2008-09 Oklahoma Basketball Preview: #12
Overall Rank: #12
Conference Rank: #2 Big 12
2007-08: 23-12, 9-7, 4th
2007-08 postseason: NCAA
There are plenty of reasons for Oklahoma to be optimistic following their second round NCAA Tournament exit. Blake Griffin could have been a lottery pick in the NBA Draft, but he opted to return to Norman, Oklahoma for a chance to take the Sooners deeper in the tournament. With Griffin and a host of other returning players, not to mention a solid group of newcomers, OU would be very disappointed not to make the Sweet Sixteen. And the Final Four, or even more, is a viable possibility.
The big loss is Longar Longar. The 6-11 center was second to only Griffin on the team in scoring and rebounding. Longar and his long arms always caused havoc on the defensive end and he was the team’s best shot blocker. Keith Clark was not around for the entire season, but the forward did provide some quality depth in the frontcourt while he was around. Not counting Dau Jok, the lone loss on the perimeter is part-time starter David Godbold. Godbold turned into a shooter off the bench type of player by the end of the 2007-2008 season, but he had a lot more toughness than that role usually implies. Godbold gave the Sooners a solid rebounder on the wing and that part of his game will be missed.
The biggest need is depth in the paint and Oklahoma got plenty of that. Ryan Wright, a transfer from UCLA, is strong and athletic, but he rarely saw the floor in Los Angeles. If he can live up to his prep hype with his new surroundings, the frontcourt will have a ton of options. And junior college transfers Juan Pattillo, Orlando Allen and Kyle Cannon will look for minutes too. Pattillo, a 6-6 small forward, is the most likely candidate to earn quality minutes right away due to his defense. At 6-8, Cannon has the size to battle in the paint, but it is his ability to hit the outside shot that makes him dangerous. Allen is the biggest of the bunch at 6-11 and 267 pounds and should at least provide another big body. Incoming freshmen T.J. Franklin and Ray Willis will provide depth on the perimeter, but Willie Warren will change how this team plays from day one. Warren, a 6-4 point guard, is a superb talent who can finish above the rim like few others. Due to his size and ability to score he can play the point or the shooting guard spot and he will certainly make an impact at both positions as a freshman.
Who to Watch:
The addition of Warren will change the entire make up of the OU backcourt. Senior Austin Johnson ran the point last year and the pressure will be off of him with Warren by his side. Johnson was inconsistent at best last year. While Johnson did do a decent job of keeping the turnovers to a minimum, he is a player that can play off the ball. Johnson will probably be the starting point guard at first with Warren at the two, but sooner or later it could become murky as to who is actually running the show. Either way, the Sooners now have two capable ball handlers that can also score, and that is never a bad thing. With Warren slashing to the basket, it will also open up space for Tony Crocker. The 6-6 wing hit 42.4 percent of his long range attempts last year and his production should go up. Back-up point guard Omar Leary may see his minutes decrease, but sophomore sharpshooter Cade Davis came on strong at the end of his first collegiate season and should be a fine shooter off the bench this year.
The frontcourt is all about the Griffin brothers. Blake averaged 14.7 points and 9.1 rebounds as a freshman and will lead the team once again. The 6-10, 251 pound forward is a tough, bruising player and has already proven that he is one of the best forwards in the collegiate ranks. His brother, Taylor, is overshadowed by Blake, and understandably so, but Taylor still averaged 6.5 points and 4.9 rebounds last season and always plays tough, sold defense. Those two should have no problem dominating the paint in the Big 12 this year and if Warren lives up to his vast potential, this is a team that can take home a conference championship.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Austin Johnson, Senior, Guard, 8.6 points per game
Willie Warren, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Tony Crocker, Junior, Guard, 11.3 points per game
Taylor Griffin, Senior, Forward, 6.5 points per game
Blake Griffin, Sophomore, Forward, 14.7 points per game