Oklahoma was once known as a top tier program, a program that was expected to make a run in the Big Dance each and every year. However, nothing could be further from the truth with the state this program has fallen into. Big name recruits have come in with big egos and left this basketball program in near shambles with a 27-36 record and 9-23 in the Big XII ending with the firing of Coach Jeff Capel.
Now inserted into the program is Lon Kruger, a coach who has made a reputation for himself in resurrecting once great now fallen programs. After two straight seasons of hanging up the uniforms after a loss in the Big XII tourney, Oklahoma is thirsty to taste the post-season once again. With the season opener kicking off tonight, is this the team that can make a run for the money?
Yes, the Sooners have two wins in exhibition matches that both single games outscored any single game effort last year's team was capable of doing. While these are not the best indicators of how OU will play against teams like Kansas and Baylor, there have been some signs of greatness. Now, in the home opener, Oklahoma will face Idaho State in what should be an easy win, something that OU has not been able to do in a long while. But there is more to it than just points.
1 - The Work Ethic And Investment Into The System Is There
From the very first practice is has been apparent that this has been a hard working team (it is embodied in Romero Osby as well as Andrew Fitzgerald). Day one required many of the players to condition better than they had in the past seeing as the OU scheme is on the verge of the fabled "havoc style" of play made famous by Shaka Smart in the Dance earlier this year. It creates more fast break opportunities but relies heavily on rebounding. This in turn means the big men HAVE to get up and down. They have bought into what Kruger is selling and Tyler Neal is getting the opportunity of his dreams. The new system calls for a big man to do a bit more ball handling. This opens the door for Neal to get outside and take 3-pointers from time to time.
2 - The Team Has Chemistry As A Whole
The only player that left was Cade Davis seeing that he was the only senior. Players had already bonded and formed that team mentality which left Kruger less to do in terms of separating the good from the bad. Even Osby has a good relationship with the others because he rode the pine as a transfer. The only outsiders are Casey Arent and Sam Grooms who will come along shortly if they have not already. This team has a team mentality and is not full of "stars" which allows for the egos to be push aside helping the unit be molded into something productive. If this squad can keep the drive and desire they possess, it will be easy to exceed most fans expectations.
3 - There Is Nowhere To Go But Up
You never want to get into a fight with a hobo simply because they have nothing to lose. This is the same scenario this Oklahoma team is in. There have literally been no expectations placed on them and they have been projected to finish at the bottom of the barrel. Without the pressure of the media and the fans, it is one less thing to trouble to minds of these players aside from the fact they most likely aren't thinking about their draft status. With egos in check and the only out being upward, the sky is the limit!