Tuesday, October 14, 2008

No. 13 Oklahoma: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 23-12, 9-7 Big XII (t-4th)

Key Losses: Longar Longar (11.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg), David Godbold (7.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg)

Key Returnees: Blake Griffin (14.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg), Tony Crocker (11.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg),

Newcomers: Willie Warren, TJ Franklin, Ray Willis, Ryan Wright, Orlando Allen, Kyle Cannon, Juan Patillo

Blake Griffin probably would have been a lottery pick if he had entered the draft after his freshman year, but he decided to return to Oklahoma for his sophomore season. Griffin is easily a pre-season first team all-american and may be the best player in the country (although the folks at UNC may have something to say about that). Blake Griffin dealt with some knee problems during his freshman year, but based on the workout regimen he put himself through over the summer, I think it is safe to say that his knees are healthy. Griffin is a phenomenal physical specimen, standing 6'10" and 240 lb of muscle. He is a very aggressive offensive player, attacking the basket and the offensive boards. He can finish with authority in the paint, but he also has a great touch around the basket. His jump shot and ball-handling could be improved, as well as his defensive effort, but don't be surprised if Griffin averages 18 and 12.

After Blake Griffin, the Oklahoma front line gets a little iffy. Taylor Griffin, Blake's brother, is a solid player. He's three inches shorter than Blake, but he is probably the better defender of the two. Taylor is more of a team player, willing to sacrifice his stats for wins, which is why, with the emergence of Blake and center Longar Longar last season, Taylor's production dropped off a bit. But Taylor is definitely a talented player and an above average post in the Big XII. The Sooners also add sophomore JuCo transfer Kyle Cannon. Cannon is another big body (6'8", 245 lb) and looks to be the first big man off the bench, but his health may be a question mark as he is coming off of knee surgery. Ryan Wright, who spent two years at UCLA before transferring to OU, will become eligible this year. At worst, he is a serviceable big man that can provide some depth up front, which the Sooners were sorely lacking last year. Orlando Allen, a 6'11" JuCo transfer, and junior Beau Gerber may also see some time.

The one thing Oklahoma was missing last year was a dynamic play maker on the perimeter. They landed that with Willie Warren, a top-20 recruit that is a great athlete and scorer. Warren and Griffin could form one of the more potent inside-outside combinations in the country.

There is no shortage of big, athletic perimeter players for the Sooners. Warren is 6'4". They also return Austin Johnson (6'3"), Tony Crocker (6'6"), and Cade Davis (6'5"), and add freshman Ray Willis (6'6") and JuCo transfer Juan Patillo (6'7"). Johnson was their primary ballhandler, splitting time with senior Omar Leary, but may be out of a job depending on how Jeff Capel plans on using Warren (meaning, is Warren going to be the lead guard or play off the ball). Tony Crocker has developed into a reliable third option as a scorer, and is the Sooners best shooter. Willis, Davis, and Patillo will battle it out for the left over playing time. Willis probably has the most raw talent (he is a top-100 recruit) of the bunch, although he is mainly an athlete that plays basketball at this point. Patillo is an inside-outside threat, who can finish in the paint and knock down a three.

Outlook: Oklahoma looks much more balanced than they did last year. On paper, they have a very good squad. The problem is that they will depend a lot on guys that haven't proven that they can play at this level - Warren, Wright, Willis, Patillo. But they do have Blake Griffin, and he alone should be enough to keep them near the top of the Big XII standings regardless of the other four guys on the floor. If Warren is as good as advertised, Crocker continues to develop as a reliable option, and the newcomers prove they can compete, a conference title is a real possibility for this team, especially since the Big XII is wide open this year.

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