NORMAN — As Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger enters his third season, the program has gained momentum. It’s coming off its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2009 and hopes for a repeat performance this season.
Does Kruger believe the program is to the point where the field of 67 is an obtainable goal every season?
“You always hope you’re a little further along. But for that group to get to the NCAA tournament last year was a nice step. It was a good experience for them and created great memories and was great for our fans,” he said Monday at the Sooners’ media day at Lloyd Noble Center. “They hope to build on that and make progress. The jury is clearly out on that in regard to this group because there are so many new guys.”
The Sooners return the majority of the roster from last season but have to replace their three leading scorers.
Pick up the pace: Every coach says he wants to his team to play up-tempo in November. The hard part is still being able to do it in February and March. But the Sooners believe they’ve assembled a team that can play at a quicker pace.
"We’re playing really up-tempo. It’s fast now. We have chemistry and we share the ball. Everybody is like a guard,” sophomore guard Buddy Hield said. “Cam (Clark) is like a guard but he plays the four (position) for us. Everybody is doing their part and we are sharing the ball. We’re just trying to push the tempo and increase the scoring."
Freshmen impact: One of the biggest reasons the Sooners reached the NCAA tournament last season was the impact guards Hield, Je’lon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins had as freshmen.
The Sooners brought in two freshmen guards this season — Jordan Woodard and Frank Booker. Kruger sees similar attributes.
“Jordan will figure into the rotation right off the bat,” Kruger said. “With Frank, we’re a little deeper at the wing than maybe at the point, but he is doing a good job and will probably figure into the rotation. He had maybe his best week of practice last week. It was good to see the aggression out of Frank.”
Dealing with injuries: Junior center D.J. Bennett will miss the two exhibition games because of suffering a foot injury two weeks ago. Kruger expects him to be healthy when OU opens the season Nov. 8 against Alabama at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Hornbeak is practicing, but is dealing with a lot of pain. He needed several stitches under his right eye. He currently has to wear a hard plastic mask during practice.
The injury resulted from a freak accident in the locker room.
“I was tying my shoe and I pulled my locker door and kind of bent down as soon as it came out and the door broke off the hinge and cut me,” he said.
Hornbeak believes he’ll wear the mask through the upcoming exhibition games.
“I’m gonna see if they’ll let me paint it up for a little bit,” he said.
Replacing Osby: The biggest role OU has to fill for this season is the one left by Romero Osby. The forward, who graduated after last season, was more than the Sooners’ leading scorer, he was the leader on and off the court.
Kruger admitted no one player can do what Osby did, but sophomore forward Ryan Spangler wants to try.
"I can accept a lot of it. I wouldn’t say that I’m going to fill his role completely but I can some of his leadership, some of his hard work that he did,” Spangler said. “He did all the dirty work, anything necessary to win. I’m going to be able to work hard, rebound and score some points but I don’t think you can ever replace a man like him just after one year. Hopefully in time I’ll be able to do that."
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