As the Oklahoma football season comes to a close, there might be some of you wondering how things have been going for Lon Kruger and the basketball team.
The Sooners (5-1 overall, 1-0 Big 12) start one of the more brutal four-game stretches you’ll find in college basketball Tuesday night with four consecutive games vs. teams in the top 15.
That four-game gauntlet begins with a trip to Norman from Texas Tech as Chris Beard’s guys come in ranked No. 15.
So who are these Sooners?
“Most importantly, it does feel like it’s a group that’s going to make a lot of progress,” Kruger said. “We come off a couple of ball games after Xavier where I thought we really stepped it up defensively. We didn’t do that in the game this past weekend. We’ve got to be more consistent.
“We still have to really be more physical and rebound the basketball in general. The depth has been good and continues to be good. We will continue to play a lot of people. When you get into Big 12 play, it’s definitely a little bit different.”
Coming into the season, a lot of talk was about how seniors Brady Manek and Austin Reaves were going to have to carry the team. For the most part, that has been true albeit in a much different way with Reaves.
He entered college as a pure shooter, but he has said throughout this season he’s always been more than that. Growing up, he’s always been the point guard. That’s who he is right now, and it’s hard to argue with the results.
“I feel comfortable in the role, that’s really what I played my whole life growing up until I got to college,” Reaves said. “And then it was just do whatever you could do to stay on the court and that was the mentality I had, so I switched my game and what not. But I really always wanted to be a point guard, and that’s what I feel most comfortable at.”
Reaves has been dynamic in that role, averaging more than six assists per contest. He’s also picked his spots in scoring and is second at 16.3 points per game and leads the team at 5.3 rebounds.
Manek has done what he’s been asked. And you get the feeling with the Big 12 grind really about to get underway, we’re about to see a different Manek.
He’s leading the team at 16.7 points per game, and he’s done that at under 27 minutes per game. There won’t be too many Big 12 battles where OU can get away with Manek not going at least 30 minutes to have OU competitive.
The backcourt has seen some combination of Reaves, De’Vion Harmon, Alondes Williams and Umoja Gibson take turns handling the ball and having their moments.
Manek and Kur Kuath have handled things in the post, while Victor Iwuakor had a mini-breakout performance in the win Saturday.
Add in the versatility of someone like Jalen Hill and the pure shooting ability of Trey Phipps, and there’s a lot to like and a lot of depth for Kruger to work with.
Christmas and COVID
If you thought COVID-19 was a football problem, it feels magnified even more in basketball because one positive test could wipe out a team with contact tracing.
The Sooners absorbed that early. A season opener with UTSA was rescheduled (and won by OU), while games with Central Florida and Florida were both canceled.
Knock on wood, but COVID hasn’t affected the Sooners too much. And as guys like Rick Issanza and Victor Iwuakor have returned, they’re starting to round into the form OU would have liked to have had them at season’s start.
OU has Tech and then a nice little break. A break for all involved, many who haven’t left the campus since returning in July.
“Big concerns, but they definitely need to go home. We’ve handled things well,” Kruger said. “They’ve been here since July without really a chance to get back home in general. Those who are fairly local, of course, can get home. For the most point, they haven’t been home since July.
“Absolutely, we want them to have a chance to get home. Obviously, we have to be careful and smart and do everything we possibly can to come back healthy.”
That’s just sort of the way it is. As much precautions that have been taken in Norman, that same awareness must be there over the holidays.
“It’s real important, I think, just to get away for a couple days, see family, friends back home that you ain’t seen in a while,” Reaves said. “It’s also important to stay away from people that haven’t felt good or something like that. So, it’s kind of a fine line between those two things. So, really just go home, be with your close family, close friends and then get back.”
The grind, oh, the grind
Every year it is said how difficult the Big 12 is, but this year really feels like it might take the cake. Entering this week, No. 2 Baylor, No. 3 Kansas, No. 7 West Virginia, No. 10 Texas and No. 15 Texas Tech.
Sooners next four games? Vs. Tech, vs. WVU, at Baylor, at KU. No choice but to embrace it.
“Any time you look at any three- , four- or five-game stretch in Big 12 play, it’s probably going to be something similar to what we have here,” Kruger said. “We’re getting the true test of the top half real fast is you go by preseason stuff and production to this point. It’s a tough stretch and everyone’s going to have one of two of those stretches during conference play. We have ours right off the bat.”
OU’s only loss is to Xavier, and the undefeated Musketeers are now ranked No. 22.
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