Oklahoma Basketball: Contender or Pretender?

Brad HowardContributor IJanuary 28, 2009

Here we are, 21 games into the NCAA Men's Basketball season and so far the Sooners have managed to win 20 of them.

Last year's Sooners, while good, were only 23-12 (9-7 Big 12); nothing eye popping, but a decent team that nonetheless went on to make the NCAA tourney and beat St. Joe's before falling to Louisville.

The difference? Well Blake Griffin of course.

He's averaging 22.3 points per game and 14 rebounds as well as 2.5 assists per game. In the last game against in state-rival Oklahoma St., Griffin put up 19 points and had 23 rebounds in a close win in Stillwater. In the previous game against then 23rd-ranked Baylor he had 20 points and 17 rebounds. Both were impressive individual performances.

The regular season home stretch isn't going to get much easier with five conference road games capped off by a game in Austin against Texas, and important home games against Kansas and Oklahoma State. The hardest games will be at Baylor in a grudge match after Oklahoma dismantled the bears in Norman and at Texas where the Sooners haven't won in their past three trips.

Issues that Oklahoma needs to address would be three-point shooting and bench depth. Austin Johnson is having a good season as is Willie Warren, but a higher three-point percentage would not hurt.  Each is shooting .364 and .383 respectively from beyond the arc.

Juan Pattillo took off his red shirt to play and quite possibly will have huge impact in the postseason as he showed Monday night against the cowboys when he had 12 points in the important road win.

It is entirely possible for Oklahoma to be powered through the remainder of their regular season by consistent teamwork and coaching held together by Griffin's excellent play. 

I would not be surprised by a few setbacks on the way to the Big 12 and NCAA tourneys, but anything less than a Big 12 Championship berth and a good seed in the NCAA bracket would be disappointing from a fan's perspective.

At this juncture in the season the Sooners are hesitantly a contender for at least a Final Four appearance, but I am not sold on a national title just yet.