The Norman Transcript

November 11, 2012

Sooners will learn how far they’ve come

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Eight months ago, Oklahoma knew what its deficiencies were. A lack of depth caused another season to spiral away in the final month. More game-ready talent was obviously needed for the 2012-13 season.

The Sooners believe they’ve addressed the overall concern. Freshmen guards Isaiah Cousins, Je’lon Hornbeak and Buddy Hield have upgraded the backcourt. Forward Amath M’Baye is a major addition to the front court. They will join five returning starters from that team that went 15-16 and was running on fumes by the Big 12 tournament.

“We’ve upgraded,” forward Romero Osby said.

In terms of scoring and depth, there’s no doubt that’s been the case.

However, there’s one statistic where that will provide irrefutable evidence — rebounding. The ability to limit teams to one shot and extend possessions by grabbing them on the offensive end has always been basketball’s difference maker. There won’t be a team that plays beyond the second week in March that struggles to get rebounds.

OU coach Lon Kruger admits its something he’ll be locked onto when OU opens its season at 2 p.m. today at Lloyd Noble Center against Louisiana-Monroe.

“It’s an area we have to improve in,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “There’s a lot of things we have to improve in, but I didn’t see a really physical nature from us with respect to rebounding the ball in the two exhibition games for sure.”

OU outrebounded exhibition opponents Washburn and Central Oklahoma by a combined 13 rebounds. Neither was exactly the dominant effort Kruger sought. The coach’s opinion wasn’t a minority view.

“We’re not where we need to be, and that starts with me,” Osby said. “I was the leading rebounder last year. My rebounding slipped toward the end of the year. I have to get mine back to where it’s double digits every night. I think if I do that everyone else will follow suit. I take it upon myself.”

Osby is a critical cog in the Sooners’ rebounding success. He averaged 7.3 per game last season. No player still playing in the Big 12 Conference averaged more, but his numbers dipped in the second half of last season. Some of it could be attributed to him taking more shots, but the grind of a long season took its toll as well.

The Sooners weren’t a bad rebounding team last season. They averaged 39.6 a game. The problem was it was only 3.3 more than their opponents. The gap between rebounds collected and rebounds given shrank throughout the season.

This is where M’Baye needs to have the most impact. The forward finally gives the Sooners some size they’ve lacked in the post.

“When you’re 6-9, you have to rebound,” M’Baye said. “It’s part of the game and something you have to work hard on every day. Obviously, it’s been an emphasis and a focus the last couple weeks. It’s something we have to get better at.”

And it’s something that goes beyond the big men. Kruger believes his guards have to become effective rebounders in order to fully solve the problem.

What happens today against Louisiana-Monroe could be telling for the rest of the season. OU believes it has addressed many of last season’s flaws. It’s a deeper team with more talent.

“Rebounding, aggressiveness, being physical. Those are all areas we have to build as we head into Big 12 play. We have time to work on it,” Kruger said.

The clock starts ticking today.

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