Coach: Jeff Capel—69-33 (three years) at Oklahoma, 148-74 (seven years) overall.
'08-09 Record: 30-6 overall; 13-3 Big 12 (second).
Jeff Capel has really improved things down in Oklahoma. It's one of the best turnarounds in the school, if not NCAA history.
Capel lost some great players to the draft this past year, with Blake Griffin going No. 1 in the draft. In addition, the Sooners lost Taylor Griffin at forward, Austin Johnson at guard, and Juan Pattillo, another forward.
Don't let that get to you...never forget Willie Warren. He was the unanimous Big 12 Freshman of the Year. Then there's All-American Keith "Tiny" Gallon and Timmy Mason-Griffin tearing it up out there.
Senior Tony Crocker is shaping up his best season with Oklahoma and has the ability to make big plays.
I'll break down the frontcourt and backcourt, summarize where Oklahoma is going, list five things to watch for, and offer my schedule/final standing predictions.
Blake and Taylor Griffin will be sorely missed. But no point in crying over spilled milk. Capel called Blake "a once in a decade type player."
The frontcourt is a work in progress. Pattillo violated team rules, and that will hurt the team badly. It leaves us with Orlando Allen and Ryan Wright as the most experienced up front, and neither averaged more than 10 minutes a game.
The lack of production makes it imperative that Gallon can handle the pressure and the spotlight. Tiny" Gallon comes in as one of the highest-rated recruits in the nation.
Scouts rave about his offensive skills, and he looks the part as well, being 6'9" and 300 pounds.
Two other freshmen add depth to the team—6'8" Andrew Fitzgerald and Kyle Hardrick will be thrown in the mix up front.
Overall this is the weakest spot, and it'll be up to the playmakers of the team to outscore opponents if the defense can't pull through.
Focus on the Sooners team shifts from the post to the perimeter.
Even as an understudy, Warren compiled one of the most productive freshman seasons in Oklahoma basketball history with 15 ppg and three assists in starting all 34 games.
Warren is best with the ball in his hands, creating a dual threat as a passer and a guy who can float three-pointers over the big guys. He had a team-high 67 three-pointers as a freshman.
Tony Crocker is key and is a streaky shooter with some big playmaking abilities that will be put to the test in the coming season. He doesn't back down and will give a lot of teams problems.
Mason-Griffin offers Oklahoma a fantastic playmaker at point guard, something the Sooners are in dire need of. He projects as an instant starter and will help Oklahoma pick up the pace on offense.
Some quality freshmen come into play, and the perimeter is definitely something to keep an eye on, as threes will be a big deal for Oklahoma.
The Bottom Line
Ryan Wright and Orlando Allen, along with freshman Andrew Fitzgerald and "Tiny" Gallon, will be the key to Oklahoma getting wins.
"A lot of people think that because Blake isn't here anymore that Oklahoma isn't going to be as good anymore. I want to prove those people wrong," Gallon said.
Clearly a lot of determination and expectations are set forth for the Sooners. The roster is heavy with inexperience, leaving no room for injury or disappointment.
If Gallon is as good as advertised, Oklahoma will be in the thick of the Big 12 once again.
Three Things to Watch for in '09-10
1. Keith "Tiny" Gallon
If he's good, Oklahoma's great. If he's bad, Oklahoma is going to suffer. That simple. Tiny is supposed to be the biggest addition to the Sooner team.
There are five freshmen on the team. More than likely all of them are going to see considerable playing time. If the freshmen don't perform well, Oklahoma has dark times ahead.
3. Conference games
Kansas, Missouri, and Texas all present considerable challenges. Kansas and Texas are better teams. Missouri is a toss-up. Texas A&M, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State also will give Oklahoma trouble. It's the "Big Nasty"—look for some great conference matchups throughout the season that'll determine Oklahoma's fate in the NCAA.
Schedule Predictions: 23-6 (10-5; third in Big 12)
Oklahoma starts off an easy 4-0 over some cakewalk teams. Then they play Houston. Houston is expecting a big year, coming off a C-USA runner-up season. Expect a good game...but Oklahoma will extend its streak to 5-0.
A walk-through month except for Arizona. The Wildcats are tricky and will give the Sooners trouble. Mark down loss No. 1. All in all Oklahoma is 11-1.
Here's where the fun begins...Oklahoma plays Baylor and Oklahoma State this month, both conference matchups. Baylor should be no problem, but the rival Cowboys might get to the Sooners. Oklahoma'll win, but don't be surprised if OK State pulls it out.
I predict an upset with Missouri. Even though they're a young team, so is Oklahoma. The time to surprise them is now. Missouri is a good time, although young, and can beat the Sooners. With winning the rest of January, this puts them at 18-2.
This is the roughest for the Sooners. Luckily they only play Kansas once. Unfortunately, that once comes on Feb. 22, in Kansas. Before that, they play Texas, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State—all rough games.
I predict three losses in February—Texas, Oklahoma State (upset alert!), and Kansas. This puts Oklahoma at 22-5 headed into March. A loss to Texas and then a win against Texas A&M to finish it off makes Oklahoma 23-6. A respectable record indeed.
NCAA tournament-worthy? Definitely. It'll depend on the success of the rest of the conference, but they should get through a few rounds of March Madness.
Oklahoma's a contender this year—watch out.