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.