Basketball is upon us, fellow fans. After a season that saw a Final Four run and a coaching change, there is reason for excitement as all four state schools begin play this weekend. Here at the Oklahoma Sports Show, we wanted to take a quick look at what each team brings to the table in 2016–2017.
Lon Kruger begins his sixth season at OU after winning 111 games in his first five. Oh yeah, he also took the Sooners to their first Final Four, since 2002. Last year’s team finished 29–8, losing to eventual champion, Villanova in the National Semifinal. Gone, however, is player of the year, Buddy Hield, along with big-man, Ryan Spangler and guard Isaiah Cousins. How the Sooners replace these key pieces will the be the question heading into the season.
Senior guard, Jordan Woodard will be asked to fill the void, this year, after averaging 13 points a game last season. The Sooners need not only his leadership, but also his points average to increase, especially early in the season. Khadeem Latin anchors the middle, hoping to build upon his 108 career blocks, as well as improve his offensive game. Kruger has tabbed him as the “biggest surprise for the fans this season.”
The Sooners did bring in a duo of talented newcomers, led by Kameron McGusty and Kristion Doolittle. McGusty comes in as a top-50 recruit who attended the same high school as Hield. He averaged 22 points/game as a senior and OU hopes he will be able to bring some points to the table as the season progresses. Doolittle is a 6’7″ big man out of Edmond, who will be asked to provide frontcourt depth for Kruger’s squad.
Looking at the Sooner schedule, the team will have several opportunities to prove themselves, playing Wichita State, Wisconsin, Memphis and Auburn in the non-conference slate. This will give Kruger and his players a chance to learn and prepare for the brutal slate that is the Big 12 Conference. Looking at this season, another NCAA run should be no surprise for the Sooners.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
The 2015–16 season ended the Travis Ford era, for Oklahoma State, and the Cowboys wasted no time in making what many pundits considered to be the biggest hire of the offseason. Brad Underwood, a former Kansas State player and assistant, returns to Big 12 country, after winning 89 games in his first three seasons at Stephen F. Austin. Underwood’s pedigree and early success has ignited a new passion among a fan base that had been searching for something to be excited about.
Underwood will have his work cut out for him, however, having one of the best backcourts in the Big 12 will give the Cowboys opportunities to compete night in and night out. Big 12 Freshman of the Year, Jawun Evans, returns to the point guard position, after missing the latter half of conference play in 2015–16. Evans averaged 12.9 points and 4.9 assists, last season, including a 42 point outburst against OU, in Stillwater. Phil Forte, the fifth year senior, returns with his sights set on the OSU career three-point record. The Cowboys also return several key contributors, including Jeffrey Carroll, Leyton Hammonds, Tavarius Shine and Mitchell Solomon.
Newcomers to the roster include Lindy Waters III, who poured in 15 points in the team’s exhibition opener. The 6’5″ guard will be asked to play multiple positions on the floor, and appears to provide an all-around game that will give him opportunity to play early. Cameron McGriff is another stat-stuffer who will have an opportunity to make a name for himself. Underwood has been very impressed with his energy and tenacity in early practices.
Looking at the season ahead, there are still many question marks for the Cowboys. They lack height in the frontcourt that might be key in the Big 12 Conference, but Underwood has hinted that he is not afraid to use a small, “lineup of death,” similar to the Golden State Warriors. With non-conference tests that include Maryland, Arkansas and Connecticut in the Maui Invitational; Underwood will have a good idea of where his team stands heading in to conference play. It might be a reach, but expectations for the Cowboys to return to the NCAA Tournament abound, and it seems like a very real possibility.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Coming off a 20-win season and First Four loss to Michigan, the University of Tulsa looks to replace seven players who averaged double-digit minutes. Yes, you read that right. Head Coach, Frank Haith, may have his work cut out for him in 2016–17, but it appears he has done a fine job of bringing in talented players to off-set the loss of a majority of the team’s offense and leadership.
Gone are Shaq Harrison and James Woodard, along with their combined 30 points/game. Replacing these two will not be easy, but the Hurricane will rely on senior Pat Birt to carry the load. The 6’5″ Birt averaged 12 points/game last year, and Coach Haith is confident he can rely on his steady shooting and leadership. Joining Birt in the backcourt will be a bevy of guards, led by junior college transfers, Jeleel Wheeler and Cory Henderson.
In the frontcourt, Tulsa will rely on Rutgers transfer, Junior Etou. The 6’7″ junior averaged seven points and six rebounds for the Scarlet Knights, and started 17 Big Ten games as a sophomore. His toughness and experience could pay off mightily in the AAC, this season. Geno Artison is a 6’9″ sophomore transfer from Southern Idaho. He averaged 14 points and six rebounds in his one season, and the Hurricane hope he can use his athleticism and quickness to find minutes on the floor.
Replacing so many players makes a team like Tulsa difficult to predict. Haith has done a great job at Tulsa, and looks to continue to build upon his success. Early tests against Wichita State, Oregon State and Oklahoma State will allow us to see the potential of this Hurricane team. A repeat trip to the NCAA Tournament may be a little hopeful, this season, but expect a competitive team night in and night out, in Tulsa.
Oral Roberts Golden Eagles
After a disappointing 14–17 campaign (Coach Scott Sutton’s worst), the Golden eagles look to rebound with a balanced offensive approach. Seven newcomers, many of which are expected to contribute, dot the roster, but it will be 6’9″ junior Albert Owens and senior guard, Jalen Bradley who will lead the way.
Owens was the second-leading scorer on last year’s team, averaging 9.9 points/game. He will be needed to contribute on both ends of the floor if ORU is to find success, but newcomer, Emmanuel Nzekwesi should provide help in the frontcourt. At 6’8″, 230, Nzekwesi and Owens pose a formidable duo in the Summit League.
Coach Sutton is excited about the new faces on the team, and will need guards like Dezmond McDaniel to step up to provide help for Bradley. The 5’11” freshman has adapted well to college life, and now it remains to be seen if he can provide help by the time conference season begins.
ORU is predicted to finish in the middle of the Summit League standings by coaches and media, but Coach Sutton hopes the team can compete at a higher level. After a disappointing finish to the season, in the conference tournament, Sutton hopes that the players will return to the floor motivated to finish stronger in 2016–17.