NORMAN — After finishing second in the Big 12, it’s easy to forget just how young Oklahoma was this basketball season.
The Sooners had just two seniors — one who started and the other who played a key role off the bench — and just one junior, reserve forward D.J. Bennett.
While there’s still plenty of disappointment in how OU’s season ended, with a loss to North Dakota State in its NCAA Tournament opener that followed a loss to Baylor to start the Big 12 Tournament, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic for the future.
A year after losing two-thirds of their scoring and coming back to make the NCAA Tournament, the Sooners are expected to lose just more than a quarter of their scoring going into next year.
Only second-leading scorer Cam Clark and top bench scorer Tyler Neal won’t be back next season.
The guard class that includes leading scorer Buddy Hield, defensive whiz Isaiah Cousins and Je’lon Hornbeak, who averaged a bench-high 18.2 minutes per game, will be juniors.
So will Ryan Spangler, the Big 12’s leading rebounder whose offensive game slipped a bit late in the season.
Spangler figures to improve offensively and will likely have a chance to play more of his natural position next season.
“Ryan inside will get so much more comfortable offensively,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “With the kids coming in, the kids coming back, we’ll get better.”
Spangler’s offensive development — and the three front-court players the Sooners are bringing in —figure to be big pieces in that.
The 3-point shot accounted for nearly 32 percent of the Sooners’ scoring this season.
While outside shooting figures to be a big component next season, Kruger wants to see an improved interior offense with an emphasis on getting back to attacking the rim.
“We’ve got to have more diversity offensively,” Kruger said. “We’ll continue to shoot good shots, but we’ve got to be able to do some different things.”
Size, which was an issue against bigger teams this season, figures to be less of one next year.
The Sooners bring aboard a trio of interior players — two at 6-foot-9 and one 6-7.
The shortest of the trio, Dante Buford, figures to be the most ready to contribute right away. Khadeem Lattin, a 6-9 forward, needs polish offensively but can be a contributor defensively right away.
The Sooners also need improvement from the guards. They need Hield to get back to slashing toward the basket while continuing his solid outside game. They need freshman point guard Jordan Woodard to continue to develop as a distributor while becoming a more consistent threat to score. They need virtually everyone to take a big step forward defensively.
“We’ve got to grow; we’ve got to mature; we’ve got to play better basketball,” Kruger said. “Sometimes we shot a little quickly or didn’t quite get the shot we wanted this year.
“We have to have more quality possessions.”