Wednesday, October 28, 2009

No. 15: 2009-2010 Team Preview: Oklahoma Sooners

2008-2009 Record: 30-6, 13-3 Big XII (2nd)

Key Losses: Blake Griffin (22.7 ppg, 14.4 rpg), Taylor Griffin (9.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Austin Johnson (8.6 ppg, 3.9 apg)

Key Returners: Willie Warren (14.6 ppg, 3.1 apg), Tony Crocker (9.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg)

Newcomers: Tommy Mason-Griffin, Steven Pledger, Andrew Fitzgerald, Ryan Randolph, Tiny Gallon, Kyle Hardrick

Willie Warren will need to pick up the scoring load with Blake Griffin gone.
(photo credit: SLAMOnline)

Oklahoma was not a deep team last season, as Jeff Capel rarely went with a rotation of more than seven players. That problem does not look like it is going to change this season, as the Sooners lost three starters and two more guys that became significant role players by the end of the year.

The biggest hole Capel is going to have to fill is up front, obviously. Not only did he lose the Brothers Griffin, but in May 6'6" forward Juan Pattillo, who was expected to come in and provide a lot of energy and minutes this season, was kicked off the team. That means that Capel is going to be forced to rely on three freshmen and two relatively inexperienced seniors in the paint. The best of the bunch will probably be Keith "Tiny" Gallon. Gallon, a freshman who is 6'9" and pushing 300 lb, is skilled for someone his size. He has quick feet, he can score with his back to the basket, he can handle the ball, and he has three point range. The problem right now is that he tends to float to the perimeter too much, especially when he doesn't see the ball enough. But if Gallon can get into better shape, he should get plenty of touches inside.

Freshman Andrew Fitzgerald is similar to Tiny in that he is a big-bodied 6'8" forward. Also lacking a bit in the athleticism department, Fitzgerald is going to push people around, rebound the ball, and rack up fouls on opposing big men. The third freshman, Kyle Hardrick, is going to be an effort guy. He played on a loaded high school team (with fellow Big XII newcomer Xavier Henry), and settled into a role of rebounder, screener, and defender. He is big and athletic, and if he plays hard, Capel will have to find time for him.

The two seniors are Ryan Wright and Orlando Allen. Wright was a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school, but has never put it together. He is strong and athletic, however, so it will be interesting to see if he develops with time opening up in the front court. Allen is a 6'10" center who has battled weight issues in his two year in Norman.

The back court is less of a question mark. It will be anchored by potential all-american Willie Warren. Warren had a slow start to his freshman season, but really developed to the point that by the end of the year some thought he would have been a lottery pick had he left. He is best when he is looking for his shot, first and foremost. What makes him so dangerous is that he has NBA range on his three, but is just as effective in the mid-range. He is also one of the most athletic wings in the country and can finish above the rim with the best of them.
While he has the handle and the passing ability to be a primary ball-handler (as he showed last season), Warren is a scorer and will excel playing off the ball.

Which is why landing Tommy Mason-Griffin was so important for Jeff Capel. Mason-Griffin is one of the most highly touted point guard recruits in the country. He is a bit small (listed at 5'10"), but he is quick enough to get into the lane against anyone, can knock down threes from NBA range, and most importantly he is a point guard; he will run the offense, find open players, and can learn a lot from Capel, a former point guard.

Joining Mason-Griffin and Warren on the perimeter will be senior Tony Crocker and junior Cade Davis. Crocker's numbers dipped a bit during his junior season, especially his three point percentages. He is really the only other guy on the Sooners that has any proven ability to score. If Oklahoma wants to remain near the top of the league, the Sooners need Crocker to be a 13-15 ppg guy. Davis is a shooter. He struggled with his confidence and his consistency during last season, but when he gets hot he is as good as anyone in the conference. Don't be surprised is freshman Steven Pledger and sophomore Ray Willis also see time.

Outlook: There are a lot of question marks on this OU team. Will their inexperienced big men be able to handle the Big XII? Will Tony Crocker show up this year? If Tommy Mason-Griffin ready to handle the point guard duties? With the amount of youth that is on this roster, I don't expect Oklahoma to start the year as one of the best teams in the country. But with this amount of talent, and one of the best players in the country, OU will be in the mix by the end of the season.

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