Oklahoma basketball: Looking ahead to the 2020-’21 season

AUSTIN, TEXAS - JANUARY 08: Kristian Doolittle #21 of the Oklahoma Sooners holds the ball away from Andrew Jones #1 of the Texas Longhorns at The Frank Erwin Center on January 08, 2020 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TEXAS - JANUARY 08: Kristian Doolittle #21 of the Oklahoma Sooners holds the ball away from Andrew Jones #1 of the Texas Longhorns at The Frank Erwin Center on January 08, 2020 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images) /

With the abrupt but prudent halt to the 2019-20 Oklahoma basketball season, our thoughts fast forward to what the next edition of Sooner men’s basketball will bring.

Although it was unfortunate for the OU players and fans of Oklahoma basketball that the season was cancelled as part of nationwide health concerns over the pervasive spread of the coronavirus — and March Madness quickly turned into March Sadness — there is something positive to come out of it. The Sooners were able to end their season on a high note with a win.

And what a victory it was. Trailing by 19 points late in the first half and by as many as 18 in the second, Oklahoma made a dramatic second-half comeback led by junior guard Austin Reaves, and seized a 78-76 victory over TCU in what, until the final minute, appeared to be an almost certain defeat.

Reaves, who transferred to Oklahoma after his sophomore season at Wichita State, scored 15 of his career-high 41 points in the final five minutes of the game. He capped off a 23-9 run by the Sooners in the closing minutes with a fadeaway jump shot that went in as the shot clock expired with 0.4 seconds remaining to be played, giving OU its first lead in the game.

Oklahoma Sooners Basketball
Oklahoma Sooners Basketball /

Oklahoma Sooners Basketball

No one knew it then, of course, but what a great way to end the season. Think of it this way, of the teams that are good enough to make it into the NCAA Tournament in a normal season, only one of the 68 teams will end the season on a winning note.

Here’s another reason that season-ending victory is significant: The last time an OU men’s basketball team ended the season with a win was 48 years ago, in 1973. The Sooners did not make the NCAA Tournament that season (the field was half the size it is today) and there was not a then-Big Eight postseason championship. OU ended the season that year with an 86-78 home win over Oklahoma State.

A year ago, Oklahoma had the oldest team in the Big 12. The 2018-19 roster included five seniors and two graduate transfers. This season, Kristian Doolittle is the lone senior on the roster. In fact, there are only four players, including Doolittle who are not in their first or second season of eligibility. In a matter of one year, the Sooners went from the oldest team in the conference to the youngest.

And that’s relatively good news, because it means Oklahoma will return 14 of the 15 players who made up this year’s roster. That’s a prime reason OU has just one commitment in its 2020 recruiting class: three-star guard Trey Phipps, out of Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa. That is the same school, incidentally, that produced Wayman Tisdale, perhaps the greatest player in Oklahoma basketball history.

The NCAA has already gone of record saying it will grant another year of eligibility to student-athletes participating in 2020 spring sports who were in their final season of eligibility after the majority of their season was cancelled in a nationwide effort to curb the spread of the dangerous coronavirus.

There is also some discussion among NCAA officials about extending to eligibility waiver to winter sports, such as college basketball, although such formal action appears to be somewhat of a long shot at this point in time.

Doolittle was Oklahoma’s leading scorer and rebounder this season, averaging 15.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. If he is not granted an eligibility waiver, the Sooners will still return four starters and 78 percent of the team’s offensive production next season.

Brady Manek (14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds) and Reaves (14.7 and 5.3) are back for one more go-round, as are senior Alondes Williams (6.0 points a game), junior point guard Jamal Bieiniemy (5.2 points and 4.0 rebounds) and sophomore De’Vion Harmon (7.4 points a game).

An extra year of experience will also benefit 6-foot, 10-inch rim protector-Kur Kuath and soon-to-be sophomores Jalen Hill and Victor Iwuakor.

The Sooners will also have the services next season of 6-foot, 8-inch forward Anyang Garang and 7-foot, 1-inch center Rick Issanza, both of whom red-shirted as true freshmen this past season.

Not a bad core and complement of players coming back from a team that finished in third place in the Big 12 this season and with a 19-12 overall record.

Veteran head coach Lon Kruger, who will be in his 10th season at Oklahoma and 35th as a college head coach, always produces a competitive team, and you can be certain that he and his assistant coaches will have the Sooners primed and ready to go when the 2010-21 season rolls around on the calendar.