NORMAN — Sam Grooms knows last year he said the team had its eyes on the NCAA Tournament.
Then the Sooners failed to finish and ended the season at 15-16.
Now, in its second year under coach Lon Kruger, Oklahoma really does have its sights set on making it to March.
It's been four seasons since Blake Griffin led the team to the postseason, but this season could be different.
This season, Oklahoma has newcomers like Amath M'Baye and Buddy Hield.
“Last year when I said it, I was basing it off the fact that I believed in the guys and what we had and the work that we put in as a group,” Grooms said. “ Right now, I can see it because we have a lot deeper team.”
The Sooners are deeper athletically with the addition of junior transfer M'Baye. They have bigger guys — with six guys being 6-foot-8 and over. They also have a talented young defense with the addition of freshman guards like Hield and Isaiah Cousins.
All that will allow Oklahoma to hone its defensive play to finish more plays and, as Groom hopes, win more than 20 games.
That defense, senior Romero Osby said, is what Oklahoma is focusing on.
“It's a new feel,” Osby said.
The men's basketball team thinks the stronger defense will help them, especially when it comes to Big 12 season to guard more across the court — be more spread out, instead of being compressed and making it easier for the opponent to get to the basket.
Osby and Grooms credited that new feel and the better defense to experience, a full year with Kruger and, mainly, to the new guys.
Even senior guard Steven Pledger said M'Baye and Hield are the ones who hustle the most on court.
"They both go," Pledger said. "They go after it."
Hield said Pledger made the freshman aware that they haven't been able to leave a mark on the Sooners program and they need this to be the year that it changes.
Hield called it a learning process. It's something that's being built — brick-by-brick. That's what Kruger is known for doing with programs — that's what he did at UNLV and the four other programs before that he helped rebuild.
Within four years of taking over those five programs, Kruger led them to winning seasons — and all to an eventual 20-win season.
That's also how Grooms knows this season will be different from the last three. They have the pieces — the big guys, the athletic ability, the defense. Now, all they need to do is start to showing everyone just how Kruger's tools helped.
"You want to be a part of something that is rebuilding," Grooms said. "You don't want to be a part of something that's always been there.
"I was looking the other day that we had a 15-16 season last year. With the ability we have, we can get above 20 this year. That's a point guard's dream. I want to win 20 games. I want us to win.
"It's like a dream."