To preview the Texas-Oklahoma basketball game on Tuesday night, we've brought in "OnlyOneOU", who writes about Sooner basketball at Crimson and Cream Machine, for a little Q&A.
1) It seems like only yesterday that OU was riding high with one of the top recruiting classes in the country, led by Tommy Mason-Griffin and Tiny Gallon, coming in on the heels of an Elite Eight appearance. How did it fall apart so quickly under Jeff Capel?
A lot of the past success falls into the hands of the Griffin Brothers and more specifically Blake. There are always those recruits who, once they reach campus, become huge assets on and off the court. Blake was one of those types of kids and did a lot of recruiting for Oklahoma. Many OU fans remember [Dallas McDonald's All-American] Willie Warren, and you can bet Blake was the main reason he found himself in Norman. AAU Basketball is a great connection builder and tends to have some sway in where a player chooses to go for his/her collegiate career.
Jeff Capel, on the other hand, was a risky hire. He had great success at Virginia Commonwealth, but he was still largely unproven. But, much like Bob Stoops, Oklahoma decided to take the risk hoping it would lead to great reward. It may appear that Capel was a solid recruiter, but Blake was always going to play with his brother. Outside of that, if you get the "MJ" stamp so to speak, you can recruit any kid you want and Blake gave OU that edge, not Capel.
My biggest knock to Capel, and why I think this program is in it's current state, is that there was no development of talent to go alongside a lack of character judgement. If you are bringing in McDonald's All-Americans like TMG (need I give a better example of lack of character judgment?), you have to have the know how to handle the ego that comes with it. With Capel at the reigns, Oklahoma had no strength and conditioning coach. In possibly the most physical conference, that is a must but one was nowhere to be found and in turn the Griffin Brothers took over those duties.
But to give him a bit of credit, he walked into a tough situation after the recruiting violations Kelvin Sampson left for him. Capel was not the best courtside coach and it was evident by the hanging heads in the second half of every game. It just never came together for him in Norman and by the end many fans wanted him gone.
2) The Sooners, at 13-11, are only one more win from matching last season's win total. How much of that would you attribute to natural player growth and how much to first-year head coach Lon Kruger?
One of the biggest differences under Lon Kruger is the fact that this team is willing to fight to the end. The only time that I could see them revert to their old ways of giving up and hanging their heads was in the Texas Tech loss. Kruger has changed this system into a gritty man-to-man defense along with an up and down offense that has the ability to score with multiple options. So yes, part of the success definitely comes from Kruger.
But it's also the bonding that has happened for this team. For the first time in the past three years, the players are playing for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back. The kids are taking credit for their actions and stepping up to take the blame for poor play. It started with Sam Grooms, a JUCO recruit. Grooms came in and immediately became a leader which was evident through their practices. Now he is leading by example on the court and his level of play has elevated as he currently sits at #5 in the nation in assists to turnover ration at 3.1. The challenge has been issued and while it will take some time, this team and program are both headed in the right direction.
Much of the down-slide can be attributed to a lack of bench scoring, which is pretty crucial at this level of ball. Oklahoma has not been quite the same since the departure of Calvin Newell. He was the second leading scorer and was coming off the bench providing a spark that simply isn't there now. It has forced many of the players into roles they aren't ready for, specifically Cameron Clark. Clark had a ton of hype coming into this season but just hasn't been the scorer we needed him to be. He was benched and a light came on as he had some of his most productive games. He has since been inserted back into the starting lineup and has gone cold once again. The Sooners will need to find a scoring option off the bench next season to be more successful.
3) Kruger wasn't the sexiest hire, but the UNLV team he left is in the Top 15 now. Do you think that's a realistic goal for OU in the next three years?
Kruger was a solid hire for a program that could not afford another risk. He has built a reputation as a coach with the ability to resurrect a program. Time and time again, Kruger has done that. Oklahoma was not something he had not been thrown into before and most likely will see again. To answer the question, it's possible but I will venture to say no.
Lon Kruger is and will be bringing in some great talent. He already has inked two top 100 recruits in Buddy Hield and Jelon Hornbeck. They will make a great addition to what this team already has. And from a few of the practice I have seen first hand, he runs a tight ship. In the 2013 class, Kruger has the chance to land a kid named Stevie Clark, who is a scoring point guard and can shoot from anywhere on the floor. The recruiting is coming along and the potential is there but with the current state of the program and all the sanctions, it will be tough for Oklahoma to crack the Top 15.
There were very low expectations this season. Most fans expected OU to finish dead last in the conference or at least challenge Texas Tech for that spot. However, the quick start got many excited for basketball once again. I saw it as a setup for disappointment. The non-conference scheduled failed to compare to the talent level that was going to be on the hardwood once conference play started. It is going to be an uphill battle for Kruger and Co. but at the end of three years, I think we will see the full potential of what Kruger can do. However, it will be very tough to land a spot in the Top 15.
4) Do you think the Sooners will be able to make a post-season appearance this year, especially in light of their 65-47 loss to Texas Tech on Saturday?
Had this question been posed at the beginning of conference play, I would have said yes. Looking at the current win column sitting at 13 ... I give them very slim chances if any at all. To be honest, after the Texas Tech loss I would be surprised to see Oklahoma in the post-season. That was a very deflating loss for me. If we take a look at the remaining schedule, there is one maybe two likely wins left. The best chances for OU to get another win are when they host Oklahoma St. and later Texas A&M, but at this point those are not guaranteed. A 15-15 team, at best, has no hopes of making the big dance unless they go Miracle On Ice style and win the conference tournament. A 14-16 or 15-15 team will still be at the bottom of the conference and it is doubtful that the NIT picks this squad.
5) What's going to be the key for OU to pull off an upset of Texas tonight?
1 - Oklahoma will need to defend J' Covan Brown well. I would expect Lon Kruger to use a rotation of sorts in attempting to stop him for hitting his season marks so far. In comparison, no other Longhorn starter is averaging more that 9.8 points a game. But more so than that, it is important to keep the ball of his hands and force it into the freshmen Rick Barnes will insert into the game tonight. Young players make rookie mistakes and OU will need to capitalize on those.
2 - Steven Pledger must get going early and keep pouring it on. When Pledger finds his shot, he draws much of the attention which opens things up for Andrew Fitzgerald and Romero Osby. If Pledger is limited to just a few shots, the defense will be able to collapse and severely cut down the number of legitimate scoring options. Texas Tech was able to do this and is part of why they ran away with it. If the supporting cast is limited in what they can do, I'd give OU a 0% chance of winning this one even though it is at home.