Oklahoma Sooners: 18-13, 8-10 in the Big 12
Head coach: Lon Kruger (7th season)
Players to watch: Trae Young (27.5 PPG, 8.8 APG); Brady Manek (10.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 38.6 3PT%); Christian James (12.5 PPG, 37.3 3PT%)
Season recap: Though unranked to start the seasons, the Sooners—and more specifically, freshman guard Trae Young—garnered national attention quickly as they blitzed through nonconference play. Young’s prolific scoring, highlighted by a 43-point performance against Oregon on Nov. 26, propelled the Sooners to a 14-2 start to the season, including three wins against top-10 teams. In addition to his offensive success, Young is also No. 1 in the nation in assists per game. With back-to-back wins over then-No. 8 Texas Tech and an overtime triumph vs. then-No. 16 TCU, Oklahoma climbed as high as No. 4 in the nation.
And that’s where the season started to unravel. Two consecutive losses against unranked conference opponents on the road set up a huge showdown with then No. 5 Kansas at home as Oklahoma outlasted the Jayhawks 85-80 for their fourth win against a top-10 team.
That, however, would be the team’s last win against a ranked opponent for the rest of the season. Oklahoma finished the season a pitiful 3-9 in its last dozen games, including a stretch of six straight conference defeats. An early exit against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament capped off a precipitous fall that took the Sooners out of the top 25 and onto the tournament bubble.
How they make a run: The Sooners, despite a mediocre record, nevertheless have an impressive resume, with six wins against top-25 teams. They utilize that experience in the tournament, get Trae Young back to his early-season form, and strengthen the worst defense in the Big 12 to make a deep run.
How they falter: For as much potential as Oklahoma has, it has an equally likely chance of getting bounced early. The team continues to lose the battle of the boards and allows opponents to score more than 80 points a game as the Sooners have down the stretch, setting up another early March exit.
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