OU Men’s Basketball Should Be Even Stronger Next Season, But So Is Schedule


It’s not at all unusual for a story on Oklahoma football to appear in the national press, such as the New York Times or USA Today. But when stories about OU men’s basketball start drawing national attention, you know something good is going on and others are beginning to take note.

Associated Press sportswriter Cliff Brunt wrote an article, picked up in multiple media outlets on Friday, saying that of all the turnaround stories that Oklahoma men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger has been associated with in his nearly three decades as a college head coach, the 2015-16 season could be his finest.

Mar 12, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Oklahoma Sooners guard Buddy Hield (24) talks with head coach Lon Kruger in the game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during the first round at Sprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

“The man who has spent three decades fixing struggling programs has done it again,” Brunt writes. “Now the Sooners are on the verge of becoming a powerhouse after three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament.”

The Sooners finished in a tie for second place in the Big 12 standings last season, and are poised to make an even stronger run next season. Big 12 Player of the Year Buddy Hield decided to forgo the NBA draft and return for his senior season. Hield is one of four OU starters who will be back on the floor for the Sooners in 2015-16.

The 62-year-old Sooner head coach is the only person to have led five different schools (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and Oklahoma) to the NCAA Tournament.

The Sooners have won 20 or more games in three of Kruger’s first four seasons in Norman. As successful as his career has been (561 career wins as a head coach at the college level), Kruger’s teams have won 20-plus games three years in a row just twice in 29 seasons.

Kruger says the tools and resources he has to work with at Oklahoma have played a big role in what the Sooners have been able to accomplish under his leadership.

“First and foremost, we always talk about just getting better every day,” Kruger told the AP. “Coming in with the right mindset, coming in with the attitude of working hard every day to be great, and not getting so far down the road that you can’t focus on what you need to do to be great this week. This group has a good handle on that.

“We always talk about just getting better every day. Coming in with the right mindset, coming in with the right attitude of working hard every day to be great.” —Lon Kruger

“We’re very selective in identifying people who want to be here, ” he said. “that want to be good teammates, that have a team-first attitude, that want to work hard and get a degree. All of those things combined result in what we have now.”

Oklahoma should be one of the Big 12 contenders in 2015-16 and a chief challenger to 11-time defending conference champion Kansas. But the schedule, especially in the nonconference slate of games, is going to be one of the more difficult ones in the country.

The Sooners have games scheduled against Wisconsin and Villanova, both of which were No. 1 seeds in this past season’s NCAA Tournament. OU also has road games at Memphis and LSU.

Kruger had this to say about his team’s daunting nonconference slate this season: “We’ve got an experienced group. They’ve been through some good battles. They’ve been through the Big 12 now a couple of years. I think playing a difficult nonconference schedule is good for them and will challenge them.”