Hopefully by now, everyone realizes just how foolish the pundits were to predict a third-place finish for the Oklahoma Sooners this year.
The way things are heading, Jeff Capel has to be considered the early favorite for this year's Most Underachieving Coach of the Year Botcy award.
For reaction from the other side, visit Crimson and Cream Machine. Otherwise, follow the jump for my analysis.
The Story So Far
The Sooners currently are an unimpressive 8-4, with all four losses coming to mid-majors: VCU, San Diego, Houston and UTEP (which probably should be ranked).
And it doesn't get any easier, since Oklahoma's next game is against Gonzaga in Spokane. Uh oh...
The best win probably was at Utah, but the Utes are in last place in the Mountain West. According to Ken Pomeroy, the best win was the one-point home win against Northern Colorado, which I think effectively communicates just how mediocre the Sooners are.
Additional home wins against Mount St. Mary's, Louisiana-Monroe, Nicholls State, Arkansas (which is terrible this season), Arizona (a terribly average team that might finally miss the NCAA Tournament) and Centenary do very little for the Sooners' resume.
Stumbling into conference play with five losses to non-BCS teams means Oklahoma probably will have to go at least 11-5 or 12-4 to join the Big Dance. Those are tall odds, unless they get a lot better in a hurry.
Current Oklahoma RPI: 110
77-37 (27-21) at Oklahoma
Blake Griffin (33.3 minutes per game | 22.7 points per game | 14.4 rebounds per game)
Taylor Griffin (30 minutes per game | 9.6 points per game | 5.8 rebounds per game)
Austin Johnson (31.3 minutes per game | 8.6 points per game | 3 rebounds per game)
- Kyle Cannon (6.8 minutes per game | 1.9 points per game | 1.8 rebounds per game)
- Omar Leary (10.1 minutes per game | 1.9 points per game | 0.8 rebound per game)
- Juan Pattillo (15 minutes per game | 6.2 points per game | 3.6 rebounds per game)
#1 Ryan Wright
17.5 minutes per game | 3.3 points per game | 3.7 rebounds per game
#3 T.J. Franklin
1.3 minutes per game | 0.3 point per game | 0 rebounds per game
#5 Tony Crocker
33.3 minutes per game | 14.1 points per game | 7.6 rebounds per game
#13 Willie Warren
32.9 minutes per game | 18.7 points per game | 3.1 rebounds per game
#21 Orlando Allen
7.7 minutes per game | 1.5 points per game | 2.5 rebounds per game
#34 Cade Davis
28.1 minutes per game | 8.3 points per game | 2.8 rebounds per game
#41 Ray Willis
6.8 minutes per game | 2.3 points per game | 1 rebound per game
#45 Beau Gerber
1.3 minutes per game | 1.3 points per game | 0.3 rebound per game
#2 Steven Pledger
21.3 minutes per game | 8.4 points per game | 1.3 rebounds per game
#4 Andrew Fitzgerald
10.2 minutes per game | 3.3 points per game | 1.4 rebounds per game
#11 Tommy Mason-Griffin
33.7 minutes per game | 10.9 points per game | 3.2 rebounds per game
#15 Barry Honoré
0* minutes per game | 0* points per game | 0* rebounds per game
*Honoré is redshirting this season after transferring from Southern.
#22 Ryan Randolph
0 minutes per game | 0 points per game | 0 rebounds per game
#24 Tiny Gallon
24.4 minutes per game | 11.8 points per game | 8.9 rebounds per game
#25 Kyle Hardrick
1.5 minutes per game | 0 points per game | 0.5 rebound per game
My thanks to the Oklahoma sports information department for the photos.
Any objective observer with at least an adequate basketball IQ knew Oklahoma was going to take step back this year.
You don't lose a Blake Griffin — much less a Taylor Griffin or an Austin Johnson — and simply reload.
But the media were seduced by the alluring glare of three McDonald's All-Americans — sophomore guard Willie Warren, freshman guard Tommy Mason-Griffin and freshman forward Keith "Tiny" Gallon — into thinking that the Sooners would not miss a beat.
And maybe they wouldn't have, but for the departure of Juan Pattillo and the chronic underachievement of Ryan Wright.
This would have been Pattillo's senior season, but he and Jeff Capel had "issues" and Patillo ended up transferring to Western Kentucky, I believe. That deprived the Sooners of their three best post players from last year, and No. 4 was Wright, who managed to fool both Ben Howland and Capel into thinking he could be a reliable post.
Take a look at his averages and I think you will agree that he barely is serviceable.
That puts all the pressure on Gallon and fellow freshman Andrew Fitzgerald, who really hasn't done too much to this point. They weren't ready for that kind of responsibility, and Capel eventually shifted to a four-guard offense to highlight his more capable backcourt players.
But Tony Crocker playing the 4 is not going to work in the Big 12, no matter how well he is playing right now. And make no mistake -- Crocker is the Sooners' most consistent player so far. Warren has a propensity for taking bad shots and getting in foul trouble, and he doesn't have the Griffins to lean on this year, so he really can hurt the team with poor decision making.
The fourth guard is Cade Davis, but he is playing out of his role right now. I personally think he is at his best coming off the bench as a shooting specialist, and OU's going to have to gravitate more toward that kind of lineup if they want to have any success in conference play.
The Sooners' problem isn't so much offense as it is defense. They haven't shut down anybody and they gave up more than 100 points to Houston. But who else can Capel rely on? Fitzgerald isn't ready yet; T.J. Franklin, Orlando Allen, Ray Willis and Beau Gerber are career backups; and Barry Honoré could help in the post, but must redshirt after transferring from Southern University.
Meanwhile, other promising freshmen, such as Steven Pledger, Ryan Randolph and Kyle Hardrick will sit and watch the team take its lumps. There will be better days and they'll be part of them.
Projected Big 12 Starting Lineup
|Tommy Mason-Griffin||Willie Warren||Tony Crocker||Andrew Fitzgerald||Tiny Gallon|
Projected Top Big 12 Reserves
|T.J. Franklin||Steven Pledger||Cade Davis||Ryan Wright||Orlando Allen|
The Final Verdict
I broke my own personal rule above: I usually pick the five starters based on who's been starting so far, but I'm sorry -- that four-guard offense just isn't going to cut it in conference play. For the Sooners to make some noise, Fitzgerald (or Wright, but that seems doubtful this late in his career) will have to step up and become a starter, even though he hasn't started a single game yet.
Look, Oklahoma fans, it's a rebuilding year. It happens. It happened to us last year; it's probably going to happen to Kansas and Texas next year. It's part of life. My advice is to look for growth and try to enjoy the wins you do get.
And there could be more wins than some people think. Due to the freshmen playing key roles for this team, Oklahoma has a high ceiling. There is quite a bit of talent on this team, even if they're not yet playing together as an actual team.
OU will knock some people off, but they'll probably have to settle for playing spoiler this season. A .500 record, plus or minus one game, is about as much as I can predict. If they lose to Gonzaga, it will take a legendary effort in January and February to avoid the dreaded NIT.
Big 12 preseason prediction: 3rd
My predicted finish: 7th
Best-case scenario: 5th
Against K-State?: Loss in Norman