As we are in the heart of the football season, fresh off our first win over a ranked team on the road since December 6, 2008, the quickly approaching basketball season often gets forgotten. The Lloyd Noble Center will open up for business again on November 3rd at 7:00pm as the Oklahoma Sooners men's basketball team hosts British Columbia in an exhibition contest. This will basically be a glorified scrimmage as the team will then be on an 11 day break until the regular season starts on November 14th against Mount St. Mary's in Norman.
Given that we're almost a week away from basketball, I figured it would be a good time to throw together a brief preview on the team for 2009-2010 season.
The Sooners have a somewhat challenging non-conference slate with four games against 2009 NCAA Tournament teams. Three of those four games will be on the road - at Virginia Commonwealth, at Utah, and at Gonzaga. The other is at home against Arizona.
Beyond those four games, OU will play many other teams in contests that will probably be less competitive. In all, they will play 14 non-conference games. Despite the challenges of playing a few tough teams away from home, the Sooners are talented enough to be headed into conference play undefeated. More likely than not, they will stumble in a couple of games on the non-conference slate. The most likely game to trip up would be at Gonzaga, a perennial top 25 team.
The Sooners also will play each Big 12 South team at home and away (10 games), and each of the Big 12 North teams once (6 games). They will face Missouri, Iowa State, and Kansas State at home, and Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska on the road.
Preseason rankings have not been released, but if you use Dick Vitale's rankings as a proxy, OU's toughest games, in order, should be: at #1 Kansas, at #4 Texas, home vs. #4 Texas, at #30 Oklahoma State, home vs. #30 Oklahoma State, home vs. #31 Arizona, and at #33 Gonzaga. Dickie V has OU ranked #22.
Oklahoma Sooners Basketball Roster
The Sooners will have seven new faces this year, something that may make you think that they'll take a major step back this season. However, when you consider the amount of talent in the incoming class, Jeff Capel's squad should remain a force and a team that commands national attention.
Headlining this year's incoming class is Keith "Tiny" Gallon. He made #11 on the ESPNU Top 100 and graded out at a 97 from the ESPN scouts, which makes him an "immediate impact prospect". The 6'9" 296 pound freshman will probably get every opportunity to start as he was one of the most coveted center prospects in the country. While Gallon is knocked for conditioning and being large, he has noticeably slimmed down in recent months. He does just about everything well.
Complementing Gallon will be PG Tommy Mason-Griffin, who was #24 on the ESPNU Top 100 and graded out at a 96 from the ESPN scouts. He's stocky, built, and a shooter who likes to pass first, drawing comparison's to Kansas' Sherron Collins.
Those two guys will get the majority of the attention of all the incoming players, but OU is getting far more talent than that. They are also getting PF Andrew Fitzgerald who was #68 on the ESPNU Top 100 and graded out at a 92. He considered Louisville, Pittsburgh and Xavier, but ultimately committed to OU. Fitzgerald is 6'8" 258 pounds and at the very least should be a part of the rotation this year. Joining him will be Steve Pledger, #84 on the ESPNU Top 100, and graded out at a 91. He is a 6'4" 170 pound shooting guard who is a hard worker and a good shooter.
This gives OU four 2009 ESPNU Top 100 players and increases their McDonald's All American count to 3, which is fourth best nationally. Unfortunately for the rest of the newcomers, these four guys will steal most of the spotlight, but there are also some underrated guys arriving in Norman. Kyle Hardrick hails from Putnam City North High School here in Oklahoma, and was a solid prospect coming out of high school. He's a 6'8" power forward who didn't get to shine as much being on the same high school team as top prospect Xavier Henry. There are two other guys that you'll probably see less. One is a walk on, Ryan Randolph, who is a 6'4" 191 pound shooting guard from Bishop McGuiness in Oklahoma City. He was an AAU teammate of Kyle Hardrick. The other newcomer is Barry Honore who transferred from Southern University. He is a 6'7" power forward, and has to sit out this year after transferring.
