Before the season began, an NCAA Tournament bid was equivalent to Charlie finding a Golden Ticket inside the wrapper of a Wonka Bar, at least the was the case for many onlookers. Sooner fans have learned a ton about Lon Kruger and his basketball team through the non-conference schedule. From the style of play to the hustle that has been instilled in this team, there is much to be excited about not only this season but in years to come. Oklahoma currently sits at 10-2 with wins over the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Houston Cougars but the there is are still questions to be answered.
The Oklahoma Sooners will begin their conference play with a tall task in facing what some have labeled as the best team in the Big XII, the undefeated Missouri Tigers. Kruger and his crew have already done more than what was expected at this point in the season from them, will they continue their streak of doing the impossible?
In watching the first twelve games, it is apparent that this Oklahoma team plays stiff defense that is unrelenting and crashes the boards as a team. While looking at the line-up it is easy to see that this team should suffer on the boards on paper. That has been the polar opposite of what this team has accomplished as they currently top the Big XII and sit fourth in the nation in rebounding with 42.2 a game. Rebounding starts with tenacity and will and this team certainly has that led by Romero Osby's athleticism as he pulls down 8.8 boards a game.
However, the Missouri Tigers are not leaving very many shots up for grabs as they are shooting a blazing 51.7% from the field as a team which ranks first in the nation. It is not very often that you see a team shoot this well and go down and that has been the case for the Tigers. Missouri has been able to attack from everywhere on the floor and hurt you when they see a mismatch and their 86.2 points per game is going to be a tall task for anyone. This team is still a bit of a surprise in the basketball world but has garnered much recognition and accolade marking them as the favorite this evening.
Another area Sooner fans should be concerned about it the ability of Oklahoma to handle pressure down the stretch. We have seen it time and time again as Oklahoma puts the ball in the hands of young player who fires away and miss each and every time. Sam Grooms seems to be the only player who is collected when dribbling into pressure (the only other player who seems capable of doing so is Carl Blair but he is a reserve and we won't see much of a dual point guard set). Missouri will pressure the ball and will come up with more than a handful of steals, but how crucial will the be come game time?
Last but not least is that Oklahoma will need to find consistent scoring. Steven Pledger has elevated his game to an almost elite status as a shooter but still needs support. He has been finding that in several players such as Osby, Andrew Fitzgerald, and early on Calvin Newell who has now departed. An inside presence is a great thing to have but without the consistency OU could be in for a long day.
Trying to replace Newell has been Cameron Clark who had a great scoring stretch through four games. He has since then dropped back into the background in which Tyler Neal stepped up. Neal has a great opportunity to be the 6th man and make up for the lack of scoring from the bench and did so scoring 18 against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Now he has slacked and has only scored 22 in the last four outtings.
Not many expect Oklahoma to keep this one close but in the next two weeks, we could see the fate of the Sooners and the post-season hopes play out.