Lon Kruger may not have been the sexy hire for Oklahoma. He wasn’t Shaka Smart or one of the other flavor of the week coaches whose name was thrown around after the tournament. But Kruger was probably the right hire and one that should get OU hoops back to it’s traditional status as a yearly NCAA tournament program.
Kruger has won at every major school he’s been at. His winning percentages at Illinois, Kansas State and UNLV were all above 62 percent, and the one place it wasn’t (Florida), he made it to a Final Four. At Florida he also dealt with inheriting sanctions of a previous coaching staff.
Something that shouldn’t be discounted is Kruger’s stint as coach of the Atlanta Hawks. He didn’t light the NBA on fire but that experience in the league is there. Since the allure of the NBA can be such a big deal in recruiting, Kruger should be able to exploit whatever connections he still has left with the league.
Key Losses: G Cade Davis (leading scorer, leading rebounder)
Key Gains: Romero Osby (Miss. St. transfer), G Sam Grooms (Ju-Co., Rivals 3 star),C Casey Arent (Ju-Co., Rivals 3 star)
The story of the Sooners frontcourt begins with Andrew Fitzgerald (6’8″, Jr.), who was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (12.6 ppg). Fitzgerald took a quarter of OU’s shots last season, and will probably need to chuck it up even more without Davis around. He’s a decent shooter but will really need to improve on the glass as he becomes the team’s de facto leader.
Like any transfer, there is a lot of hype around the former Mississippi State Bulldog Romero Osby (6’8”, Jr.). Jeff Capel even declared him the Sooners most talented player last season. OU better hope the hype is real because Osby is desperately needed to bail out a thin frontcourt. Big body Casey Arent (6’10”, Jr.) and C.J. Washington (6’7” Sr.) should also be called on the contribute.
Capel put a lot on then-freshman Cameron Clark (6’6”, So.) last season, as he played the highest percentage of minutes out of any freshman in the conference (83.3 %Min). In fact only iron man Diante Garrett, Scott Christopherson, Keiton Page and his former teammate Cade Davis played a higher percentage of their team’s minutes than Clark.
One of the only bright spots for OU last season was that Clark handled that workload well. He was a solid shooter (47.4 FG%) and most encouraging for a freshman, didn’t turn the ball over that much. The key for Clark will be how he handles the increasing defensive focus that he will face. This might have been a problem for him last year: after scoring 25 points against Baylor, he only scored more than 10 points four times in OU’s last 11 games.
Steven Pledger (6’4”, Jr.) might benefit from the increased focus on Clark. Pledger is a decent three point threat and is another guy, by virtue of his experience/class, that will need to step up to help offset the loss of Davis’ points. Carl Blair (6’2”, Jr.) started at point guard last year, and although he had a nice assist rate, he turned the ball over far too much and didn’t shoot particularly well. It appears that Kruger will look at a hired gun as his starter (at least early on): Ju-Co transfer Sam Grooms (6’1” , Jr.).
Final Take: Kruger doesn’t have the good fortune that Frank Haith and Billy Kennedy have of walking into a new job with a roster that can compete right away. But he isn’t walking into an utter disaster in Norman either.
Oklahoma will most likely toil at the bottom of the league standings this year. But that is to be expected with a new coach and what had transpired over the last two seasons. The good news is that Clark and Fitzgerald are intriguing pieces: an inside-outside combo that could find enough offense to at least compete on most nights. It also doesn’t appear either will have the chance to bolt to the NBA after this year (unless Clark goes crazy). So if nothing else Kruger has some building blocks for the future.