Record: (21-10, 9-7 Big 12)
Key Wins: Arkansas, N/H-Gonzaga, N@West Virginia, @Baylor
Key Losses: Stephen F. Austin, @ Colorado, Texas, @ Nebraska
Key Stat: 12.55. The number of assists the Sooners average per game — ninth best in conference.
Biggest Strengths: Depth. Oh, to have nine players that can take the court at anytime. Unlike a lot of teams in the country, the Oklahoma Sooners have a plethora of talent to go around. The means if you’re having an “off” night, chances are good you’re probably going to sit the bench if somebody else is hot. Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel has been known to tweak the rotation when needed this season, and by “tweak” I mean that he has six players on his rosters that average over 20 minutes per game, and a total of nine that average over 12 minutes per game. What that adds up to is a team that can weather any major storm.
With forward Blake Griffin and center Longar Longar missing games during the season, Capel and his crack staff have been able to plug the holes up with players named Leary, Davis and Clark to keep the ship afloat. If anything, the Sooners might be too deep. However, with a starting five that all play over 25 minutes per game, the team does have a solid nucleus to lead them in the crunch.
Biggest Weaknesses: Lack of Assists. Texas has D.J. Augustin, Kansas has Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson, while Baylor feeds off the guard presence of Curtis Jerrells. Why do I mention all of these players? It’s because every one of them averages more assists that Oklahoma’s leading man, Austin Johnson. At 2.5 assists, you’d struggle to figure out how Oklahoma makes it through a game without a go-to guard to distribute the ball. While they did post a 21-10 overall record this season, they went long stretches without a true point guard presence to lead them. Johnson, David Godbold and Tony Crocker are all great perimeter talents, however, none of them have that point guard mentality you really need come tournament time. That could come back to hurt them in tight games.
Most Important Player: Blake Griffin. Just like Michael Beasley at Kansas State, Blake Griffin is another freshman forward living with the weight of a team on his broad shoulders. The 6-10 Griffin has produced some pretty spectacular performances this season while playing with a torn medial meniscus in his right knee. He turned an injury that was supposed to take 3-4 weeks to heal into nothing more than a “bruise.” He missed one game against Texas Tech before returning that weekend in Willis Reed like fashion to score 17 points in a big road win against Baylor. His threshold of pain shouldn’t be questioned, and neither should his determination on the court.
Griffin leads the Sooners in points (15.2) and rebounds (9.2), while also posting 10 double-doubles. He is a strong player that has little trouble facing up to his defender and taking him to the basket. Teams should be ready to double team him when they can — either that or they can foul him since he’s shooting an abysmal 60 percent from the free throw line.
X-Factor: Austin Johnson. Johnson is the driving force behind the Sooner offense. With the ball he is one of the best guards in the conference — now if he’d only learn to harness that ability in to creating more assists, then the Sooners could be very dangerous. Regardless, Johnson is the best option on the team when it comes to having a seasoned player that can handle the pressure of the NCAA Tournament. Johnson’s 9 points and 2.5 assists per game are yeoman-like numbers when you consider that his main objective is to get the ball in the hands of forward Blake Griffin whenever he can. This isn’t to say that fellow guards Tony Crocker and David Godbold aren’t important — they are far from average players. But if you were to ask who the one player besides Griffin the team could ill afford to lose, the name they’d mention would be Johnson’s.
Might Lose When….Longar Longar isn’t on the court. Ok, let me start by saying that any player with a double name must be a badass. That being said, Longar Longar continues that with a presence that is hard to explain. At 6-11 he’s one of the biggest forces in the Big 12, and come Tournament time, he’s guaranteed to cause some mismatches against smaller teams and force others to play from the outside.
Might Surprise You With…their defensive three-point field goal percentage. Stats never lie, so when you hold teams to a .317 defensive 3-point percentage during the season, you automatically become a team that sharpshooter’s don’t want to face. Their are countless live by the three, die by the three teams out in the tournament mix, and if Oklahoma ends up getting seeded against one, you might want to consider taking the Sooners based on this stat alone.
Predicted Finish in the NCAA’s: Round of 32. Oklahoma has great depth and a star player in Blake Griffin, but they still lack that star guard to really make a special run. Austin Johnson has shown flashes of greatness throughout the year, but he’d have to play out of his mind to really push Oklahoma any further than the second round.
Editor’s Note: Great synopsis, Jonathan. OU is probably going to get a little bit of sympathy in terms of its seed because of the injuries to Griffin during Big XII play, but I’m not sure they’ve got the horses for a deep Tourney run.