Lon Kruger: ‘Expectations Are Different This Year’


For four straight seasons under head coach Lon Kruger, the Oklahoma men’s basketball team has finished higher than its projection in the Big 12 preseason coaches poll.

To do so this season would be especially sweet because it would mean the Sooners would be the first team in a dozen years to dethrone perennial Big 12 champion Kansas.

Oklahoma is projected to finish second in the Big 12 this season. In Kruger’s four previous seasons, he has taken the Sooners from an eighth-place finish in 2011 and a sub-.500 record overall to a tie for second place in the conference standings to end last season and 25 wins on the year.

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 Sooners have finished second in the conference in basketball in each of the last two seasons.

Kruger was on hand, along with the nine other Big 12 men’s basketball coaches this week, as the Big 12 held its annual Basketball Media Day for the 2015-16 season.

The Oklahoma head coach was asked about the benefit of having four returning starters back for the coming season:

"“It’s great to have them, from them being familiar, them having experience, a lot of Big 12 starts,” Kruger told reporters in his press briefing with Big 12 reporters and media representatives. “Leadership out of that group is outstanding, maybe as good as we’ve ever had with a returning group. The work ethic, their unselfishness, all those things that you’d certainly rather have than not.”"

The Sooners return 2014-15 Big 12 Player of the Year Buddy Hield along with starters Ryan Spangler, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodward. The returning OU men’s squad accounted for 75 percent of the team’s scoring last season, 69 percent of the rebounding and 83 percent of the assists.

Much is expected from the Sooners in basketball this season, and because of that they won’t be sneaking up on anybody. They are ranked No. 8 in the USA Today 2015-16 Preseason Basketball Coaches Poll.

"“Expectations are different this year,” Kruger said. “These guys have never really been in that position before. But they’ll handle it well. They understand how they have to work every day, focus every day and work at getting better. They know how tough the league is, so they know what lies ahead.”"

The Sooners aren’t the only Big 12 team that returns most of its top players from a year ago. Kansas and Iowa State both return multiple starters as well. The Sooners’ head coach was asked about that:

A number of the top players from the league last year are back this season, Kruger acknowledged. “The top three teams, two-thirds of those (players) return…leading scorers, leading rebounders, they return,” Kruger said. “So down the line it seems like it’s a league that’s not really very talented, but its older talent which will make it even tougher.”

A big reason for the high expectations surrounding OU men’s basketball this season are because of the return of Buddy Hield, the Big 12’s leading scorer last season. Kruger was asked about the factors that led to Hield’s decision to forego the NBA draft and return for his senior season:

"“Buddy’s really smart. He’s got a great family, so our function was just to provide information,” the OU head coach said. “We talked to a lot of folks in the NBA, and we got the committee’s evaluation back, as we do for any young player that may entertain the idea of going into the draft early, and provided that to Buddy.“Buddy took those projections and took the expert’s opinions and said, ‘I can get better.’ It’s not like he’s not enjoying his time in Oklahoma. He said he thought he could enjoy that, improve his game and maybe elevate his draft status and give himself a better chance to have a longer career at the next level.“He made a decision that will be very good for him in the long run and certainly very good for our program.”"