Does it need to be said once again that this Oklahoma Sooners Men's Basketball team came into the season with little to no expectations after the shambles the program was left in with the exit of Jeff Capel. Now, the Sooners are starting to garner some recognition. Could Lon Kruger be up for coach of the year...that all depends on how this squad finishes out the season. Kruger known for his ability to resurrect a fallen program has done nothing short of that in his first season thus far and it would seem that his mentality and style of play has been sold and bought. As this team continues to work together in building a family mindset, the only way to continue to go is up. With each and every game, conference play is one step closer yet still looming just in the distance. However, this Sooners team is up to the challenge.
The first test in whether or not Oklahoma will be able to do what is now beginning to be expected of them in conference will come tonight against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Sooners' first true road game. While the Bearcats have suffered a few suspensions they have been red hot, and not just for a single game but for a small stretch extending 4-games, all wins for Cincy.
During this four game stint the Bearcats have won by an average margin of 34 points, something many thought would be tough for them with four players being suspended after an all out brawl with the Xavier Musketeers. But the most intriguing stat is tied to Cashmere Wright who has emerged as a star. As mentioned before, the Bearcats are on a 4-game winning streak heading into tonight's matchup against the Sooners with much of the credit going to Wright. Wright has 26 assists while only turning the ball over a total of four times during the streak. Add to it the fact that he has been averaging 20 points on top of it while shooting 58% from beyond the arc and Oklahoma could be in for a bit of turbulence.
To counteract what Wright has been capable of doing, the Oklahoma Sooners will need to rely on Steven Pledger for a multitude of scoring. Pledger has become an elite sharp-shooter and is on pace to do something only one other Sooner has done since the implementation of the 3-point line 25 years ago, shoot 50% from the field for a season. The only player in Sooner history to do so was Nolan Johnson in the 1999-2000 season with 56%. However, Johnson only attempted two 3-pointers that entire season. Pledger on the other hand has attempted 51 3-point shots while making 25 of them and is currently sitting at 58% from the field on the season.
But there is one thing that makes all this possible for the Sooners...second chance points. Second chance points are heavily reliant on fundamental rebounding which starts by blocking out. Andrew Fitzgerald and Romero Osby may be undersized against most opposition standing at 6'8" a piece. Yet, much of the success comes by way of crashing the boards as a team. There is not a player on this roster you will see failing to get in and fight for a board. Just as a little momento, the 2011-12 Sooners have compiled the schools top two rebounding totals of the Big XII era. The first came against South Carolina St. as the team grabbed 63 and the second is much like it with a total of 61 coming against Coppin St.
The work ethic and conditioning is there for this team to do far more than what was first thought of them. Creating turnovers and getting out in transition along with rebounding and second chance points are vital to the success of this team down the stretch. They certainly have the right pieces in place as they have already started falling into place nicely. Where there is a will to win, success will surely follow.