December 21 | 8 p.m. | Evanston, Ill.
FRIDAY’S GAME BASICS
Oklahoma (10-1, 0-0 Big 12) closes out its non-conference slate when it travels to Evanston, Ill., to face Northwestern (8-3, 0-2 Big Ten). The matchup along the shores of Lake Michigan will be Oklahoma’s first game in the Chicago area since facing DePaul in 1947. The Sooners are 2-0 in true road games this season after opening the season with wins over UTRGV and UTSA, but will look to snap a nine-game road losing streak against major-conference teams. Oklahoma will look to its defense to buckle down in the road environment. The Sooners are holding opponents to 37.0 percent shooting from the field, the second-best defensive field goal rate in the Big 12 and seventh best nationally.
ON THE AIR
Friday’s matchup will tip at 8 p.m. CT and air on the Sooner Radio Network (107.7 FM The Franchise in Oklahoma City; KTBZ 1430 AM in Tulsa; Tune In Radio App) with Toby Rowland and Kevin Henry announcing. Dave Revsine and Jon Crispin will call the action on Big Ten Network. Fans with proper cable verification can also stream the game on the Fox Sports Go App (must have Big Ten Network as part of cable plan).
When the Sooners return to Norman in January, three of their next four home games will be played on a Saturday afternoon. OU Athletics is offering fans special holiday savings to take advantage of the big matchups with favorable tip times. For just $30 total, fans will receive a ticket to OU’s home games against Oklahoma State (Jan. 5), TCU (Jan. 12) and Vanderbilt (Jan. 26). Tickets will be general admission for the north end (student section) and can be purchased at SoonerSports.com/Tickets.
• Senior guard Christian James enters Friday’s matchup with four straight double-doubles. James failed to produce a double-double in his first 104 collegiate games, but has totalled at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in every game since. James is averaging 17.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in his four December games. He and Kansas’ Dedric Lawson each have four double-doubles this month (no other Big 12 player has more than one).
• Friday’s game will be a homecoming for graduate guard Miles Reynolds, who grew up on the south side of Chicago (attended Whitney Young Magnet High School) and will be playing his first collegiate game in the Chicago area. Reynolds, in his first and only year with the Sooners, enters his return home as one of OU’s key pieces during its early-season success. He has scored at least 13 points in five of his last six games and is averaging 15.0 points on 48.9 percent shooting during that stretch.
• While James and Reynolds lead the Sooners’ scoring effort, Oklahoma has seen different key contributors each game. Eight of the nine Sooners in Kruger’s main rotation have at least one game in double figures, including six players with at least three games of 10-or-more points. The Sooners have had at least three players reach double-digit scoring in all 10 of their wins. Oklahoma is averaging 3.4 players in double figures per game (4.0 over the last four games).
Miles Reynolds returns to his hometown of Chicago averaging 15.0 points over his last six games.
SERIES HISTORY: NORTHWESTERN
• OU won the only previous meeting between the two programs last season, 104-78, in Norman. OU outscored the Wildcats 68-38 in the first half, putting up its most points in any half since scoring 75 (first half) against Morehead State on Dec. 27, 1991. The Sooners shot 22-of-32 (.688) from the field, 14-of-20 (.700) from 3-point range and 10-for-10 from the foul line in the opening half while dishing out 16 assists. Christian James scored 19 points.
• The Sooners are 2-5 against Big Ten teams during the Kruger era. Oklahoma’s only loss this season came to Big Ten member Wisconsin.
• The Sooners are playing just their sixth true road game against a Big Ten team (at the time of competition) over the past 50 years. The Big Ten home team has won the past four outings, with OU’s last win on a Big Ten campus coming in 1970 at Illinois. The Sooners have won numerous road games in that stretch against former Big Eight and Big 12 foe Nebraska along with a road victory over Penn State in 1987 (the Nittany Lions did not join the Big Ten until 1990). Oklahoma also won an off-campus road game at Michigan State (played in Auburn Hills, Mich.) in 2003.
RECAPPING OU’S WIN OVER CREIGHTON
• The Sooners picked up another marquee non-conference victory when they defeated Creighton, 83-70, on Tuesday in Norman. The win was Lon Kruger’s 150th career victory at Oklahoma.
• Creighton entered the matchup making 11.7 3-pointers per game at a nation-leading 44.8 percent clip. OU held Creighton to a season-low 23.2 percent (7-of-30). The Bluejays missed their first 12 deep attempts of the game. Their 70 points are their second-lowest of the year.
