Lon Kruger relied heavily on power forward Romero Osby and the rest of his frontcourt during his first two seasons as Oklahoma's head coach, but now its his backcourt that brings all of the experience as he begins season three. To make the most of the returning experience, Kruger is pushing a new brand of basketball than his previous two years. In exchange for a half-court game, that slows the tempo, Oklahoma's guards are going to run and gun. The Sooners are looking for a fast-paced style that will rely on forcing turnovers and moving the ball down the floor as fast as possible.
The two keys to making this happen are going to be made baskets and protecting the ball themselves. The reward is that the quicker tempo will produce more high percentage shots because it will most likely give the Sooners a numbers mismatch on the offensive end of the floor. However, the risk is that to get the ball down the floor that quickly you have to rely heavily on the pass which increases the potential for turnovers.
What Coach Kruger has in his favor is a backcourt with starting experience. They may collectively be one of the youngest backcourts in the conference, but they are seasoned due to extensive playing time last season as true freshmen.
"They (Hield, Hornbeak, Cousins) have all grown significantly. The period between freshman year and sophomore year often times is one of big change. Coming out of high school you don't really know what to expect. And after going through Big 12 basketball for a year you focus a little differently in preparation for the next year with how fast the game is and how big and strong the opponents are. All three of them have done a nice job and their roles will change. Je'lon, being a combo guard, will probably play a little more point than he did last year. Isaiah will play a lot more wing and he played more point last year. Buddy has gotten bigger and stronger.
I think all three have done a really good job and taken the appropriate steps." - Lon Kruger
Buddy Hield, Je'lon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins will all be relied upon heavily to fuel Oklahoma's success on the hardwood this season. Hield became an immediate team leader last season and possesses the ability to change the pace and focus of a game. He made seventeen starts and appeared in twenty-three games last season, averaging 7.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. A "do everything" player, Hield can play the one or the two with a high rate of success but is also the best defender of the trio. He recorded 33 steals and blocked seven shots last season while also collecting 113 rebounds.
Hornbeak is going to continue the roll that he moved into late in the season last year, in that he will play the point more than the two. Injuries forced him to play there more than initially planned last season but he did very well, especially for a true freshman. He was second on the team with 54 assists while also shooting 33% from beyond the arch and getting to the free throw line more than any of the other guards. He also played the most minutes among the freshmen.
Isaiah Cousins was initially slated to be the point guard but after facing significant struggles there he seems to have found a home at the two or three. Explosive with the ball, Cousins seems to have the most potential on the offensive end of the floor but must do a better job at making decisions with the ball in his hands this season.
Joining the group this season will be a freshman duo that's every bit as talented as last year's class. Jordan Woodard was a first-team all-state selection as a senior in high school last season and will make a push for the starting point guard spot before the season is up. He averaged 15.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game during his senior campaign at Oklahoma's Edmond Memorial.
Frank Booker was an all-area selection and Regional Player of the Year after averaging 27.9 points per game as a senior at Westside High School in Augusta, Georgia. He's a spot up shooter who will remind you, a lot, of Steven Pledger in the way he floats near the outside waiting for his defender to sag off and help a double-team. He is certainly capable of proving an offensive spark off the bench in the exact same way that Pledger did.
The x-factor in the backcourt will be Cameron Clark, who will actually be playing in the frontcourt. An athletic 6-7/211 player, Clark (one of two seniors on the team) has the body to bang inside and with the speed of a guard. Despite being listed as a guard on the roster, Clark will primarily play the four for Oklahoma this season and be instrumental in pushing the ball down the floor. Possibly the most athletic player on the team, I would also expect to see him on the receiving end of multiple ally-oops as well.
The bottom line is that Oklahoma's success rises and falls on the backcourt. With the absence of Romero Osby, Amath M'Baye and Andrew Fitzgerald, the Sooners just don't have the bodies to pull off a continual half-court attack that puts the ball inside on every possession. The guards must be quick and protective with the ball while also producing high percentage shots. If they're successful in doing that then the team will be successful in their push to earn a tournament bid for the second year in a row.