It was all doom and gloom around the Oklahoma Sooners men’s hoop squad just a week ago. In the midst of a six-game losing streak and without its’ best player and leader to keep everyone’s heads up, the young Sooners found themselves lost and reeling before a Big Monday clash against the mighty Kansas Jayhawks. With the season on the verge of completely unraveling just months after seeing off one of the best eras in program history, fans were beginning to wonder just how low this season could go...
Then, suddenly, good news appeared out of nowhere. Jordan Woodard would be cleared to play, and the re-energized Sooners would rally around their senior star. Though ultimately coming short of the storybook upset against Rock Chalk, the spirit of this Sooner squad was back with its’ leading scorer and big brother back in action. Then a few days later on a Saturday night in Norman, the long losing streak was snapped, and Oklahoma was finally back in the win column. And this young team’s resurgence looks to now be coming into focus. Though the end result won’t be anything close to what Buddy and Co. were playing for the last three seasons, at least we’re now back to playing for something.
How's this for clutch? Woodard scored 18 points in the final 12 minutes on 5-6 shooting and 8-8 at the foul line. Finished with 27 overall. pic.twitter.com/bSK5WayMfT— Oklahoma Basketball (@OU_MBBall) January 15, 2017
Yeah, yeah, I know, last night’s win was only against Texas Tech, but this 13-3 Red Raider team, with wins over No. 10 West Virginia and No. 25 Kansas State, seemed different. This team had the wins and talent to give the Sooners a tough defeat at home and kill any momentum OU had gained from the game against Kansas. But not on this night as the Sooners came out firing and never allowed Texas Tech to dictate tempo or come closer than three points in the second half. After a rough start to season that forced head coach Lon Kruger into many lineup adjustments, this Sooner hoop squad appears to actually be turning the corner and is a winning streak or two away from being back in conference contention despite the 1-4 start.
As sophomore Rashard Odomes has emerged as a consistent scorer to complement Woodard, freshman Kameron McGusty has continued to come on as well. Fellow frosh Kristian Doolittle still shows signs of being a formidable player at this level and if Dante Buford and Christian James can just get going (dammit!), my original preseason prediction of this team finishing around 6th in conference may not be too far off.
I give Buford a game or two to break out of his slump. The kid has real talent, and it wasn’t just playing opposite Buddy and Zay last season to showcase it. Buford can shoot, he can score, and he has the size and skill set to be a real player in this league. But unfortunately he still lacks identity or confidence (and continuity given his suspension in November) so far this season. He seems to be in a better place than James, though, and the Sooners definitely need the scoring punch these two versatile players could provide. Matt Freeman hasn’t displayed the consistency to be a starter at Oklahoma just yet, but could be a lethal shooting weapon and matchup advantage off the bench to complement the scorers down the stretch. We all knew this team would be a work in progress. Case in point, I suppose.
With upcoming games against Press Virginia, Iowa State and Texas, the road certainly isn’t easy for Oklahoma or any team in this brutally competitive conference. But that’s the great thing about college basketball: there are tournaments. I’m not sure the Sooners have the makings to beat the likes of Kansas, Iowa State, Baylor or the Mountaineers all in one weekend... But crazier things do happen in college basketball on the regular. This Oklahoma team should feel comfort in that fact, especially with what looks to be a “nothing-to-lose, just go out shooting” mindset being adopted for Kruger’s young, steadily improving team. As long as the development continues, confidence and trust builds, there’s no reason this team can’t make a late-season push with a few upsets along the way and a solid Big 12 Tournament performance to finish strong. Suddenly, an NIT appearance, if not a chance at more, doesn’t feel as far off as it did last week.