PHILADELPHIA — It was the year of the three freshman guards, the year of the rebuilder and the year of Oklahoma's return to the NCAA Tournament.
But first and foremost, it was the year of Romero Osby.
Oklahoma exceeded expectations during their 2012-13 season in which they went 20-12. Lon Kruger, known for his ability to rebuild a program, became the first coach in college basketball history to take five different programs to an NCAA Tournament. And Sooner fans were introduced to the three freshman guards: Je'lon Hornbeak, Isaiah Cousins and Buddy Hield.
Still, the team showed glimpses of the 15-16 team that they were last year. The major difference, though, came in senior forward Romero Osby, who shined early in the season and carried the Sooners through the late part of conference season.
Let's take a deeper look back at OU's season:
Thinking NCAA Tournament in October. Back in the fall, the Sooners had one goal: make it to the NCAA Tournament. Not all the students and alumni jumped on board with the goal. The Sooners nonconference season low of attendance was a mere 2,501 for a game at McCasland Field House. Then in conference season at Lloyd Noble Center, the Sooners' high was an estimated home attendance of 10,530 against No. 5 Kansas — although there was a fair amount of Jayhawks fans. One game later, they had their worst conference attendance record against TCU with just 4,372. By the end of the season, Oklahoma had its first 20-win season since the 2008-2009 season that led them to the tournament in March.
Freshmen proving themselves. The three freshmen made their way onto the Oklahoma basketball scene with nicknames of kitchen appliances. They moved onto “Three the Hard Way.” By tournament time, they were joking about their new haircut business called “Klean Kutz.” But beyond their antics off the court, they proved to Kruger that they could earn starting positions as rookies. While each had his share of struggles — Hornbeak as point guard, Cousins with turnovers and Hield with surgery — they contributed and provided a look at what's to come for Oklahoma.
Putting together a strong foundation. The Sooners showed glimpses of what they were and what is to come. There's the athleticism of Amath M'Baye and the experience of Cam Clark. Then there's also the fierce competitiveness of Gonzaga transfer Ryan Spangler as well as the strength and grittiness of redshirts C.J. Cole and D.J. Bennett and freshman Steve Noworyta. Combine all of that, and next season's team is likely to be more physical and aggressive, which is what Kruger continually asked for throughout this season.
Struggling to close games. Oklahoma led two of its last three games at halftime. The Sooners lost all three and struggled with scoring droughts, including an eight-minute one against Iowa State. Bottom line: OU must learn to close late in the season.
Bottling the team player in Romero Osby. All Oklahoma players and coaches could say this year about their starting senior forward were positive things. Amath M'Baye even raised his hand during NCAA Tournament interviews to speak good words of Osby. It's going to be hard for Oklahoma to replace Romero Osby.