The Oklahoma Sooners’ 2016 season came to an unfortunate and painful end this past Saturday. The Sooners were dealt a crushing 44-point loss in their Final Four matchup against the Villanova Wildcats. Although the manner of the loss leaves a very bitter taste, let’s not forget the magical season that Oklahoma had. Going 29-8, the Sooners participated in some of the most entertaining college games we’ve ever seen (vs. Kansas on Jan. 5), and blazed their way through four tough opponents in the postseason. Oklahoma also supplied one of the best college basketball success storylines of the season with Buddy Hield. Hield’s performance largely fueled the whole program’s success. As Buddy, a senior this year, jumps to the next stage of his basketball career, he’ll have to “pass the torch”. Is there another Sooners player capable of carrying it the way he did?
Unfortunately, next year Oklahoma will be losing a lot more than just the best player in the country. Fellow senior starters Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins will also be out of the picture. The graduation of Ryan Spangler means losing not only a near double-double averaging big man, but also an impactful starting piece that brought stability to the program for the past three years. With the exit of Isaiah Cousins the Sooners will be without another three year double-digit scoring contributor. Cousins was also a consistent ball handler and an above 40% three-point sniper.
The primary candidate to succeed Buddy Hield is current junior, Jordan Woodard. This year Woodard was a 13.0 point per game scoring guard, who vaulted his three-point shooting to an impressive 46% this season. He has contributed throughout his three years at Oklahoma but this can certainly be considered his breakout season, leaving him perfectly setup to step into Buddy’s shoes next year. Of course, these are gigantic shoes to fill. Luckily he might not have to replicate Hield’s insane production for the Sooners to still have a successful year.
Woodard will need to continue to improve as he enters his senior year and to assume a leadership role. Woodard will require help from up-and-coming players. Oklahoma will retain its starting sophomore center Khadeem Lattin. Lattin averaged 5.6 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game, and 2.1 blocks per game. These are promising numbers for a young player who can continue to grow as he provides some experience in the paint. Aside from Lattin however, the only returning contributors are the purely defensive big man Akolda Manyang and two freshman who were able to log some minutes and experience this year, Dante Buford and Christian James. Of course all of the open spots leave room for a surprise candidate to break out next season. One of those could be an incoming freshman.
Lon Kruger appears to have secured a decent recruiting class to date for 2016 based on ESPN ranking it 24th best in the country. The key piece is Kameron McGusty, a 6’5” shooting guard who is sure to get some play next year and perhaps even a starting position. Ranked number 44 in the ESPN100, McGusty is an athletic, attacking wing player who will need to get stronger and improve his range. McGusty is the only top 100 recruit that Oklahoma has solidified. However, they are still in the hunt for 5-star recruit Marques Bolden out of DeSoto high school. Landing the second best center in the class would be a huge addition to the Sooners’ squad next year. In addition Oklahoma will gain the services of an Ohio State transfer, Austin Grandstaff. Grandstaff is a talented sharpshooting guard previously ranked as a top 50 player coming out of high school.
It would not be surprising for Oklahoma to slip a little bit next year as they are entering a transitional period in a tough basketball conference. Adjusting to life without Buddy may take some time. But if Woodard steps up big and some other young players follow suit, Oklahoma basketball has a solid shot at remaining a top-25 team next year.