Oklahoma's men's basketball team has concluded their two exhibition games and is now set to tip off the season Friday night against Idaho State thus officially ushering the Lon Kruger era. The level of competition for OU won't actually escalate until the end of the month when the Sooners travel to Anaheim to play in the 76 classic against the likes of Washington State, Boston College, Villanova and New Mexico. Until then we'll see a bunch of roster experiments and on the fly learning of offensive and defensive schemes and adjustments in game situations.
While the true identity of this team isn't quite clear yet, there are are some things we've learned after wins over Northeastern State and Washburn. Here are five of them.
1. There has been an emphasis put on ball protection! One of the things that I noticed while attending practice was that the guards go through some crazy ball handling drills as well as focused passing drills. One of the ball handling drills was to dribble two basketballs at once and even crossing them over from one hand to another. However, there's still a lot of work that needs to be done in this area. In the two exhibition games the Sooners have turned the ball over 34 times which is a bit shocking. Even more so, 19 of those turnovers were committed by the guards. I would expect this to be an area of focus throughout the season.
2. Athleticism and speed are sparking the defense. There's a lot to be said about athleticism and this team isn't lacking in that department. They have the uncanny ability to position themselves in the right spot to swat a shot away. The team has 9 blocked shots in the exhibition games, with 3 coming by Cameron Clark.
This team is also very quick and with a ball pressure defense they're forcing turnovers at a crazy rate. They collected 10 steals in each of the two exhibition games and forced a combined 38 total turnovers which has led to 37 points.
3. Defensive rebounding sparks the fast-paced offense. When you're an undersized team second chance points by your opponent can kill you. Of course this isn't rocket science and everyone pretty much knows that. Kruger's team has completely crashed the defensive boards and quickly found the outlet pass to get the ball in transition. Against Northeastern State the Sooners recorded 29 defensive boards and against Washburn the number was 33. In the two exhibitions the Sooners have given up a total of six second chance points to their opponents.
4. The majority of the scoring is going to come from the outside. This puts even more pressure on the guards to be consistent which honestly scares me a bit. The Sooners have scored a total of 170 points in the two games with just 48 of them coming in the paint. Center Casey Arent is a big body but appears to be more of a rebounder than a scored. He's logged just 5 points in two games but has 14 boards. The duo of Romero Osby and Andrew Fitzgerald will be fun to watch. Fitz has scored 24 and Osby has scored 23 points in the two games.
5. Cameron Clark and Steven Pledger are the keys to success. For Fitzgerald and Osby to truly get rolling this season they have to have some support from the outside with guards who can hit a jump shot as well as drive the lane. That's where Clark and Pledger come in. Pledger can be deadly from outside but must get his issues resolved (and quickly) and Clark may be the best all around inside/outside player on the team. Both must touch the ball on every possession when they're on the floor. If this can happen the Fitz and Osby will benefit greatly.