position so that was encouraging news,” OU coach Lon Kruger said.
As a result of Lattin’s injury C.J. Cole played a season-high six minutes Saturday, as Spangler was saddled with foul trouble. What helped Oklahoma win by such a comfortable margin was the play of Thomas, who produced his best game in a Sooner uniform.
Thomas, whose season-high prior to Saturday was 14 points in a loss at Creighton, scored 25 points and grabbed five rebounds in 34 minutes of action.
Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 15 Oklahoma.
Head Coach: Lon Kruger
Last Season: 23-10, 12-6 Big 12 (2nd), lost in the opening round to North Dakota State
Key Losses: Cameron Clark, Je’Lon Hornbeak
Newcomers: TaShawn Thomas (transfer*), Khadeem Lattin, Dante Buford, Jamuni McNeace, Dinjiyl Walker, Bola Alade
– G: Jordan Woodard, So.
– G: Buddy Hield, Jr.
– F: Isaiah Cousins, Jr.
– F: D.J. Bennett, Sr.
– C: Ryan Spangler, Jr.
– Bench: TaShawn Thomas, Sr.*; Frank Booker, So.; Khadeem Lattin, Fr.; Dante Buford, Fr.; Jamuni McNeace, Fr.; Dinjiyl Walker, Jr.; Bola Alade, Fr.
They’ll be good because … : Lon Kruger has managed to assemble one of the best back courts in the Big 12, if not the country, and the star of the show will be one of the nation’s most underrated talents in Buddy Hield. A 6-foot-4 wing and native Bahamian, Hield was as improved as anyone in the conference as a sophomore, doubling his scoring output to 16.4 points, which was in large part a result of his much-improved consistency from beyond the arc. Hield developed a reputation for being an excellent defender and a hard-worker as a freshman.
While Hield was overshadowed by the incredible amount of individual talent that was in the league last season, his improvement also hid the fact that the rest of the Sooner back court was thriving. Jordan Woodard came in as a freshman and supplanted Je’Lon Hornbeak as the starting point guard. Isaiah Cousins also turned in an impressive sophomore season, becoming the third-leading scorer on the Sooners.
That trio will be able to match up with any perimeter attack in the country.
But they might disappoint because … : Oklahoma is a very, very young team, which is a good thing when it comes to their starting lineup. Hield, Woodard and Cousins all have at least one more season of eligibility remaining, yet have all played significant minutes for the Sooners since setting foot on campus. Throw in center Ryan Spangler, a double-double machine and a junior, and Oklahoma’s four best players have that ideal combination of youth and experience.
But beyond that, the Sooners are extremely young, and that’s before you factor in TaShawn Thomas (more on him in a second). The way things currently stand, sophomore guard Frank Booker will be the only reserve that saw meaningful minutes last season, and only one of Oklahoma’s newcomers is expected to be difference-makers immediately. That would be Thomas, a 6-foot-8 power forward that transferred to Oklahoma from Houston, but the problem is that Thomas has not yet been cleared to play this season. He spent three years at Houston before leaving and is waiting on word on whether or not the NCAA will be granting him a waiver.
If he does get a waiver, Thomas will become an immediate starter for the Sooners and, in all likelihood, a double-figure scorer.
Outlook: The way the power structure in the Big 12 is set up this season, there are five teams that appear to clearly be head and shoulders above the rest of the league. Now, I would be fired on the spot if I picked someone other than Kansas to win the league; that’s just how it works with Bill Self these days. But those other four really good teams — Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma and Iowa State — are more or less a crapshoot. Anyone of them could theoretically win the league, and anyone of them could end up finishing fifth in the regular season, if not lower.
What that means is that Oklahoma could win the conference, particularly if Thomas gets his waiver to play this season. They could also find themselves finishing below a Baylor or Oklahoma State if things don’t go their way. The Big 12 is that tight at the top. What I’m sure of, however, is that this is a team capable of playing into the NCAA tournament’s second weekend. Another opening round tournament exit would be a massive disappointment.
In road losses to Iowa State and West Virginia offense proved to be an issue for No. 21 Oklahoma despite the fact that they scored 75 points against the Cyclones and 86 against the Mountaineers. In both games the Sooners, a team with multiple scoring options, shot 40.6% from the field and they struggled from beyond the arc as well.
Against Iowa State, Oklahoma shot 8-for-26 from beyond the arc and they were even worse against West Virginia as they made just five of their 19 attempts in the overtime loss. So the task against a struggling Baylor team was simple: make more shots. And against a team currently ranked seventh in the Big 12 in defensive efficiency and ninth in field goal percentage defense (conference games only), the Sooners got back on the right track.
Oklahoma shot 53% from the field and made 14 of its 29 shots from beyond the arc and committed just eight turnovers, beating the Bears 88-72 in Norman. Isaiah Cousins led three Sooners in double figures with 21 points to go along with seven rebounds, and Oklahoma got many of the looks it wanted against the Bears. Buddy Hield, who started off the game red-hot, finished with 19 points and Cameron Clark added 16 for Lon Kruger’s team.
Obviously offense will be a key for Oklahoma moving forward, and with options such as Clark, Cousins, Hield and Jordan Woodard the Sooners have the talent needed to go basket for basket with many teams. But there’s another player whose importance should not be understated, and he didn’t score a single point against Baylor. That would be power forward Ryan Spangler, who is the one interior player who can match up with some of the more physical big men of the Big 12.
Spangler, a transfer from Gonzaga, entered Saturday averaging 11.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per contest and accounted for six rebounds and five assists against Baylor. The failure to score is an outlier for Spangler, who’s posted nine double-doubles this season. And if Oklahoma is to be successful in March Spangler will have to be effective inside, especially when considering the desire to use Clark at the four and thereby force opposing fours to match up on the perimeter.
While he didn’t score against Baylor, Spangler was solid defensively against Cory Jefferson (eight points, four rebounds). Oklahoma snapped out its two-game offensive funk on Saturday evening and that’s certainly a positive moving forward. But the way in which they deal with teams that possess physical front court talent will also be important.