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Sunday, January 22, 2012
Sooners must keep progressing

By Brandon Chatmon
SoonerNation

NORMAN, Okla. -- Before Big 12 play began, questions remained about how good Oklahoma basketball had become under Lon Kruger during his first season in charge.

A third of the way through conference play, it is clear the Sooners are a much better team under Kruger this season; several opposing coaches have alluded to the difference in postgame comments.

Yet, there's still plenty of work to be done. So it seems like the perfect time to reassess some of the goals for the Sooners heading into the final 12 games of conference play.

Here are five things the Sooners can do (with an eye toward the overall progression of the program) to make the remainder of the season successful:

Lon Kruger
In his first season at Oklahoma, Lon Kruger's Sooners are 2-4 in Big 12 play.

Continue to create an atmosphere of competition

The decision to start guard Carl Blair instead of forward Cameron Clark was a message from Kruger to his entire team: Minutes need to be earned, they aren't given. And they remain up for grabs.

It is critical to the program's future that this becomes the standard. Everyone in the program -- from Steven Pledger to the 12th man -- needs to operate as if the search for their replacement has begun. Nothing motivates like the potential to lose your position.

Maintain the same effort and hunger to get better throughout the remainder of the season

The Sooners play hard and effort hasn't been a problem during the first 18 games of the season. It's critical the effort remains consistent for the final 12 games.

Whenever he is asked about goals, Kruger has constantly talked about getting better and improving every day, never bringing up win-loss records or results other than making the NCAA tournament. Up to this point, the Sooners have practiced with a purpose every day but as adversity hits and conference losses have piled up, it is important Kruger's message is not lost.

If OU is still competing hard and practicing like it's hungry to maximize its potential -- regardless of the win-loss record in the final 12 games -- it would be a step forward for the program because it shows the players commitment and belief in Kruger. And that would be an outstanding sign with the majority of the roster returning next season.

Figure out more ways to get Romero Osby involved in the offense

Osby is the Sooners' most efficient scorer (82 of 163 attempts, 50.3-percent shooting). He can score inside and outside, but the Sooners rarely run plays specifically designed to get him the ball with room to work. That needs to change.

With his combination of athleticism, toughness and desire, Osby is a matchup problem for a lot of teams. The junior can be unselfish to a fault at times -- Osby's mental approach also needs to change -- particularly when it becomes clear the Sooners' offense is struggling.

Simply put, OU needs to get Osby more scoring opportunities because he takes advantage of the limited opportunities he gets now.

Continue to run the offense through Steven Pledger regardless how he is defended

Scouting and game-planning is one of the biggest reasons why Steven Pledger has gotten off to a slow start in conference play, with his scoring average dropping three points per game (17.2 to 14.2 in Big 12 play). Conference opponents are coming out with Pledger as the focus of their defenses, and the junior is shooting just 34.2 percent in six conference games.

OU needs to continue to feed Pledger the ball and get him used to finding a way to score regardless of how a defense aims to stop him. might may be some initial bumps in the road as Pledger struggles to overcome additional defensive attention, but it will pay off for the rest of the season and next season as well if the Sooners' best shooter is comfortable attacking any defense an opponent throws at them.

Require the best from Cameron Clark and instill confidence in the sophomore

Clark has the talent to be a force in the Big 12, but he doesn't play like it. Teammates say he is laid back by nature, and that personality translates to the court.

The sophomore is one of the most athletic players in the Big 12 but often lets opponents off the hook by settling for jump shots when he could drive and elevate over defenders at will. With his athletic ability, Clark should be one of the Sooners' leaders in free throw attempts, yet he ranks fifth on the team with 44 free throw attempts on the season. The coaching staff has been encouraging Clark to attack more and he has since he was replaced in the starting lineup by Blair against Kansas State on Jan. 14.

It's tough to say if Clark just doesn't have the confidence to believe he can have a major impact on games or if he doesn't have the desire to dominate. Either way, Oklahoma needs him to stop letting other teams off the hook and force teams to account for him when preparing for the Sooners.

If Clark ever reaches his full potential it could take the Sooners to another level.

Brandon Chatmon covers University of Oklahoma sports and recruiting for SoonerNation. He can be reached at bchatmonespn@gmail.com.

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