When the expectation on the team is just to be competitive then there really isn't much pressure placed on it. Last season the Sooners had to win enough to qualify for some sort of post-season tournament in order to save Jeff Capel's job. That's a lot of pressure! This year the Sooners are tied with Texas Tech as the preseason pick for last in the Big 12. The good thing about being at the bottom of the pack is that the only direction to go is up.
In part I of our preview we covered the new guys and the up tempo coaching style of new head coach Lon Kruger. While the new guys may fill some holes in the squad the experience and leadership of returning players is crucial for the Sooners to achieve success beyond their expectations. Guys like Cameron Clark have to be a threat to score from anywhere on the floor and prepare the newcomers for what to expect in terms of the physical play of the Big 12 and what to expect on conference road games. Here's a rundown of the veterans.
Junior Guard Carl Blair - Blair ranked third in the Big 12 last season in assists. He played in a total of 30 games and started 25 of them. He's not a tremendous scoring thread, only shooting 40% from the floor and 30% from three-point range, but needs to work on scoring from the floor and finding a scorer to pass to in transition.
Sophomore Guard Cameron Clark - After starting every game last season as a freshman, Clark has to be one of the teams top scorers this season in my opinion. He has the ability to jump out of the gym and can pop the deep short with the same tenacity he attacks the rim. He averaged 9 points and 4 rebounds per game last season which are numbers that should increase this season.
Junior Forward Andrew Fitzgerald - Fitz was an honorable mention last year when it came to the All-Conference team. He averaged nearly 13 points and 5 rebounds per game and also recorded 21 blocked shots. With the addition of Romero Osby to the mix Oklahoma should be strong under the basket as long as both of them are willing to work hard and bang around inside. That's definitely an area in which Fitzgerald must improve this season. He's got to get tougher.
Senior Guard T.J. Franklin - Franklin has been a bench player his entire career at OU and while the run-and-gun system gives him an opportunity to gain more playing time its not likely he'll supplant anyone ahead of him on the depth chart.
Senior Forward Barry Honore - Has great size and athleticism which equates to the dreaded word potential. The difference is that we saw glimpses of his potential last season and after an off-season of workouts he should be a more complete package this season and better capable of providing quality minutes off the bench.
Sophomore Forward Tyler Neal - Another player who had received substantial minutes as a true freshman last season, Neal has a massive upside and became a fan favorite with his motor that runs nonstop allowing his effort and drive to be over the top. He'll most likely be a player that comes off the bench this season but Oklahoma won't lose much in terms of ability when he's on the floor to replace one of the starters.
Sophomore Guard Calvin Newell - With the uptempo pace that the Sooners are going to play this season there will be more pressure on the guards to produce quality minutes and have a stronger rotation. Newell played in 31 games last season and dished out 48 assists. Regardless of if its off the bench or as a starter he'll be a contributor this season as well.
Junior Guard Steven Pledger - Pledger has a great stroke but lacks consistency. He went off for 38 points against Iowa State last season by nailing seven of thirteen three-point shots. The problem is that he can get really hot and then really, really cold. He's an upperclassman this year and hopefully has found a consistent happy medium between hot and cold.
Senior Forward C.J. Washington - I've got to be honest. I'm not sure where Washington fits in this scheme and am anxious to find out. He's athletic enough to run the floor very well and excels at finding the high percentage shots. My gut tells me that Washington could be a sleeper on this team and have a bigger impact than anyone expected.