Big 12 Conference Preview: #2 Oklahoma Sooners

2013-14 Season Results: 23-10, 12-6 conference record. 2nd in the Big 12, 75-80 loss to North Dakota State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Key Losses: Cameron Clark (graduation), Tyler Neal (graduation).

Key Returners: G Buddy Hield, G Isaiah Cousins, G Jordan Woodard, F Ryan Spangler, G Je’lon Hornbeak.

2014 Recruiting Class: Dante Buford (ESPN 4-star, #18 PF), Khadeem Lattin (ESPN 4-star, #13 C), Jamuni McNeace (NR, C), Dinjiyl Walker (JuCo, PG).

A lot of people were stunned to see the #5 seed Oklahoma Sooners lose to #12 seed North Dakota State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Those that followed the Sooners last season knew, however, that it wasn’t Oklahoma’s defense that was winning them games. In fact, the Sooners ranked 308th in the country in points allowed at 76.0 points per game. Something’s gotta give, right? Indeed it does – Oklahoma had the 8th best offense in the country at a steady 81.9 points per game. So it was their offense that let them down against NDSU, and yet another #12 seed earns a win in the NCAA Tournament.

Let’s look, however, to the Sooners’ recruiting class. Oklahoma adds to 4-star forces in the middle with PF Dante Buford and C Khadeem Lattin. Joining Buford and Lattin is 6’10” C Jamuni McNeace, who is not as highly regarded as either 4-star recruits, but adds much needed size to the Sooners’ frontcourt. This addition of size to Oklahoma’s roster will most likely help increase the Sooners’ average rebounding (5th in the Big 12) and give them a boost in their overall blocks (10th). For head coach Lon Kruger to shore up his spotty at best defense from last season will make a huge improvement in the Sooners’ game in 2014-15. There’s plenty of confidence that the offense can go out there and put up big numbers, but it will help in spades to have a competent defense that can help push Oklahoma over the hump in close games.

Oklahoma will be buoyed by a trio of guards on offense this upcoming season. Guards Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard all averaged over 10 points per game last season, so look to them to continue that production in 2014-15. it should be no problem for the trio to replace graduating senior Cameron Clark’s 15.6 points per game, but guards Je’lon Hornbeak and Dinjiyl Walker are more than apt to help out.

In looking back on the Sooners’ 2013-14 season, it’s plain to see that the lack of balance between their offense and defense is what held them back from making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The Big 12 will be yet again competitive – up and down at times and by the book during others. Oklahoma will be expected to win 12 games, as they did last season in conference play. The big question for Lon Kruger and company is if the Sooners’ defense can step up in the clutch and take the pressure off their high-powered offense. Oklahoma will be just fine in 2014-15 and will end up making the NCAA Tournament. Claiming the top spot in the Big 12 standings once the season ends, however, may prove to be yet a few years away for the Sooners.

Projected Finish: 2nd