Oklahoma Basketball: Sooner Bench May Be Difference-Maker This Season


Oklahoma basketball is riding high as the 2015 portion of the 2015-16 schedule winds down for the Sooners with three games in Hawaii.

The Sooners are off to their best start since the 2008-09 season with eight wins under their belt and looking for more this week at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.

With four returning starters who have started 76 consecutive games for Oklahoma over three seasons, the No. 2-ranked Sooners have established a chemistry and on-the-court continuity that is hard to sustain in today’s one-and-done college environment. And that experience and leadership, having three seniors who have played together for three seasons now, is paying huge dividends and a key reason that OU is one of just five teams that remain unbeaten this season.

Dec 7, 2015; Honolulu, HI, USA; Oklahoma Sooners guard Rashard Odomes (1) goes up for a basket over Villanova Wildcats forward Kris Jenkins (2) during the second half of the NCAA basketball game at Bloch Arena. Oklahoma defeated Villanova 78-55. Mandatory Credit: Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

With conference play just around the corner (starting the day after New Years for the Sooners, hosting Iowa State), lineup depth will become more important than it has to this point. The more competitive nature of the conference schedule and season will dictate that. The performance of the bench players will win and lose some games over the next couple of months.

A good reason for Oklahoma being 8-0 after the first month of action is not just because of the strength and stability of their five starters, but because of the improved play of the bench. As a team, the Sooners are averaging 87.5 points through the first eight games, fifth best scoring average in the nation. A little less than a fourth of that total (a collective 20.6 points a game) is coming from the OU reserves.

The Sooner bench is also contributing 12 rebounds and almost four assists per game. That is double the production Lon Kruger’s squad got from the bench a year ago.

Key contributors among the Sooner reserves at this stage of the season are senior Dinjiyl Walker and junior seven-footer Akolda Manyang, both of whom are averaging 5.1 points a game. Manyang has also been a rim protector, averaging two blocked shots a game to go along with 3.3 rebounds. Freshmen Christian James and Rashard Odomes are averaging close to four points a game coming off the bench.

There is no question that the Sooner starters will carry Oklahoma basketball a long way this season, but for the team to reach its full expectations, it will take productive minutes and the continued contributions of the rotation players on the Sooner bench.