Sophomore SG Willie Warren will be critical to the Sooners' success. Last year, the Sooners relied heavily on Blake Griffin. I think it's fair to say they'll do the same this year with Willie Warren, although I don't think you'll see them look his way quite as much as they dialed up Blake's number. Without half court sets designed to set up Griffin, I think the Sooners will be a lot more fluid this year, and get up and down the floor. Willie Warren averaged 14.6 ppg and 3.2 apg last year. I would expect his point totals to rocket up this year, provided he can stay healthy.
Joining him in the starting rotation should be senior SG/SF Tony Crocker. Crocker is often knocked for a "lack of consistency", but he still managed to average 9.6 ppg last year and had some critical games where he was a big part of the Sooners' success. I look at Crocker as the x-factor. If Crocker is dialed in, the Sooners are a tough team to beat because they suddenly have a second dynamic scoring threat next to Warren. The rest of their scoring threats are more specialized and predictable. Crocker had an astounding 43.5 inch vertical jump this preseason, proving that he's an excellent athlete.
Tommy Mason-Griffin will probably start as a freshman at the point. From the OU Men's Basketball Blog:
I feel safe in saying that fans are going to have a lot of fun watching Tommy Mason-Griffin run the point for OU. Some of his moves and passes have the tendency to drop your jaw. Oh yeah...he can flat out shoot, too. Capel said the freshman has been as good as anyone for the Sooners in the early going.
Beyond Mason-Griffin's skills, there doesn't really seem to be any other obvious options with Omar Leary and Austin Johnson having burned up all their eligibility. Willie Warren has run the point a bit, and will probably be called upon to spell Mason-Griffin when other shooting guards are subbed in. This means Willie will probably see a lot of minutes, something that isn't bad for the Sooners. T.J. Franklin will also likely see some meaningful minutes this season. Hopefully there are no injuries at the point, because depth there is lacking.
With three backcourt starters, it's time to move to the front court. I think it's a safe bet that Tiny Gallon will be starting. There's simply too much talent there to keep on the bench. Both him and Tommy Mason-Griffin were some of the most highly sought recruits in the country. At the very least, he will log significant minutes. The frontcourt is a bit up in the air. Orlando Allen and Ryan Wright made progress last season, but playing behind the Griffin brothers, it was difficult to tell much about their game. I'm not sure how all the individual pieces fit together, so I'm not sure who is going to get the starts. From the quotes I've seen from Capel in the offseason, I think that Ryan Wright and Tiny Gallon will be the starters in the frontcourt but Orlando Allen will probably get equal minutes.
What Will Be Key For Success
It will be important for Capel to find a way to get the two most productive rebounders the most minutes at the forward spots. I get the feeling that OU will use it's speed and guard advantage to show some 4-guard looks and spread the floor. However, I really feel that finding a way to replace the rebounding prowess of Blake Griffin will be the most crucial aspect of the Sooners' success.
Willie Warren is a consistent scoring threat, but streaky shooters will need to find a way to get more consistent (Cade Davis, Tony Crocker, Ray Willis), and unknown commodities will need to produce.
Tony Crocker and Tommy Mason-Griffin will need to develop some dribble-drive moves. The Sooners cannot become a spot-up, jump shooting team. I don't think that they are consistent enough shooters to ride the sharp shooting strategy to success. They will need to have a couple of dynamic scoring threats - they can't just trot out Willie Warren and expect him to carry the load.
Obviously this is all conjecture, and based around no injuries. We've all seen what injuries can do to a good team with our football team this year. I think that our basketball team is good enough to lose maybe two games, maybe three, at most in the non-conference slate. I think it will be tough going against Kansas and Texas, and there are a few other tough games sprinkled in the conference slate. Overall they should have enough talent, combined with a fairly favorable schedule, to finish with about 7 regular season losses, which would put them on pace for a 23-7 regular season record. Teams like this, depending on quality wins, typically wind up around a #4 to #6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.