• Oklahoma’s bench unit played a big role in the win, combining for a season-best 32 bench points. Only one OU starter played more than 20 minutes while all four reserves who saw action played at least 20 minutes.
• The Sooners were led by sophomore forward Brady Manek with a season-high 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting to go with five rebounds. Oklahoma is 11-0 the past two seasons when Manek scores at least 15 points.
• Christian James continued his double-double streak by recording 14 points and 12 rebounds. James has produced a points-rebounds double-double in his past four games (had no double-doubles in his first 104 career games).
• The Sooners’ defense was especially effective against Creighton’s leading season scorers. Ty-Shon Alexander (18.2 points per game) was limited to nine points and Mitch Ballock (12.8 points per game) was held scoreless on 0-of-11 shooting.
• The Sooners are 8-5 in non-conference road games under Kruger and have won six of their last eight.
• OU is a combined 10-0 in the month of December the past two seasons.
• The Sooners bost three players averaging over 14 points in the month of December in Christian James (17.3), Brady Manek (14.5) and Miles Reynolds (14.0). The other nine teams in the Big 12 combine to have only five players averaging at least 14 points this month (six teams with none).
• Oklahoma has non-conference victories over every other major basketball conference this season with wins over teams from the ACC, American, Atlantic-10, Big East, SEC and Pac-12. OU looks to add the Big Ten to that list on Friday.
• Oklahoma is off to its fourth start of 10-1 (or better) during Kruger’s eight seasons as head coach (also third in the last four seasons). OU began the 2015-16 season 12-0 and saw a 12-1 start to its 2017-18 campaign.
• Friday’s matchup is OU’s third road game of the season. Ten of OU’s first 13 games this season are being played outside of Norman. It is the fewest amount of games OU has played in Norman through 13 games since the start of the 1975-76 season when the Sooners only played three home games in their first 14 contests.
• Oklahoma is 7-1 in games away from Norman this season (includes “home” victories in OKC and Tulsa). The Sooners have won five games on the road or on neutral sites. No other Big 12 team has more than three wins away from home. (Does not count the Oklahoma City or Tulsa games, which are considered home games for RPI/NET purposes).
• With wins away from Norman over Florida, Dayton, Notre Dame, Wichita State, USC and Creighton, Oklahoma’s strength of schedule and success away from Lloyd Noble Center has caught the attention of various evaluation formulas and rankings. The Sooners are No. 16 in the NCAA’s new NET Ranking (replaces the RPI), No. 9 in ESPN’s Strength of Record and No. 3 in CBS Sports’ RPI and No. 5 in CBS Sports’ strength of schedule. As of the latest round of poll voting, Oklahoma was one spot out of the AP Top 25. OU’s average opponent NET rating is the second best in college basketball and the Sooners are one of only three schools in the country to not play any “Quadrant 4” games.
• Senior guard Christian James is fourth in the Big 12 scoring race with 18.5 points per game (Iowa State’s Marial Shayok leads the conference with 19.8 points per game).
• Sophomore forward Brady Manek ranks sixth in the Big 12 in rebounding with 7.7 boards per game. Manek averaged only 5.2 rebounds last season, but put on 20 pounds over the offseason to improve his physical presence in the paint. He has put together three double-doubles this season (had none his freshman year).
• The Sooners almost always have team success on nights that Manek is rolling. During his career, OU is 18-4 when Manek scores in double figures, 11-0 when he scores at least 15 points and 8-0 when he hit four or more 3-pointers.
• Northwestern forward Charlie Hall is the son of Emmy-award-winning actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus. OU junior forward Matt Freeman’s favorite TV show is Seinfeld. Julia – if you’re attending the game, Matt would love to discuss your many feats of strength and air a few grievances…it is the Festivus season, after all.
• Freeman has been providing the Sooner bench with a deep threat over the last few weeks. He’s already matched his total of made 3-pointers from last season (14), but has done so on 17 fewer attempts. He’s firing the long ball at a 50.0 percent clip.
• Senior center Jamuni McNeace has totaled 17 blocked shots over the last five games he’s been in the starting lineup. McNeace is ranked sixth in the Big 12 with an average of 2.0 rejections per game.
IN DEFENSE OF CHANGING STYLES
• For the second straight season, Oklahoma is off to a 9-1 start. Although their record matches last season’s start, the Sooners have completely shifted their style of play from 2017-18 to 2018-19. Head coach Lon Kruger has shown the flexibility to adjust his style of play to the personnel on his roster. Last season, the Sooners played a fast-tempo, high-scoring style through national rookie of the year Trae Young. As the first player to lead the country in scoring and assists, Young drove the Sooners offense to score 84.9 points per game – the fifth most of any team last season and the eighth most in program history. The Sooners’ 2017-18 tempo was the second fastest among major-conference teams with an average possession of only 14.0 seconds. Due to the speed of play and emphasis on free-flowing offense, the Sooners gave up an average of 81.7 points per game on the defensive end.
