Oklahoma Basketball Preview: #37
Overall Rank: #37
Conference Rank: #6 Big 12 Conference
2008-09: 30-6, 13-3
2008-09 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Jeff Capel (69-33 at Oklahoma, 148-74 overall)
Coach Jeff Capel is good enough to make the transition from a frontcourt orientated team to a backcourt orientated team. And without Blake and Taylor Griffin he will not have much of a choice. The frontcourt returns very few experienced players and the Sooners will have to rely on a talented class of incoming freshmen.
Key Losses: F Blake Griffin, F Taylor Griffin, G Austin Johnson, G Omar Leary
Obviously the most important players are going to be the big guys and OU got one of the best in this class in Tiny Gallon. Despite the obvious flaw of a 6-8, 300 pound man being named Tiny, Gallon should at least clog up the lane and use his size to get some easy buckets. Gallon is even a decent passer and surprisingly nimble for a man of his size, but he still needs to slim down a bit before his nimbleness will do him any good in the Big 12. Andrew Fitzgerald and Kyle Hardrick are also highly touted centers and both will be fighting for a starting job. The star recruit on the perimeter is point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin. He, like shooting guard Steven Pledger, will have some time to develop his game before being asked to do too much, but Mason-Griffin should be playing some important minutes as a freshman.
The backcourt has a pretty solid starting three. Of course it all starts with Willie Warren. Warren had a great freshman campaign, tallying 14.6 points and 3.1 assists per game. His outside shooting may have been a little erratic at times and his turnovers could be a little high, but remember this was as a freshman. His positives sizably outweigh his negatives and Warren is ready to become the leader of this team. Having Tony Crocker back on the wing will help. Crocker is a capable outside shooter who can also use his 6-6 frame to finish around the basket. Cade Davis will likely go from the sixth man to a starter this year. He has good size for a shooting guard and could emerge as a surprisingly decent scorer if he attacks the basket more often.
Juan Pattillo only played in 19 games last year, but he was supposed to be the next in line behind the Griffins to take over the frontcourt. But now he is gone. That leaves Ryan Wright, who averaged just 8.1 minutes per game last year, as the most experienced forward on the roster. Wright, a transfer from UCLA, is a quality player who might be starting early in the year while the newcomers get their bearings, but whether he starts or not, Wright will have to increase his productivity. The other option is 6-10 junior Orlando Allen. Allen played even more sparingly than Wright last season and will have to be ready to fight off the freshmen for playing time.
Who to Watch:
Warren is a superstar and the backcourt is in good shape, especially if Mason-Griffin lives up to his hype and can find a starting job beside Warren. However, it is the new players in the frontcourt that will make the difference for this team. Griffin, and not just Blake, left some big shoes to fill and it remains to be seen if Gallon, Fitzgerald and Hardrick are up for the challenge. If they are not, it could be a long year in Norman.
The backcourt alone has enough talent to take this team back to the NCAA Tournament, but a serious lack of experience in the frontcourt will plague this team all season long. Warren can only carry the team so far, so come March Oklahoma might be playing for their tournament lives, but Warren has enough talent to win that battle and at least get this team into the big dance.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Willie Warren, Sophomore, Guard, 14.6 points per game
Tommy Mason-Griffin, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Tony Crocker, Senior, Guard, 9.6 points per game
Tiny Gallon, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Orlando Allen, Junior, Center, 1.8 points per game
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