The Oklahoma Sooners men’s m basketball team has not even started their regular season yet, and they already seem like a well-oiled machine. Starting off their 2017-2018 season with four straight victories in the "land down under" was the perfect way to cap the summer. Due to the obscure playing times, many of you may have missed what happened over in Australia and New Zealand. Don't worry, we got you covered.
The Sooners’ first contest was a coming out party for all the new faces on the roster. The much-anticipated (preseason) debut for Trae Young had finally arrived, and much of Sooner Nation tuned in to see what kind of show the high school All-American would display. Although Trae did not disappoint, putting up 21 points and dishing out four assists, his coming-out party was crashed by the surprising debut performance of Brady Manek.
Manek earned the nickname #AutoManek after just one performance in a Sooners jersey. The long and lanky Okie came out guns blazing, rattling in three 3-pointers with a quick-release comparable to Klay Thompson. He finished with 17 points in just 17 minutes of play, and shot an amazing 7/11 from the field.
The dynamic freshmen were crucial to the 133-91 victory for the Sooners over New Zealand Select.
A welcoming sign
The second contest for Young and company was more of the same, especially for Trae. Young finished with 23 points, nine assists and five steals, highlighting the fact that he isn't just a scorer. What may have caught the Sooner fans and coaches off guard was the sudden reemergence of Christian James.
After having a decent freshman season and a great finish to that year, James struggled all of last year with and without the ball. However, that seemed to be old news as James caught fire. James’ preseason shooting display began in this contest with a perfect 5/5 shooting from the 3-point line and posted 21 points on top of that, helping lead OU to a 129-51 victory over Sutherland Sharks.
This type of performance from James could be pivotal to how far this team can go.
The third battle for OU wound up being the closest margin victory of their trip. Oklahoma's 15-point victory over the Sydney Kings ended with a final score of 104-89. This game silenced Sooner fans doubts whether James hot-shooting performance was a fluke, as he responded with an 18-point performance off of 6/10 shooting from the field and 3/3 from downtown.
Young continued his streak of 20-point games posting 21 points, six assists and six rebounds. It is evident that Young is the heartbeat to this team, but Jordan Shepherd has improved vastly from last season and will be a great second option at the point.
The freshmen are the future
Whether Young decides to stay beyond this season or not, the freshman duo of Young and Manek are the future of this program. This was on display in their final outing in a 110-85 victory over Cairns Taipans. Young finished his Australian tour with 24 points and nine assists, while Manek balanced that with 17 points of his own. Finnish freshman center Hannes Polla showed some positive signs on the trip, and his future looks bright as well. It is evident that between last year's freshman and this year's freshman, this has been some of Kruger's finest recruiting throughout his career.
Although Oklahoma put on quite the show throughout their World tour, OU also highlighted where some of the weaknesses lie. The Sooners continued to struggle with defending the 3-point shot. Opponents tended to have wide-open 3-point opportunities due to over-aggressiveness or someone losing their assignment. Either way, that is something that Big 12 shooters will thrive off of and could be a difference between a win and a loss.
Another area of potential improvement is in the offensive execution. Last season, the Sooners would get themselves into bouts of stagnant offense when players would try to do too much. Instead of running through the offense, players would try to shoulder all of the responsibility and play one-on-one for 15 seconds. There have been glimpses of that this preseason, and we’ve also seen players settling to easy for the 3-point shot. Oklahoma will need to establish their offense more consistently, and this will ultimately be to their benefit.
It’s only August, but there are plenty of reasons to be excited about this team. The upside of this team is high, and Sooner Nation got a taste of what this season may entail. With one of the top freshmen in the country on their squad and a future Hall of Fame coach on the bench, this team may go further than people expect.