Yesterday, Rich from Crimson and Cream Machine, SB Nation's OU blog, asked me some questions about tonight's contest. Today, I reciprocate:
1.Oklahoma's offense is as good as it's been since the Griffin days. What are the biggest things driving that?
There are three things that come to mind. The first of these is the pace of the game as Oklahoma plays transition basketball. As a half-court offense is not the strength of this team, Oklahoma favors plying up-tempo leading to a plethora of shots are going to be offered up. We all know that more shots eventually lead to more points. The second thing is a tireless defense. Lon Kruger often deploys pressure in the back court but fans expect to see 40 minutes of man-to-man defense. Having active hands in passing lanes while communicating on screens has led to turnovers and subsequently, easy buckets for Oklahoma. Lastly, this is a team that has a knack for getting to the free-throw line. When you attempt roughly 30 FTs per game, you are putting yourself in a good position to score frequently.
2. With Oklahoma having to replace Pledger and Osby from last year's team, I frankly thought they were in trouble this year. How have they been able to overcome those losses?
A team effort that's for sure. The most prominent reason can be traced to the progression that occurs between the freshman and sophomore seasons. Lon Kruger started three freshmen (Isaiah Cousins, Buddy Hield, and Je'lon Hornbeak) last season. Gaining invaluable experience, the group known as "Three The Hard Way" can now be counted on night after night to contribute on a more consistent basis. However, you cannot count out the lone starting senior, Cameron Clark. With the most experience on the roster, Oklahoma looked to this athletic tweener to be a viable scoring option. That expectation alone may have seemed off to those outside of the program as his production decreased through all three previous years. As we speak, Clark is tied for second in the conference in scoring output at 17.7 points per game. Factor in the surprise performances from true freshman Jordan Woodard and the steady rebounding of Gonzaga transfer, Ryan Spangler, and it is easy to see that each player has found a role on the floor. Not a single one has a "me first" mentality which has contributed to the success thus far..
3. Oklahoma doesn't really give a lot of minutes to their bench. How do you think this will impact them as they maybe get a bit worn down by a tough big 12 schedule?
It's going to be vital that the Sooners not only get minutes to bench players but also that those bench players produce. With a team built upon endurance and defense, the wear and tear does not concern me. Je'lon Hornbeak will be making his return after suffering an injury and adds depth on the roster as Head Coach Kruger returns to a nine man rotation (Hield is the only player averaging 30+ minutes per game). The real concern is foul trouble. Oklahoma fans view Ryan Spangler and Jordan Woodard as the most irreplaceable pieces on the floor. Quite frankly, there is no one on the roster capable of bringing to the table what these two can. Without them, things often take a turn for the worst.
4. It seems like there is probably a separation after the top 4 teams in the Big 12 (Kansas, OSU, Iowa State, Baylor) but then 5-10 is up for grabs. Where do you see OU in that mix, or do you see them potentially cracking that top 4?
OU is a team that can surprise any opponent on any given night. With that said, it appears the Big XII is a solid conference from top to bottom with a legitimate shot at sending more than half of those teams to the NCAA Tournament. I would tend to agree that there is some separation with what we'll label as "the top four" and "the rest." Oklahoma falls under "the rest" category as of now but will easily finish fifth or at worst sixth barring any major injury. We'll now a little bit more on this topic soon though as Kansas and Iowa St. are up in the same for the Sooners.
5. Lastly, offer us up a prediction for the game on Wednesday.
5. There is no hiding that the Jayhawks are a talented bunch and will outsize their counterpart on Wednesday. Look for Oklahoma to push the pace and attempt to create turnovers while taking an early lead. However, KU comes screaming back in the latter part of the first half to take a slim lead before the break. From there on out, Kansas controls the game as OU makes a late push just to keep things interesting. I have the Jayhawks winning this one 83-75.