Oklahoma Men's Basketball: Open Practice Initial Impressions

Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Basketball season is just around the corner and practices are underway. Here are a few observations from the open practices that the Oklahoma Sooners have held.

The Oklahoma Sooners Men's Basketball Program is a team to watch this season. They have been picked to finish 7th in the Big XII this season under Lon Kruger. However, Coach Kruger has an excellent track record in his second season at a school while trying to resurrect the program. This is a team that will be a surprise to many not only in conference play but also outside of the conference.

One thing many fans saw last season was the emphasis on rebounding. Throughout the season, Kruger has his crew crashing on offensive boards while the Sooners led the nation in the category for a short period of time. This was something that was sparked by an athletic big man in Romero Osby. In playing teams like the Kansas Jayhawks and Baylor Bears, the offensive glass became the reason Oklahoma remained competitive.

Throughout the first series of practices, this emphasis has remained strong. Osby will be key in this aspect but he won't be alone. Amath M'Baye, a transfer from Wyoming, will be eligible this season and is every bit as athletic as anyone on the team. Andrew Fitzgerald has packed on more muscle this season after dropping weight last season allowing him to be more physical in the post.

The second thing being emphasized in practices is defense. Time and time again, the coaching staff has the players running defensive sets to learn help rotation, trap positioning, closeout defense, and footwork. If anything is going to be the difference maker, it will be this area. Last season, the Sooners were hurt in their closeout. Take a look at what the Missouri Tigers were capable of doing with their speed. Learning when and where to rotate will begin to heal this gaping wound of this Oklahoma squad.

In terms of minutes being played, the post players will significantly benefit from depth. D.J. Bennett joins the team as a JUCO transfer giving Oklahoma a solid rotation of possibly five different players. Two seasons ago, Fitz was literally being required to remain in the game for the entire 40 minutes. It attributed to much of the lack of success in the post game because he was unable to keep up with the pace of the game. All of that will change this season and each player should have plenty of rest.

The other area the big men will contribute is in spreading the floor. Kruger has brought on a few post players with the capability to dribble and drive to go alongside and mid-range shot.

From the guards, fans are going to see a high level of intensity in the play. Sam Grooms has worked on his shot but at this time, it remains undetermined if it will translate to the games. Buddy Hield has the best stamina out of the group and possess a great shot even if his release looks a bit low. Yet, it will be Grooms, Cameron Clark, and Steven Pledger getting the majority of the time.

The last thing Kruger is emphasizing is that this is a team. When one player falls the rest need to be there to pick him up. If this mentality takes root, it could be a team that goes far beyond the expectations. Playing for the name of the front of the jersey is far more important than making a name for oneself.

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