NORMAN — Oklahoma basketball coach Lon Kruger is perplexed by his team's defense.
“I don't know that we've had a team quite like this that we've bounced around so much and at this point in the season don't really have a positive defensive identity,” Kruger said. “We've got an identity, it's just not a positive one right now.”
Coming off a Wednesday loss to Kansas, the Sooners' defense gets probably its biggest challenge of the season so far at home against Iowa State at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Man-to-man defense has been a big part of Kruger's teams, but this season he's tried just about everything to improve the Sooners.
They've tried several different zone looks and presses but have yet to find something that clicked.
That's not something that Kruger has done much of in the past, even when the defense was struggling.
“Sometimes you hesitate to do that because you kind of let them off the hook,” Kruger said. “In the past, we've played almost all man because we've always had the attitude of, ‘Let's guard them and not have any out. We've got to guard them.' This year, we just weren't, so if we're not going to, we need to try something else.
“We haven't liked that either so we're kind of in the middle ground right now searching.”
The Cyclones are 14-0 and one of the few teams nationally that have been better than the Sooners offensively.
Iowa State is tied with the Sooners in scoring, averaging 87 points per game. The Cyclones' offensive efficiency has been slightly better.
According to Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency statistic, which estimates points scored per 100 possessions against an average Division I defense, Iowa State's offense is No. 9 in the country while OU's is No. 12.
While that margin is tight, there's a wide gap in the teams' defensive ratings, with the Cyclones No. 23 in the country and Oklahoma No. 183.
The answer is simple to freshman point guard Jordan Woodard.
“It's just the effort,” Woodard said. “We've got to hunker down. Every possession has got to mean more to us. We get relaxed sometimes on defense and in the Big 12, you're going to get attacked if you relax.”
Both Kruger and some players said that it's been hard for the team to focus on defense, even through struggles, because of the offensive success when they were winning.
Now that the Sooners have dropped two of three, the message is starting to sink in.
“It's just human nature that things are OK because we're winning,” Kruger said.
Forward Tyler Neal, one of just two seniors on the team, said the Sooners need to get back to pressuring the ball and dictating the tempo.
“I think we're going to try to get back to that a little bit, not as much as the beginning of the year but putting a little more pressure on them and not letting them dictate,” Neal said. “KU was kind of able to dictate their tempo and were able to run their stuff a little too easily, so just getting up into some passing lanes here and there. Nothing super crazy but to just help dictate a little more.”