Oklahoma basketball: Sooners have rebounded from other historic lows; can they again?

Jan 24, 2023; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners bench reacts during the second half against the TCU Horned Frogs at Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 24, 2023; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners bench reacts during the second half against the TCU Horned Frogs at Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Oklahoma basketball was in pretty dire shape when Porter Moser arrived on the scene as the replacement for the retiring Lon Kruger, who spent 10 seasons in the position.

In Kruger’s final season (2020-21), the Sooners finished 16-11 and appeared in the NCAA Tournament. losing to No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the second round. Two starters from that team transferred after the season and a third departed for the NBA. By the time Moser officially took over the helm, Oklahoma was down to four returning scholarship players.

Moser immediately turned to the transfer portal to replenish a heavily depleted roster and ending up bringing in seven newcomers from the transfer portal plus a couple of four-star freshman recruits. He managed to lead that team to a winning record of 19-16 overall, but just 7-11 in the Big 12.

Two more starters departed from OU’s first season under Moser, and once again the Sooner head coach was forced to turn to the transfer portal to supplement the roster. Four more transfers joined the program this past season. One of the four, Grant Sherfield, who transferred from Nevada, led the team in scoring this season. Unfortunately, Moser wasn’t able to get the same production he did out of the previous year’s group, and Oklahoma fared worse this season in a much tougher Big 12 than it did the year before.

Oklahoma performance this season resulted in the team’s worst overall record and league finish since the 2016-17 season, the year after National Player of the Year Buddy Hield and the Sooners advanced to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament. The 2017 team ended the year with an 11-20 overall record and 5-13 and in ninth place in the conference standings. That was a year after OU went 29-8 and finished as the No. 4 team in the country.

Football will always be king, but basketball has experienced success as well

Kruger was able to steady the ship and get it moving back in the right direction after that, although far from the championship level the Sooners enjoyed in the mid-to-late 1980s and early 2000s.

Oklahoma basketball has never enjoyed the success or historic prominence of the football program and never will, but that doesn’t mean Sooner basketball can’t have success. And it actually has. Oklahoma has been a player on the national stage and has produced some of the country’s best players over the years, including five Final Four appearances and twice a national championship runner-up.

Moser and his staff have quite a few questions to address this coming offseason to get Oklahoma basketball back to a respectable level and relevance in the conference, let alone on the national scene. It’s been done before, and there is no reason it can’t be accomplished again and with Moser in the lead chair.

Billy Tubbs, the winningest head coach in OU hoops history, was 9-18 his first season in 1980-81. This next 12 years, his Sooner teams never won fewer than 20 games in a season and twice won over 30.

Lon Kruger’s first season at Oklahoma was 15-16. Only once in the nine next seasons did the Sooners experience a losing season and five time won 20 or more games.

Sooners need upgrades in multiple areas, not the least of which is better talent

Moser knows the Sooners have to get better in practically every aspect of the game. “As daunting as the schedule was, I thought they (the Oklahoma team) believed they could win every game,” he said after OU’s loss to in-state rival Oklahoma State this week in the Big 12 Tournament.

“We were right there (multiple times this season), but we fell short,” he said. That was true to a point, but the Sooners also lost 10 games to Big 12 opponents by double digits, including five in a row.

"“We’ve got to get better,” Moser said “It starts with me. Starts with development. Starts with recruiting in a lot of areas.”"

First and foremost, the Sooners need a talent upgrade: more size, better shooters and players with greater athleticism. Oklahoma was not a good rebounding team this season, and that was because a lack of size and length in the front court. The Sooners’ disappointing season was reflected in their poor numbers: last in the Big 12 and 278th nationally in scoring (67.7 points per game), last in the Big 12 and 281st in rebounding (32,78 per game) and fourth-worst in the Big 12 and 262nd nationally in turnovers (13.4 per game).

"“I think we’ve got to increase our length, athleticism and shooting to begin with,” Moser said. “That will begin this spring in recruiting.”"

Oklahoma has two top-100 recruits coming in for next season. Grant Sherfield, Jalen Hill both have another year of eligibility, and it would be mutually beneficial if they elect to return. You can also expect Moser to look heavily again to the transfer portal, but with more specific needs in mind.

Moser’s job does not appear to be in immediate jeopardy, but immediate improvements in the men’s basketball program are expected much sooner than later.