Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a continuing series of article previewing the 2013-14 Big 12 men’s basketball season and examining all 10 conference teams.
No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners
Head coach Lon Kruger got the Sooners back on the winner’s side of the won-loss column in his second season at Oklahoma, but the Kansas State alum and former player and coach at his alma mater, will have his work cut out for him in 2013-14. Kruger must replace four starters and 70 percent of the Sooners offensive firepower this season, which will make it very difficult for OU to match its 20-12 overall record of a year ago.
The Sooners made a return appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 2008-09, when consensus National Player of the Year in college basketball Blake Griffin ruled the court for Oklahoma. For Kruger, who begins his third season at OU, it was the fifth team he has taken to the NCAA Basketball Championship, the first coach in history to do so.
Kruger, in his 27th season as a head coach at six different schools, has always been known for his ability to turn around stagnant or failing programs. He will have a major rebuilding effort in 2013-14, as the Sooners lose five key contributors and the team’s top three scorers from last season, all of whom averaged in double digits.
OU’s biggest loss was in the frontcourt, where a pair of 6-8 transfers, Ryan Spangler, who played his freshman season at Gonzaga, and D.J. Bennett, a junior-college transfer, will step into starting roles, replacing Romero Osby and Amath M’Baye.
“Ryan is a guy that’s a blue-collar type guy,” Kruger said at Big 12 Media Days about newcomer Spangler, one of a half-dozen guys on the Sooners’ roster this season who had not played any Big 12 minutes before this season. “He brings it every day. He loves to play. He runs the floor very well, a good rebounder. (He’ll) step out and make shots, pick up opportunities around the basket.
“Just one of those guys that coaches love he’s very competitive,” the OU head coach said.
The Sooners also must replace leading-scorer Steven Pledger and assist-leader Sam Grooms, but appear to be well stocked at that position, with part-time starters Buddy Hield and Je’Lon Hornbeak back for their sophomore seasons.
Senior forward Cameron Clark is the Sooners’ most experienced returning player with 60 starts in 95 career games. He averaged 16.8 points in Oklahoma’s five-game exhibition tour in Europe in August. JC transfers Keshaun Hamilton and Edison Avila, both 6-10, give OU added size around the basket.
Oklahoma has appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 28 of the past 32 seasons and has made 23 appearances since 1983, the second most among Big 12 schools. The Sooners would love to make it two in a row under Kruger, but that might be a stretch this season.
The Sooners are off to a good start in 2013-14, coming from 16 points down at one point to defeat Alabama in the season-opener for both teams on Friday in Dallas and following that up with a 93-81 win Monday night at home over North Texas.
Next up: Kansas State