• This season, the Sooners are focusing much more on the defensive side – using their athleticism and length to force opponents deep into the shot clock and showing improvement in contesting shots. OU opponents are averaging 65.8 points per game and shooting 37.0 percent from the field (ranks second in the Big 12, seventh in the nation).
• Oklahoma’s defense has been especially disruptive late in the game. In OU’s 10 wins, its opponents are shooting a combined 32.9 percent (22.7 percent from 3) in the final 15 minutes of the game.
• OU has held its opponent to 60 or fewer points in four of its last eight games.
• The Sooners have held their opponents to 30 or fewer points in the first half on six occasions this season (did so zero times last season).
• OU opponents have shot under 32 percent in five of OU’s 11 games this season.
FORTUNE FAVORS THE OLD
• Last season’s Sooner squad was one of the youngest teams in both the Big 12 and the country. With nine freshmen and sophomores and only one senior, Oklahoma was the second least-experienced team in the conference, according to KenPom.com. The analytics website’s formula, based on age and collegiate playing experience, ranked the Sooners 304 out of 351 Division I teams in experience. It will be a different story for Oklahoma this season, as its roster now features eight seniors or graduate students and only one scholarship freshman. Using the same KenPom experience metric, Oklahoma is No. 24 in experience this season and No. 1 among teams from major conferences.
• Through the combination of time and targeting experienced transfers in recruiting, the Sooners now boast the most seniors and graduates of any team in the Big 12. With seven more seniors/graduates than 2017-18, Oklahoma owns the largest-known increase of seniors in NCAA Division I this season.
• The Sooners’ average age on opening night in 2017 was 19.9. On the day of OU’s 2018 season opener (Nov. 9), the Oklahoma roster was an average age of 21.1 and the oldest in the Big 12.
• Christian James, Rashard Odomes and Jamuni McNeace form the core group of OU seniors, as all three have spent at least three years in the Sooners’ program. The trio combines for 297 games of collegiate experience and 123 starts. Both James and Odomes have been consistent members of OU’s starting lineup over the past three seasons, while McNeace continued to see his role expanded as the 2017-18 season progressed. James’ 11.9 points per game last season are the most among returning players while McNeace led Sooner returners in rebounds (5.4) and blocked shots (1.4). With a 7-foot-4 wingspan and one of the most athletic builds on the team, McNeace is gearing towards having a breakout senior season as the Sooners’ starting center.
• Oklahoma also installed significant experience and leadership into its roster through the addition of two graduate transfer guards: Aaron Calixte and Miles Reynolds. An experienced point guard from the University of Maine, Calixte brings career averages of 11.6 points and 3.0 assists. With 1,125 career points to his name, Calixte averaged 16.9 points per game and shot 61-of-158 (.386) from 3-point range in 2017-18. Calixte faces the challenge of filling OU’s point guard role, left open by Trae Young’s top-five selection in the 2018 NBA Draft, but will rely on his own experience at the position along with veteran players surrounding him.
• Reynolds joins the Sooners after two seasons at Pacific, where he scored 13.3 points a game last season. The guard has experience at both the point guard position and playing off the ball and aims to lend a veteran voice to the court and locker room. In the team’s annual player poll, Reynolds’ teammates voted him the best vocal leader and one of OU’s best leaders by example.
• The Sooner seniors also feature JUCO transfer Ty Lazenby, now in his second year at OU, and walk-ons Patrick Geha and Luke Stephenson.
UP NEXT: KANSAS
• The Sooners open 2019 and Big 12 play with the tall task of facing No. 1 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. The Sooners and Jayhawks open conference competiton on Wednesday, Jan. 2 at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN2 or ESPNU.
• Kansas is the only Big 12 team with a winning all-time record against the Sooners, leading the series 147-67. The Jayhawks are 76-16 against the Sooners in Lawrence.
• Oklahoma will be looking for its first win in Allen Fieldhouse since 1993. The Jayhawks have defeated the Sooners in 17 straight games in Lawrence.
• OU is 7-12 all-time against teams ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press at the time of competition, but 0-7 on the road. OU is 3-7 against Kansas when the Jayhawks are ranked No. 1 (0-4 in Lawrence).