As Lon Kruger’s squad prepares for each battle that lies before them, Sooner fans can look forward to a season of fresh faces and a new identity. The non-conference schedule this season contains a variety of opponents. What non-conference games should the Sooners win, what are the toss-ups and what games will the Sooners need to pull off an upset? And what games should you make sure you watch?
The Sooners begin their season with an exhibition game against Washburn on Tuesday, Nov. 8. The Sooners are the third exhibition game Washburn will play in a week, after already facing KU and K-State. This will be a good opportunity for Kruger to use many different line-ups, and get the early season nerves out of the way for the new Sooners.
Northwestern State Demons
The Sooners officially open the 2016-2017 season against the Northwestern State Demons. The Demons went 8-20 last season and have never beat the Sooners, losing all five contests between the two schools. The Demons return their top four scorers from last season. However, the Sooners won't cough up this one. Kruger will look to quickly solidify lineups and find key bench players to begin the season, as they potentially will play two top-ten teams in the country away from home soon after this game.
Tire Pros Invitational
After opening against Northwestern State, the Sooners will travel to Orlando, Florida (originally Puerto Rico) to participate in the Tire Pros Invitational. The tournament consists of Oklahoma, Tulane, Northern Iowa, Arizona State, Xavier, Missouri, Davidson and Clemson. The Sooners will begin the tournament against a Tulane team that accumulated a 12-22 record this past season. Tulane is very young, only having two juniors and two seniors on the roster, with 12 freshman and sophomores to fill the rest of the roster. If the Sooners take care of business, the second-round game would be against either Northern Iowa or Arizona State.
After a great season from Northern Iowa - with going 23-13 and pulling off the upset against UT in the NCAA tournament and losing to A&M in the 2nd round in double overtime – the Panthers looks to replace three key players (Washpun, Bohannon and Jesperson). However, they face a Sun Devils team that just went 15-17. Needless to say, either one of these teams are beatable. If the Sun Devils pull out the win, the Sooners have a former ASU player on their coaching staff, new assistant coach and son of the head coach, Kevin Kruger. If OU plays to their potential and do not get in their own way, they can make it to the championship game unscathed.
The other side of the bracket mainly has one threat: Xavier. The only team that could challenge the No. 8 ranked team in the country would be Davidson, who went 20-13 last year. However, returning their top three scorers in Bluiett, Sumner and Davis, the Musketeers are looking to dominate again this year after going 28-6 last season. If the Sooners and Xavier make it to the championship it would be the first top 10 team the Sooners will face during the season. Although Xavier only lost six total games last year, five of their six losses came on the road and on a neutral site.
Abilene Christian & Northern Colorado
The Sooners will get a breather in their next two competitors, facing Abilene Christian and Northern Colorado in Norman. These two teams went a combined 23-39 last season, and neither have defeated OU, with a combined 0-4 record all-time. The Sooners will need to take care of business, because they will have to face another elite program and opponent in the Wisconsin Badgers.
This is the third straight season that the Sooners will play the Wisconsin Badgers, and these two teams have split the series, 1-1. An unranked OU team gave No. 2 Wisconsin a fight in the 2014 Battle for Atlantis championship game in the Bahamas, but were not able to pull off the upset. The Badgers would go on to make a run at the National Championship that season, only to fall to the Duke Blue Devils 68-63. The Sooners would flip-flop places with Wisconsin the following season with OU being the team to beat, ranked at No. 7 and Wisconsin unranked. The Sooners started the game 15-0, and were able to beat the Badgers in Norman- 65-48. Wisconsin had lost their previous season’s leaders (Kaminsky and Dekker) to the NBA. This season, the ranked teams have flip-flopped once again, as the Badgers are preseason ranked No. 10, while the Sooners are only receiving votes. With nine players still on the roster from that 2014-2015 national runner-up season, the Badgers return their top three scorers and look to contend this season on a national scale. Whoever comes out on top in this one will take the lead in the all-time series, as it is tied right now at 4-4.
Oral Roberts University
Before the Sooners hit their three-game streak of highly regarded non-conference opponents, they will have the luxury of facing a team they have beaten 15 times in a row: Oral Roberts University. OU leads the series 15-2, with the closest game recently being in 2012 with a 63-62 victory by OU. This game will be the last breather for OU before conference play, as the next three games are away from Lloyd Noble Center and will be against competitors that can pose a threat to these young Sooners.
The final three non-conference games consist of challenging matchups with Wichita State (in Oklahoma City), Memphis (in Norman) and Auburn (in Uncasville, CT).
Wichita State Shockers
The Sooners and Wichita State have not faced each other in 41 years. This game will also have three different Edmond Memorial alums playing in Jordan Woodard, Kristian Doolittle and Shaquille Morris for Wichita State. The Sooners hold a 4-1 advantage in the all-time series. The Shockers this past season posted a solid 24-8 regular season and making an impressive run in the NCAA tournament. Being ranked as a 11-seed, WSU had to partake in the "play-in" game, which they went on to win and beat Arizona in the next round before losing to a 3-seed Miami in the second round. Lead by two current NBA players, Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet were instrumental in making Wichita State be the No. 1 scoring defense in the country. However, with these two players gone, the Shockers lost their only players that averaged double-digit scoring and grabbed 108 of the 255 total steals. The difference in this game could be how well the Sooners take care of the ball, and what schemes Wichita State will use to disrupt the Oklahoma offense.
Even though the Sooners have historically struggled against Memphis, OU beat the Tigers for the first time ever last year (the all-time record against Memphis is 1-6). The Sooners will welcome Memphis to Norman for just the second time ever, and the first time in 19 years. Although they only ended the season with a 19-15 record, Memphis returns two of their top three scorers, and one of OU's nightmares from last season in Dedric Lawson. Lawson went for 22 pts and 15 rebounds, with 10 of those being offensive rebounds. This was before the Sooners lost their rebound guru Ryan Spangler. Expect blocked shots as well, as the Sooners were ranked 11th in the country with Memphis following them at 12th. The Sooners will be coming off a very physical, draining game from Wichita State, and will need all the energy they can muster to fight off the Tigers.
Before beginning conference play, the Sooners will take a flight to Connecticut, where they will face the Auburn Tigers for just the third time ever. The last time these two programs met, the decorated 1988 Sooners team dazzled and dominated the Tigers in front of 16,500 people, winning the game 107-87. The Auburn Tigers struggled throughout the season last year, ending with a poor record of 11-20. Their marquee win came against No. 14 Kentucky with a 75-70 victory at home. The Tigers also lost three of their top four scorers from last season. The Sooners will need to win this one to take some confidence into conference play.
This will be the second time that the Sooners and Florida Gators will face each other, and the Sooners lost the first battle in Oklahoma City by 4 in overtime in 1996. The Gators only had a 21-15 record last year and did not make the NCAA tournament. However, they did win an impressive game against the West Virginia Mountaineers, beating them by 17 at home. Dorian- Finney Smith, leader in points and rebounds for the Gators, will not be back this season. KeVaughn Allen, John Egbunu and Kasey Hill will be the players to look to as they were the second, third and fourth leading scorers for the Gators. The Gators faced eight ranked teams last year, losing four of the seven games by ten points or less. This type of top-level competition that Florida has faced could be beneficial to the Gators over the young Sooner squad, but the Sooners have veterans returning that have played against tough teams in the Big 12 conference.