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What Has Become Of OU Men's Basketball?

Okay, I'd like whoever is using the OU voo-doo doll to return it ASAP please.

All kidding aside, you have to shake your head at what an awful year it has been for OU sports thus far.  There has been terrible luck with injuries, terrible decision making by some of the athletes, and teams not performing up to the caliber they are capable of. 

The clearly visible "tip of the iceberg", if you will, is the men's basketball team who slipped to 13-12 after losing to Colorado, a team they had no business losing to. In doing that, they have now lost 9 of their last 14 games and are clearly seeing any postseason hopes slip into the abyss of the 2009-2010 season.

As an aside quickly, one has to note some of the positives.  Our women's basketball team has performed admirably in the wake of Whitney Hand's season ending ACL injury and are currently ranked #11 in both polls.  Our gymnastics teams are both ranked #2 and are both undefeated.  Our men's tennis team is ranked #44 and has started off the season 3-1. Our women's tennis team is 6-0 and ranked #55.

I had to throw in some positives, because a lot of those sports go unnoticed. Unfortunately for OU, their two most visible programs - football and men's basketball - have had very disappointing seasons.  Football will bounce back. So they had an off year due to unfortunate circumstances - anyone recall 2005? We seem to have bounced back nicely from that. Stoops brought in a top 5 recruiting class again, and we'll be back in better form this next year.  But can this basketball program bounce back?

We have too many agendas on our team," OU head coach Jeff Capel said in a postgame artice in the Tulsa World. "Until everyone can submit to the team, it’s going to be tough for us going forward."

"It’s a lot of problems with this team. It’s a lot of different things. That’s on me and our coaching staff. We have to figure out a way to do a better job in lot of areas on our program."

This is probably true.  Willie Warren seems to want to get to the NBA, and his style of play already models that of the NBA (i.e. jumping into guys to try to draw fouls).  Willie does have a certain skill set and the right physical attributes to be productive in the NBA, something that still has him #16 on Chad Ford's draft board.  He has slid out of an earlier lottery position though, something that isn't too terribly surprising.

I find it difficult to believe Willie will be back next year.  I also find it difficult to believe that after the season OU is having that he won't plummet down the draft boards, possibly flirting with the 2nd round.  His production is also way down this year, and the stat trends don't lie.  His offensive efficiency has plummeted from 1.16 points per possession (PPP) to 1.02 PPP.  That's probably because he's using 7.2% more of his team's possessions this year while seeing his effective FG% fall from 56.4% to 50.0%.  His raw points per game numbers are up slightly, but that's what you would expect with someone who is quickly becoming a volume scorer. His assist-to-turnover ratio fell from 1.4 to 1.1, and that should be of no surprise as he's made some questionable ball handling decisions this season.  His Roland average is 3.3, and that's just his team's +/- with him on the court, subtracting the +/- without him on the court.  It's a good measure of how well a team plays with a certain player on the floor.  Willie's average is only 635th in the country - not exactly eye popping.

Tony Crocker, Beau Gerber, and Ryan Wright all lose eligibility after this season, so where does that leave the roster? Well, OU will be receiving two standout recruits - Cameron Clark the #6 SF on ESPN and T.J. Taylor the #16 PG on ESPN.  Capel hasn't signed anyone else yet, but I'm assuming he's going to go after at least a couple players.

At guard we'll have Tommy Mason-Griffin, Cade Davis, T.J. Franklin, Steven Pledger, Ryan Randolph and Ray Willis (and maybe Willie Warren).  Franklin and Randolph probably won't get significant playing time.  Hopefully Pledger can put the Dillards fiasco behind him because he actually seems to have a chance to be a good shooter.  With more effort he could probably produce like Cade has this season.  It's hard to pin down T.J. Franklin and Ray Willis.  Ray would be more likely to get playing time.

I see Tommy Mason-Griffin and Cade Davis as starters.  Cade is one of those glue guys who gives every play 100%.  He has really improved a lot in his time at OU.  Tommy Mason-Griffin has shown flashes this year of being a brilliant point guard who also has a shot and some shake-and-bake in his back pocket.  I think those two guys will be really solid and hopefully we'll have a bit more consistency around them (those two have probably been the most consistent all season).

Behind them, its kind of going to be a mish-mash but i would think that with his level of talent T.J. Taylor would be coming off the bench behind TMG who will rack up significant minutes anyways.  And,  I think Pledger will either start in a 3 guard lineup, or spell Davis/Clark.  If Cameron Clark lives up to his billing, he'll probably be tough to keep out of the starting lineup his freshman year. 

Up front we have Tiny Gallon, Orlando Allen, Andrew Fitzgerald, Barry Honore, and Kyle Hardrick.  I have difficulty believing Tiny will go to the NBA, even though I think that's kind of what he imagined when he showed up here.  He has a long ways to go in polishing his game.  He'll probably be another one of the starters next year, along with either Orlando Allen or Andrew Fitzgerald.  Honore and Hardrick probably won't do too much.

So the most likely starting lineup is something like Gallon, Fitzgerald, Clark, Davis, and Mason-Griffin.

But will this work?  I think a lot of our problems this year are rooted in the fact that Capel is using essentially four freshman in his regular rotation and there's a learning curve from high school to college (unless you're Blake Griffin or John Wall).  You obviously can't explain it all by blaming it on youth and inexperience, but that's part of the problem.  Only five players on the team are juniors or seniors, and two of them rarely play (Allen and Gerber).  Seasoned teams tend to play better. 

The other issue is work ethic. Cade Davis has improved so much while he's been here and it's been because he's worked extremely hard to get to where he's at now.  Blake Griffin improved a ton from his freshman to sophomore season because he committed to becoming a beast in the offseason.  Do I see the maturity and work ethic in this crop of freshmen?  Well Fitzgerald and Pledger shoplifted a Dillard's, so it's tough to peg them for maturity, but hopefully they've learned their lesson.  They, and Tiny, really need to take a look at their seasons and spin them into something positive.  Tommy Mason-Griffin seems to have a very strong work ethic, and I think he's made huge strides even this season.

They say that the point guard is the most important position on the floor because it's essentially the quarterback of basketball.  If TMG continues to improve, the Sooners will be able to right the ship somewhat in 2010-2011.  However, what will make the difference between us finishing middle-of-the-Big-12 and being a tournament team will be what exactly the people around him decide to do, and whether they feel like going the extra mile for the team.

My personal opinion is that there is too much talent on this team for us to have a repeat next season.  So, hopefully we can take our lumps now and come back strong next year.  In the meantime, we get to play the role of spoiler for the next few weeks.