More Recent Stories
Flying High at No. 1
On Sale at Newsstands Now!
Sooners are no fluke when it comes to top ranking
It has been a while since the Oklahoma men’s basketball program has been talked about with such high regard. But anyone who has seen this year’s Sooners play may have been witness to the best player in the country — Buddy Hield — but to the best overall team, as well.
And no, it’s not Kansas, a team that Oklahoma met in a nationally-televised No. 1 vs. No. 1 battle in Lawrence. Yes, the Jayhawks eventually found a way to get past the Sooners 109-106 in triple overtime that Jan. 4 night — but that certainly doesn’t mean the better team won.
Fact is, coach Lon Kruger’s squad took everything that Kansas had to throw at it — including a noise factor in Phog Allen Fieldhouse that is second to none and the kitchen sink — more than handled it and basically wound up losing from plain ol’ fatigue.
And if that game is used as a measuring stick for the Sooners, then their rise to the top of the national rankings is no accident. But while everyone expected Hield to play even better than he did last season when he earned Big 12 Player of the Year honors, few expected Oklahoma to be a legitimate threat to win a national title.
The last time the Sooners were in the conversation was back in 2009 when a Blake Griffin-led OU squad advanced to the Elite Eight and gave eventual national champion North Carolina all it wanted before bowing out. But that team was basically Griffin and a solid group of role players, who were inconsistent to the point that OU was hardly considered a title contender.
While the 2015-16 Sooners are unmistakably build around Hield, they are far more balanced in almost every aspect than was the ’08-09 team, which started the season 25-1 before finishing 5-5 down the stretch.
The last time an OU team ascended to the No. 1 spot in the national polls was 25 seasons ago in 1990. So it had been a long time coming for the Sooners — prior to earning the top spot in the Coach’s Poll on Jan. 4.
“We have such great leadership from our older players — and not just in what they say but what they do and how they have committed themselves to the program,” said Kruger prior to the season. “Those guys are hungry to improve on what they have done the last two or three years, and they’ve earned some lofty expectations.”
And so far, they’ve lived up to them.
The Sooner foursome of Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Ryan Spangler and Jordan Woodard has started every game over the past three seasons. That kind of consistency is rare in any sport, especially in college basketball.
But consistency is only part of the recipe for success. This team can score and defend.
Through 21 games, OU ranked No. 1 nationally in 3-point field goal percentage, connecting at an almost 47 percent clip. The Sooners’ starting line was shooting a combined 48.6 percent from long distance.
Add the solid play of forward Khadeem Latten and reserves Dinjiyl Walker, Dante Buford, Christian James and Rashard Odomes to the mix, and Oklahoma has been more than a handful for every opponent it faced through mid-January.
Obviously, there is a lot of basketball left in the season and No. 1 rankings don’t mean a whole lot until it’s seeding time for the NCAA Tournament. But in terms of confidence, Oklahoma was riding a major wave of momentum as it journeyed deeper into the Big 12 Conference schedule and closed in on March Madness.
With Hield and his 25.8 scoring average leading the way, the top-ranked Sooners seemed poised for a big stretch run that could carry well into the postseason.
(To Subscribe to Sooner Spectator, call 405-364-4515 today!)