In a weeklong countdown based on the preseason coaches poll, MetroNews previews the basketball teams of the Big 12 …
Oklahoma last season: 15-16 (5-13 Big 12); 139 RPI
On the bench: Lon Kruger is a 26-year coaching veteran with a 494-320 record and a history of successful stints at Texas-Pan American, Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV, resulting in 13 NCAA berths, three Sweet 16s, two Elite Eights and one Final Four.
Who’s gone: Backup point guard Carl Blair (3.5 points, 2.6 assists) transferred to Prairie View A&M, and reserve forward C.J. Washington (2.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg) graduated. Guard Calvin Newell (13.0 ppg) left the Sooners after five games last December and transferred to UCF.
Who’s back: Five starters, led by sharp-shooter Steven Pledger (16.2 ppg, 41 percent from 3-pointers) and a pair of 6-foot-8 forwards, Romero Osby (12.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Andrew Fitzgerald (12.1 ppg, 5.0 rig). Guards Cameron Clark (8.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Sam Grooms (6.7 ppg, 6.1 apg) were regulars who figure to come off the bench this season.
Who’s new: Forward Amath M’Baye is a 6-9 player with the inside-outside skills to be the Big 12′s preseason newcomer of the year. The junior was a double-digit scorer at Wyoming before transferring last season.
If the Sooners’ exhibition game was an indication, the starting backcourt will be an all-freshmen tandem of Isaiah Cousins and Je’lon Hornbeak.
Junior-college signee D.J. Bennett will be counted on for depth on a frontline rotation.
Nonconference schedule: The Sooners will visit Orlando for the Old Spice Classic, where they’ll open with UTEP and face a second-round matchup against Gonzaga or Clemson. (There’s also a chance OU could face fellow Big 12 member West Virginia in the third game.) A road trip to Arkansas and a home date with Texas A&M are the other notables on a fairly pedestrian nonleague slate.
Postseason prognosis: A winning record and NIT bid seem like a given. But Kruger’s teams tend to show steady progression in Year 2, and if M’Baye delivers on his huge promise, the Sooners should be in the NCAA hunt.