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Sooners hope not to repeat last year's basketball skid

January 2, 2019 ▪ By Ray Dozier

Oklahoma’s men’s basketball is 11-1 this season and ranked No. 23 in the AP poll heading into the Big 12 Conference slate, which begins tonight against No. 5 Kansas (11-1) in Lawrence (8 p.m. ESPN2).

The Sooners are taking a similar path to the Big 12 schedule as they did a year ago. They started 9-1 and climbed to No. 12 in both polls after beginning the 2017-18 season unranked. OU opened the conference campaign with a road victory over No. 8 TCU. Oklahoma jumped to seventh and then defeated Oklahoma State, but lost to a ranked (No. 5) West Virginia squad on the road.

After a couple of wins over Texas Tech and TCU, both ranked teams, in Norman, the Sooners rose up to No. 4 but lost to a couple of unranked foes—Kansas State and Oklahoma State. With a 13-4 mark, Lon Kruger was feeling good about his team, especially after knocking off No. 5 Kansas, 85-80, in Norman.

But then the wheels began to fall off the Sooner Schooner. Oklahoma lost to Alabama in the Big12/SEC Challenge, beat Baylor, but lost 10 of its next 11 games, including first-round exits in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments. The Sooners finished unranked at 18-4, 8-10 in the league.

This year’s Sooners roll into conference action with a seven-game losing streak. OU has one of the nation’s best defensive teams holding opponents to 37.5 percent (7th nationally) from the field; 32.1 percent beyond the arc. Oklahoma leads the country with 32.8 defensive rebounds- per-game.

Senior guard Christian James leads the team with 17.9 points per game and 36.7 percent among the starters from 3-point range. He’s second with 7.2 rebounds per contest. Sophomore forward Brady Manek leads with 7.5 caroms and 0.8 steals per game.

Miles Reynolds, a graduate transfer via Pacific (Calif.) and St. Louis University, leads the Sooners with 80.6 percent from the free throw line. Senior center Jamuni McNeace is the lead blocker with 1.5 blocks per game.

Overall, Oklahoma is shooting 46.1 percent from the field; 36.9 percent from beyond the arc. The Sooners could collectively improve their free throw shooting making 67 percent.

OU was picked to finish the Big 12 in eighth place in the league’s preseason poll. KU is favored to capture its 15th straight regular season title in the Big 12. The Jayhawks are also the defending Big 12 tourney champs.

If the Sooners make another slide, I would expect Lon Kruger to be on the hot seat. Since taking Oklahoma to the Final Four three years ago, OU has been bounced out of the first round of the last two Big 12 tourneys, and made the NCAA tournament last year, but lost in the opening round.

The Sooners could make a huge statement, and move their coach off the hot seat if they knock off the Jayhawks tonight on the road.

Articles by Ray Dozier