NORMAN — Last season Oklahoma was picked third in the preseason men's basketball poll. Plagued by character and work ethic issues, the Sooners finished 4-12, only their second losing conference season in the Big 12 era.
This season expectations are much lower as OU gets ready to head into conference play.
Picked 11th by the league's coaches, the Sooners lack size and experience. Senior Cade Davis is OU's only returning starter, while other returnees Andrew Fitzgerald and Steven Pledger were reserves.
“With those three guys who have a reference point, they can be an example every day in practice of what not to do,” said coach Jeff Capel. “That's certainly something those guys should have learned last year.”
Playing in one of the top conferences in the country, rebounding will be the key whether the Sooners can be competitive, especially after Capel switched to a four-guard lineup a month ago.
“Our post guys have to do a better job of rebounding. It's just plain and simple,” Capel said. “Our two best defensive rebounders for the year have been (guards) Cade Davis and Cameron Clark. Guys like Fitzgerald and C.J. Washington and Nick Thompson have to rebound better for us.
“This lineup has given us the best opportunity to win, although C.J. Washington has really done some good things here as of late. And we need to get Nick Thompson back playing the way he was earlier in the year.”
OU (8-6) enters conference play with some momentum, having won five of its last six.
“It gets your guys to have a little more confidence to believe in what you're trying to teach and feel good about what they're doing,” Capel said. “It was something we needed after a tough stretch (five-game losing streak).
“We've gotten better. Our guys have worked, have played hard and have had a good attitude. Hopefully our challenging non-conference schedule is something that will help us as we enter Big 12 play.”
The Sooners open conference play Saturday at home against No. 16 Texas A&M.
“We know how challenging it is with the players and coaches in this league,” Capel said. “We're thrown in the fire right away with a very good A&M team, a team with a lot of confidence that is playing awfully well. They may be a possession or two away from being undefeated... We're excited about the challenge.”