Grading the OU basketball season
Sooners finished 15-16 in Lon Kruger's first season as head coach
NORMAN, Okla. -- It was a season of ups and downs for Oklahoma.
The Sooners burst out of the gate with a 10-2 non-conference record, raising expectations entering Big 12 play. Then the bottom fell out, as OU dropped three straight games to open conference play.
Two wins over Kansas State in the span of two weeks brought hope but were quickly followed by a six-game losing streak, which cemented OU in the bottom half of the league.
The Sooners finished the season 15-16 overall, but first-year head coach Lon Kruger can be satisfied with his first year as his team bought into his long-term vision of the program.
Let's look at eight keys to success and grade the Sooners in those areas this season:
Point guard play: Sam Grooms was very solid during his first season on campus. The junior junior college transfer led the BIg 12 in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.85) while finishing second in assists (5.97 per game). He took care of the ball and developed as the season progressed. The next step for Grooms is developing a perimeter shot that opponents must respect. If he does that, he can earn a spot among the league's top point guards.
Perimeter play (shooting guards/small forwards): Steven Pledger was very good leading the Sooners with 16.2 points per game, ranking No. 6 in the Big 12. The next step for Pledger is developing a go-to move which he can execute regardless of how he is being defended. That would help OU close out games.
Cameron Clark had several good games but was inconsistent, even losing his starting spot at one point in the season. He averaged 8.5 points per game and shot 41.3 percent from the field. Focusing on becoming more consistent and aggressive, thus utilizing his athleticism, should be Clark's goal this summer.
Post play (forwards/center): Romero Osby was the best player on the team this season. He has a complete offensive game, battles on defense, is an active rebounder and displays leadership traits. He's a solid anchor to build upon for next season. He averaged 12.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field.
Andrew Fitzgerald was solid and, for the most part, maximized his skills. He averaged 12.1 points and five rebounds per game. Athleticism is not his forte, so expecting him to be a shot blocker or lock-down post defender is unfair. He just needs to continue honing the skills that make him effective.
Bench: Departing senior forward C.J. Washington was the lone consistent player off the bench. He played his role as a rebounder and defender very well. He's the main reason the bench didn't get an F.
Point guard Carl Blair had good moments and bad moments. He joined Grooms as the lone Sooner with more assists than turnovers, yet he played fewer than 10 minutes in four of OU's final seven games as he seemed to lose confidence. Blair needs to become more secure and confident with the ball and running the team.
Forward Tyler Neal appeared to be OU's scoring sixth man after an 18-point performance against Arkansas, then he hit the wall in conference play and played sparse minutes in several Big 12 games. Neal needs to develop his game to the point where he is invaluable even it he doesn't hit any shots. That will secure consistent minutes and allow him to make an bigger impact in games.
Coaching: Kruger got the most out of this team and had them playing hard until the end, even when things looked bleak. He laid a solid foundation for the future and changed the mindset within the program. While the tangible results (wins) weren't readily apparent, Kruger did a very good job.
Team chemistry: Overall the team had good chemistry, but there were times when they did bicker and point fingers at each other when they struggled. Their team chemistry and desire to play together as one unit was not unbreakable, like it will need to be if OU expects to compete for championships.
Leadership: The Sooners have a good leader in Romero Osby, and Sam Grooms grew into that role late in the season. Nonetheless, better leadership was needed this season when OU hit the roadblocks that are unavoidable during a 30-game season. There were several instances when the Sooners needed a vocal leader on the floor and in timeouts to help OU hold off opponent's runs.
Intangibles: OU's inability to learn from its losses should haunt this team. The Sooners were in so many close games and never really seemed to learn how to win those games, instead often finding ways to lose them. After running the offense and playing solid for 30-plus minutes, the Sooners would all of a sudden do uncharacteristic things with the game on the line. And it happened, not once or twice, but multiple times. Several aspects -- including leadership, chemistry and mental focus -- combined into the sub-par intangibles that helped the Sooners lose games they should have won.
Brandon Chatmon covers University of Oklahoma sports and recruiting for SoonerNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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