Oklahoma basketball: Sooners are no joke; this group is the real deal

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 08: Head coach Lon Kruger of the Oklahoma Sooners reacts to a lead over the USC Trojans after a timeout with Trae Young
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 08: Head coach Lon Kruger of the Oklahoma Sooners reacts to a lead over the USC Trojans after a timeout with Trae Young /

This men’s Oklahoma basketball team is not just better than last season, they’re dramatically better, and the rest of the Big 12 is about to find that out first hand.

The Sooners scored 68 first-half points on equally incredible 68.8-percent shooting in the opening and took the game on Friday night right out of Northwestern’s hands before halftime. Again, it was freshman phenom Trae Young leading the offensive charge with 31 points and 12 assists. Young has led OU in scoring in all 11 games this season and is on top of the scoring column nationally, as well, with a 28.7 average.

Young has now scored 20 or more points in 10 consecutive games. At his present pace, the Sooner super man would be a lock for national freshman of the year, if not Player of the Year, an accolade that Oklahoma knows something about after having two of it basketball alumni (Blake Griffin in 2009 and Buddy Hield in 2016) so honored.

Oklahoma’s 104-78 win over Northwestern, an NCAA Tournament team last season and ranked 19th in the Associated Press Preseason Poll to start this season, improved the Sooners’ record to 10-1 and represents the second best start in seven seasons under Kruger (OU was 12-0 to begin the 2015-16 campaign).

The Sooners have won eight consecutive games since suffering their lone loss of the season to Arkansas in the PK80 Invitational, and the games haven’t really been that close. Included in those eight wins are victories over two top-25 teams in two of the last four games. And if you consider that Northwestern was a top-25 team to begin this season, that would be victories over three ranked teams in OU’s last four games.

Watching this season’s Sooner team is a marked departure from last season, when OU limped home with an 11-20 overall record and a ninth-place finish in the Big 12.

Although there is still two-thirds of a season and some 20-plus games left to play, at this stage, heading into the Big 12 schedule that includes a pair of games against at least four other ranked teams (TCU, West Virginia, Kansas and Texas Tech) and Texas – not to mention Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State that fall outside of the rankings, but are teams that no one wants to have to play on the road – the 2017-18 edition of Sooner basketball is looking better, I believe, than the veteran team of two seasons ago with Buddy Hield that went to the Final Four.

Even Lon Kruger, a seasoned veteran of over 30 years of college coaching, was impressed with the way his team stormed the court in Friday night’s game with Northwestern:

"“I thought defensively we dictated the game in the first half (and) made a really good Northwestern team look lesser, in the first 20 minutes especially,” the OU head coach said after the game.“You don’t plan on scoring 68 (in a half). I like the movement. They just took what came to them and made good extra passes.”"

From here the road gets even tougher for the Sooners, which is an ominous thought, even considering how outstanding this young (no pun intended) Oklahoma team is playing over the past couple of weeks.

No. 10 and undefeated TCU (11-0) is the Sooners’ next opponent, in Ft. Worth, in the Big 12 season opener for both teams. The Horned Frogs may be playing the best basketball of anyone in the Big 12 right now. TCU handed Oklahoma an 82-63 beating in the Sooners final game last season, in the opening round of the Big 12 Postseason Tournament. And that came less than one week after OU defeated TCU by 10 points in Norman in the regular-season finale.

If you haven’t seen the Sooner men in action this season, you should make it a point to attend one in person or tune in to one of the broadcasts. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Kruger knows this team is still very much a work in progress and needs to keep making improvements.

"“Regardless of what happens (going forward), of how good we feel about a previous game, we’ve got to keep getting better,” he said.“Once you start feeling good about what you’ve done, that’s when the slip ups come.”"

The good news for fans of OU men’s basketball is, this group hasn’t had very few slip ups this season.