Good Wins: Purdue, Davidson, Utah, Texas
Bad Losses: @Arkansas
1. Blake Griffin. He may be one player, but Griffin appears to have the energy and strength of two men when he’s on the court. Not only is he a lock to win the National Player of the Year award, but he’s probably a better draft prospect that last year’s big-man extraordinaire, Michael Beasley. And that’s saying a lot. Griffin is currently averaging almost 21 points and 14 rebound per game. Those are stats that put him in a league where he’s a man amongst boys. Not only are his numbers off the charts, he’s also a strong vocal leader on one of the most balanced teams in the country. To put it plainly, he’s as good as it gets in college basketball.
2. Willie Warren. Blake Griffin who? That could be OU’s banner next season if its fantastic freshman stays around for another season. The Fort Worth, Texas product is as good as advertised, averaging 14 points per game and three assists. The numbers he put up during Blake Griffin’s two-game absence (25 ppg) proved that he’s a real gamer. Jeff Capel has claimed that Warren doesn’t fear anyone–and judging by the way he’s played so far in his first season, I’d agree with the coach.
1. Depth. Anyone watching Oklahoma’s stretch in the season without Griffin saw that the team has a major weakness in the bench department. With every member of the starting five currently logging at least 30 minutes per game, Capel has his team setup for failure if one of the pieces goes out with an injury or gets in foul trouble. Juan Patillo and Cade Davis are decent secondary options, but neither has the game to keep the team on the same level.
2. Size Inside. Griffin and his brother, Taylor, give the Sooners a solid shot inside, but outside of their two starters, it’s hard to name a decent option that has played minutes this season. Sure, you can point out that Orlando Allen is 6’11”, but does he really have what it takes to go up against a DeJuan Blair or Haseem Thabeet if either Griffin gets in foul trouble? What Taylor and Blake lose in height, they make up for with a defensive pedigree, but even sometimes that isn’t enough against teams that have a very large interior.
1. Jeff Capel. Capel went through it all when he was at Duke, and while he still might not have the same coaching pedigree of a long-tenured coach, he does have the experience of March Madness and the passion to help push his team on in the tough situations. It’s an intangible can only be matched by a couple of teams.
2. Taylor Griffin: Blake’s older brother is a spitting image of a young Shane Battier. He rebounds, dives on the floor for the loose ball, and has a sweet stroke from the outside. The recognition he gets is minimal, but the heart and determination he brings on both sides of the floor is unmatched. I’d put him on a team’s best player and let him go to work. Just watch him in games; the guy doesn’t stop moving.
It sounds cliché to say it, but a deep tournament run is only possibly for Oklahoma if they get a strong performance from Blake Griffin in every game. Austin Johnson, Tony Crocker, and Taylor Griffin give the team a really strong group of leaders, but none of them has what it takes to lead Oklahoma to the Final Four. I think Blake is getting his feet under him after spending some time out of commission with the concussion, so I’d expect nothing but a double-double every time he takes the floor. Just like Michael Beasley last season, Blake will have to rely on his teammates to carry the load as he knows he’ll be double-teamed every time down the floor.
If Johnson and Warren can get it going from the outside and Taylor gets his shots, then I believe Oklahoma is an Elite Eight team. However, this season could have one of the best tournament fields we’ve ever seen, and looking at the rest of the landscape, I just can’t see Oklahoma getting past the round of eight.