The record is almost identical, but there is something very different about this season’s men’s Oklahoma basketball team from the Trae Young-led team of a year ago.
The Sooners chalked up their ninth win in 10 games with an 81-70 win over USC on Saturday night in Tulsa.
Ten Sooners saw action Saturday night and nine scored, including three in double digits. Christian James has been the team’s leading scorer all season, but on Saturday, newcomer Miles Reynolds took the scoring mantle, dropping in a game-high 20 points.
The beauty of what is happening so far in 2018-19 is that Saturday night’s OU performance is reflective of what we have seen in virtually every game. The Sooners are playing complementary basketball, employing solid defense to spark their offense and strong, team play on the offensive end to boost their confidence and disruptive ability on defense..
spreading around their scoring contribution, unlike a year ago, when most of scoring was disproportional and came from a single source.
OU’s 9-1 record was the same a year ago after ten games, with Young lighting up the scoreboard as well as the attention of the college basketball media and fans around the country.
Oklahoma’s reliance last season on their superstar to carry the load worked for a while, until it didn’t. Beyond Young, who led the nation in scoring as well as assists, the Sooners got very little help from the supporting cast, which made head coach Lon Kruger’s team very predictable.
While Young remained hot, so did Oklahoma, but when opponents learned how to defend and slow down the Sooner star and the shots didn’t come as easily, all the early wins were replaced by a flood of losses. OU began the season winning 12 of its first 13 games. Over the next 14 games, though, things quickly turned south, with the Sooners losing 10 times, including one stretch in February when they dropped six in a row.
Oklahoma scored plenty of points last season, averaging 85.2 points per game, fourth best in the country, but they also gave up more than 80 points a game, largely the result of poor defensive play.
A more complete team effort on both ends of the floor and much improved defensive play are the two big factors, in my view, that make that make this year’s team better than the Sooner team of a year ago, despite the loss of consensus All-American Young.
Last season, Oklahoma allowed opponents to shoot 44.3 percent for the season. So far this season, that number is down eight percentage points, to 36.2 percent. That number is apt to go up some once conference play begins. but the current trend is a very positive sign.
The bottom line is: This team is playing much better and more together than the 2017-18 OU team and is clearly playing at a higher level than its eighth-place projection in the preseason Big 12 coaches poll.
We’ll see shortly if the early signs are a true reflection of what’s to come or merely the result of a soft nonconference schedule. The ride has surely been fun so far.