The Oklahoma Sooners opened up Friday night with an exhibition win over Washburn 83-66. There were ups and downs as Lon Kruger tried to figure his rotation, and substitutions were not a rarity, often coming in groups of five. Obviously you can’t take away too much from an exhibition game, as most of the time teams are still trying to fine tune a few things, and find a solid core that can play well together. That is the case with Oklahoma. Nevertheless here are my somewhat circumspect observations from the exhibition.
–Buddy Hield: It was the new guys who stole the show Friday, particularly Buddy Hield. He was absolutely on fire offensively, leading the pack with 16 points, but he did other things as well. His tenacity on the defensive end is not to be ignored, nor the incredible poise with which he handled the ball. He never seemed flustered and found ways to finish his tough transition baskets. He was also very efficient shooting the three, as were all the freshmen, shooting 75% from beyond the arc. Hield, Jelon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins combined for a total of 8-10 on three balls.
–Je’lon Hornbeak: There’s just so much to say about these freshmen that I had to assign them each their own section. Hornbeak also displayed great composure for a freshman, handling the ball well. He tied (with Sam Grooms) for the leader in assists with three and also chipped in six points. Perhaps what was most impressive about Hornbeak however, was his defense, most notably his ability to disrupt passing lanes. The frosh wreaked havoc on the Washburn offensive, swiping a total of four steals on the evening. His presence was felt in a multitude of other ways all evening and it seemed everywhere his man went, Hornbeak was stuck to him like glue. The defensive intensity demonstrated by both Hield and Hornbeak is something for Sooner fans to cheer about, and if they are able to get to the passes the way they were tonight, expect them to become one of the most exciting teams in the conference to watch on the fast break.
–Isaiah Cousins: Of all the freshmen, Cousins is the one who looked most like…well..a freshman. That’s not a bad thing, he had a solid outing, it’s just clear that he has some growing to do. Let’s start with what Cousins did do well, which was shoot. He nailed 75% (3-4) of his three pointers, contributing nine points to the scoreboard. He also displayed tough defense, like his fellow freshmen. Unlike Hield and Hornbeak however, Cousins didn’t appear as comfortable with the ball. Often times it appeared his body would be working faster than his mind was thinking, which resulted in a turnover. Overall he had four miscues on the night. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing, just a sign that he is still adjusting to the college game, which is pretty typical for even the best of freshmen this time of year.
–Amath M’Baye: M’Baye appeared to be all that he was advertised to be. He had good handling ability for a guy his size and showed off some nice post moves on his way to 14 points. He also soared for six boards on the night, highlighting his athletic abilities. His defense was decent too. Over all, expect him to contribute greatly to the team this season.
–Cameron Clark: Clark looked a lot like the Clark of last season tonight. He only went 1-6 shooting and scored just four points in 21 minutes. Though it’s clear his athleticism and quickness may be of serviced to the Sooners, he used them to grab five rebounds and swipe five steals tonight. Right now he looks like a solid option to have off the bench.
–Ball Control: Though Hield and Hornbeak took good care of the ball for the most part, the team overall did not. The Sooners turned it over 21 times, allowing for one too many fast break opportunities. It shouldn’t be too much to fret over though. Right now the Sooners are still working on things within the offense, and trying to figure out how different lineups will work together, etc. If the Sooners offense isn’t looking crisper and more proficient within the next few games however, that could be an issue.
–Depth: This is the main reason the Sooners will be much improved this season. The Sooners only had two players in double figures, but everyone who played tonight scored at least once, with the exception of Casey Arent. The Sooners have a rotation that can consistently go nine-deep and with the potential to go 10 or 11-deep. The value this will have for the Sooners can’t be stressed enough, as it will allow the Sooners to rest their starters will not losing much on the court. That was evident in the win tonight.
–Free Throws: The Sooners didn’t shoot them well; only 69% (22-32) from the stripe tonight. No bueno. Lucky for them they were playing Washburn in an exhibition game, but if they continue to shoot like this it could cost them some games.
–Final Summary: The Sooners are still growing as a group, but the outlook is good. The freshmen seem to already be polished and ready to contribute, and one or two may even crack the starting five. Their intensity on defense will be especially helpful. The returners haven’t taken any steps backwards, and most have actually improved from last season. It’s clear there is still work to be done, but it’s early in the season. By mid or late December this team should be performing at a high level. High enough to earn an NCAA Tournament birth? Possibly.
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