Tonight the Missouri Tigers travel to Norman, Oklahoma (you may have heard of the place) to take on an old conference foe in the OU Sooners. When last we met, the Sooners were wrapping up a rough first year under new Head Coach, but well traveled, Lon Kruger. Oklahoma finished 15-16 that year, while Missouri was on their way to a 30-5 season, twice beating the Sooners. Since that season Kruger has gotten the program turned around. In 2012-13 the Sooners secured a 20 win season and a 10 seed in the NCAA tournament, and last season they won 23 games in what was considered the toughest conference in the country and a 5 seed. So things are looking up.
YOU SHOULD CHECK THIS OUT
YOU SHOULD CHECK THIS OUT
A couple early season losses (to Creighton and Wisconsin) hasn't discouraged the Sooner faithful as there is legitimate reason for this team and it's fans to be optimistic. The Sooners still put themselves in a position to win the Battle 4 Atlantis with a loaded field, before succumbing to the second ranked Wisconsin Badgers. They did take down both UCLA and Butler before losing in the championship game. So, a little better than our Tigers did in Maui.
Back in the fold from a year ago is Buddy Hield, and the Sooners welcome Tyshawn Thomas, who is immediately eligible after a transfer from Houston. Thomas solidifies one of the best starting fives in the Big 12, which is one of the best leagues in basketball. And in case you were wondering, the SEC is not amongst the best leagues in basketball.
So it's pretty clear that the Sooners rely heavily on their top 5, with all five getting at least 28 mpg. Heild is the top threat, and Spangler is a load on the glass. Both will be tough matchups for the Tigers. They'll still get nine deep though, and give Missouri all they can handle.
Now, to really fill us in on what to expect from tonights game, let's do a...
My Thanks to Rich DeCray of Crimson and Cream Machine for helping me out with this preview and agreeing to answer a few of our questions about his Oklahoma Sooners. You remember those guys right?
RMN: The Lon Kruger era, after a rocky first year, seems to be going pretty well. What has Kruger done with the OU program that has it back headed in the right direction?
Rich DeCray: Previous, Jeff Capel brought in top talent from across the nation while neglecting to in state talent with the exception of the Griffin brothers. However, the players never bought into a team mentality under the former head coach and instead played for the name on the back of the jersey.
Once Lon Kruger took over, he implemented an identity for the program to rally around...a high energy style of play (a fast paced offense coupled with a man-to-man defense for 40 minutes). Needless to say, Kruger has recruited toward that identity while the players continue to buy in. Look no further than Buddy Hield, a guard who embodies what the Sooners preach on a daily basis, to exemplify they change over these past four years.
In combo with forming an identity, Kruger continues to recruit in the state of Oklahoma exceptionally well. First, he picked up 4-star point guard Jordan Woodard. Then Ryan Spangler returned home to play for the Sooners as a transfer from Gonzaga. This past week, the program picked up a 2016 commitment from 6-6 Kristian Doolittle in the Oklahoma City metro.
Lastly, Kruger continues establishing connections with former players and fans alike. By completing this task, the head coach stirs excitement around the program driving up the potential to land big time recruits like top 40 player, Payton Pritchard.
RMN: Currently sitting in the top 25, what are the season expectations for this team from Sooners fans?
DeCray: Over the course of his tenure, Kruger has yet to win a game in the post season whether it be in the conference tournament or in the NCAAs. I think the expectation for this season is to compete for the regular season conference title while making out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Realistically, eight teams from the Big XII can beat any other team on any given night. Kansas remains the favorite but Oklahoma can easily finish inside the top three. The pieces are finally in place for a solid run to come to fruition.
RMN: Buddy Hield and Cameron Clark led OU to a pretty good season last year, how has Oklahoma gone about replacing Clark's production?
DeCray: Simply stated, Oklahoma uses the tandem of Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins to make up for the loss of Cam Clark. In every contest, Woodard can expect to find himself as the smallest player on the floor. At 5-11, the point guard employs an attack mentality to draw contact underneath the rim. The effort allows him to reach the free throw line on a consistent basis where Woodard picks up a majority of his 8.2 points per game.
On the other hand, Isaiah Cousins continues to grow into a capable wing player. In his first season, the coaching staff relied on Cousins to do a majority of the ball handling. Unfortunately, it was never really his forte. Last season, Kruger move Cousins to the wing and the rest is history as the junior racks up stats like they are going out of style.
RMN: What is a weakness of the Sooners that will cost them more games than they should lose, and is that something you think Missouri can exploit?
DeCray: Right now, the obvious weakness is the post play and turnovers. Oklahoma continues to rely heavily on their guard to do a majority of the scoring. Packing the lane and forcing the guards to shoot over the top provides the Sooners with their lowest chance of securing a win. However, the tactic didn't exactly work for UCLA. If opponents truly hope to beat OU, they must keep the Sooners out of the paint while forcing turnovers consistently.
RMN: Give me a score prediction, plus one unexpected prediction of something that might happen during this game?
DeCray: 72-58 Final. We have a running count here at CCM of number of career highs set against the Sooners regardless of sport. My unexpected prediction is that Williams set a career high in scoring for the Tigers on Friday.
Super big thanks to Rich DeCray and the guys at Crimson and Cream Machine, our sister site here on SBNation. Go check them out, we can still root hard against Bob Stoops and Co, but the folks over at CCM are great and represent Sooners nation well. While you're there make sure you read up on their Behind Enemy Lines piece that Rich and I did previewing Mizzou.