Kruger had led OU back to the NCAA Tournament last season in his second year, but a return seemed unlikely.
Oklahoma lost more than two-thirds of its scoring, including nearly all of its inside offense, from last year's team that made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.
So Kruger retooled his team to work around what he did have.
The Sooners turned up the tempo to take advantage of their athleticism while lessening the impact of a small roster with no players taller than 6-foot-8.
Kruger and his staff continued to tinker. Even as the schedule turned toward Big 12 play, the Sooners' defense was among the nation's worst.
Kruger went away from his usual man-to-man defense and experimented with several different zones.
The Sooners aren't moving up the defensive rankings fast — they're still No. 307 in scoring defense nationally — but OU is playing much better on that end of the floor.
The result has been a four-game winning streak in Big 12 play, sole possession of second place in the league and a second consecutive NCAA Tournament berth seeming more and more like a bare minimum accomplishment rather than the ceiling of what this team can accomplish.
And wins like Monday night's start feeling more like an expectation rather than an aberration.
“They're a good basketball team,” Oklahoma State's Phil Forte said. “They can score, one through five. They shoot the ball really well. They put it on the floor.
“We knew coming in we were going to have our hands full defensively.”