For many years there existed a kinship in the early days of SBNation. We frequently worked with the other blogs to do fun cross-blog posts and it generated some interesting content. So if you’ve been around for a while, you’re more than familiar with our friends at the SBN Oklahoma site, CrimsonAndCreamMachine.com.
We (re)connected over the last few days and exchanged a few questions, so here’s everything you wanted to know from site manager Jack Shields.
Rock M Nation: Missouri and Oklahoma have both faded a bit in the W/L column down the stretch of the season. What was going right for the Sooners early and what has gone wrong for them in the recent games?
When Elijah Harkless was ruled eligible earlier in the season, Oklahoma’s four-guard lineup was extremely effective, particularly on the defensive end. The perimeter defense was extremely feisty against small lineup and large lineups alike, and Harkless was kind of the straw that stirred the drink on that end. Offensively, Austin Reaves’ transformation into a point guard and creator was huge and completely changed the team’s offensive identity.
Unfortunately, the lack of size really started to hurt the Sooners in the rebounding department. On the other end, Reaves has developed a tendency to play hero ball late in games, and OU’s ability to close has suffered as a result.
RMN: Austin Reeves is the clear focal point offensively. What makes him so difficult to defend, and what can the defense do to force Austin into a long night?
His biggest strength and greatest weakness are his confidence. When things are going well, he absolutely deals as a point guard, and the whole offense just clicks. His transformation from a three-point specialist at Wichita State to a poor man’s Pete Maravich at Oklahoma has been fascinating to watch.
As I mentioned earlier, the ball tends to stick to his hands late in games. It worked earlier in the season, but it’s coming back to bite the team at this point. Aside from that, he can sometimes resort to this type of play when his teammates are struggling offensively, so the key to giving him a long night might simply be to focus on his other weapons.
RMN: The loss of De’Vion Harmon obviously hurts. What did he bring to the lineup and who is going to need to step in and provide more production in his absence?
He’s just a phenomenal scorer at every level of the floor. He finishes around the rim really well. His three-point shot has improved. Perhaps the most impressive area of this game, however, is his mid-range scoring ability. He’s also great at moving without the ball, and Reaves would regularly find him cutting to the bucket.
Some of that offensive load is going to fall on Umoja Gibson, who isn’t the complete offensive player that Harmon is. However, he’s a very confident shooter who is more than capable of scoring 20-plus.
RMN: Lon Kruger is considered in basketball circles to be a critically underrated basketball coach. What’s the general consensus within the Oklahoma fan base on Kruger, since OU leveled off a bit since the Buddy Hield days?
I think many people are at peace with who he is as a coach, while others are irked by his style and philosophy. He’s not someone who’s going to chew his players out, and the result is a more free-flowing offense in which players aren’t afraid to be themselves. There’s obviously another side to that coin, and that’s when Kruger occasionally draws ire. OU’s half-court offenses haven’t always been a work of art.
There are some who would like to see a change, but there’s a reason that he’s so respected in coaching circles. He and his assistants have molded a lot of players into a finished product that few would have envisioned at the beginning of their careers. Reaves and former wing-turned-PG Isaiah Cousins are prime examples of this.
Defensively, the hire of former Bradley head coach Jim Molinari has been fruitful. That end really hasn’t been an issue for this program over the past two seasons. The fact that this box has been checked has really benefitted his image as a coach (or at least that’s how I see it).
What can’t be debated is that Lon is the nicest man in the world, so you won’t find many who aren’t pulling for him to succeed.
RMN: As former Big12 and Big 8 foes, is there nostalgia from the fan base for the rivalry between OU and Mizzou or have they mostly moved on?
I loved to hate the Mizzou basketball program. I was born in ‘89, so my memories are of the end of the Norm Stewart era followed by the Quin Snyder era. They definitely had a rep for being dirty, but they were never boring. I went up to Kemper for the Big 12 Tournament on many occasions during that stretch, and it was always apparent that Mizzou fans were the meanest in the Big 12. I think I secretly enjoyed it. Maybe…
Gallagher-Iba was the loudest arena in the league. Allen Fieldhouse was the toughest place to win. The Hearnes Center, however, was the most hostile venue in the Big 12, and it wasn’t even close. As much as I hated it as a kid, I miss those environments in Columbia and KC in hindsight. It added some excitement to the proceedings, for sure. I think others feel the same way.
If you want to follow Jack on Twitter, you can do so here: @jlarryshields