Oklahoma basketball had a 20-win season. They made it to an NCAA Tournament.
All of it is, in large part, thanks to Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger who is known as a rebuilder. However, there were some surprises and underachievers to the 2012-2013 season.
Here we go:
Romero Osby’s consistency and just about everything else. Be honest. At some point, just like me, you thought, ‘OK, Osby is just not going to pull through in the second half for them.’ And then he always pulled through, even if he had some scoring droughts in the second half late in the season. However, Romero Osby’s consistency is the reason they are where they are. His work ethic, his diligence to stay over an hour after practice as the media interviewed him and then often just sat talking with him. He was generous to his team and the fans. He’s a low-maintenance all-for-the-team guy in an all-about-me, over-dramatic world. He’s the diamond in the rough.
Buddy Hield’s energy. Be honest again. You wondered at some point how he keeps going. How does Buddy Hield keep talking and squaking and running circles around his opponent? Doesn’t he ever get tired? No. Not really. The only time I truly saw him tired was after he played 1-on-7 basketball with all those 12 year olds and he was so determined to win that he ran and chased everything down (and yeah, even airballed a three). Hield’s energy changed the tone of the season. Osby’s business attitude pushed it forward. Hield’s energetic attitude kept it fueled.
Lon Kruger’s coaching. Don’t confuse this for anything other than this: Lon Kruger’s coaching shocked a lot of analysts, media and basketball fans around the nation this season when they started seeing the Sooners winning so much. People expected it to take a little bit longer for Kruger to take what he had and turn it into victories.
An NCAA Tournament berth. A lot of fans early this season were telling me how happy they would be just to see Oklahoma make the NIT Tournament. Honestly, I think the Sooners shocked themselves a little bit with the 20-win season and the berth. I know they said way back in October that’s what their goal was, but every team’s goal is to be the Cinderella and shock the tournament (unless you’re someone like Kansas). Toward the end of the season, when they kept losing, even the Sooners seemed contempt with an NIT berth. I say so, because they said so. Multiple times by multiple players after that Iowa State loss at the Big 12 Championships.
Point guard consistency. First there was Je’lon Hornbeak. Then it was Isaiah Cousins. Then Sam Grooms. Back to Cousins. Back to Grooms. At one point, Kruger had three point guards playing in one game. It caused Oklahoma to struggle for a leader to run the offense and in the end, Lon Kruger really only got half of what he wanted out of each player: aggression and defense
Amath M’Baye’s dominance. Amath M’Baye was all the rave coming into the season. He earned Preseason Big 12 Rookie of the Year honors by the conference. Even M’Baye said back then that the better award would be the end of the season one. He started off the season with SportsCenter dunks and ended it struggling to produce – from the perimeter or the post.
A second shooter. There was none and that left a lot of work on Romero Osby and a lot of leaning on Osby by everyone else on the team.
The last four games of the season. The last four games of the season reminded Oklahoma fans that this is a team a year removed from a 15-16 season and just all the struggles that came before Lon Kruger moved to Norman. The Sooners looked tired and content with just barely making it into the NCAA Tournament (or even the NIT as they began to say near the end of the season). A team can keep saying that they are looking forward to the next game and the next opponent with energy and this and that — but the bottom line is that by the last week of conference play, the Sooners were content with their previous work and switched to cruise control.