Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel knows all about loss. For a variety of reasons, the fifth-year Sooner head coach lost six players off of last year’s disappointing 13-18 (4-12) OU squad: Star sophomore guard Willie Warren (16.3 points per game, 4.2 assists per game), as expected, opted to enter his name into the NBA Draft, but freshman forward Tiny Gallon (10.3 ppg, 7.9 rebounds per game) and freshman guard Tommy Mason-Griffin both unexpectedly decided to leave the program (both were McDonald’s All-Americans). Add to that talented group the departure of senior guard Tony Crocker (11.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg), as well as senior Ryan Wright (4.4 ppg), and Capel found himself scrambling to replace the bulk of his team’s scoring and rebounding.
So early in the season it is difficult to ascertain the effectiveness of Capel’s efforts, but he seemingly has settled on a seven man rotation; a mix of four freshmen and sophomores, as well as two upper class-men and a JUCO transfer.
Steven Pledger, a 6-4 sophomore guard who started three games last season, leads the Sooners in scoring at 16.7 points per game, while shooting 37.5% from the field (32.0% from beyond the arc). Pledger also leads his team with 11 assists (3.7 per game). Twenty-five of Pledger’s 40 shots on the year have been from long-range, so to call him 3-point-centric would be an understatement. Joining Pledger in the backcourt is 6-5 senior Cade Davis, who started the bulk of last season’s games for the Sooners averages 12.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Like Pledger, Davis’ overall field goal percentage is less than ideal (38.5%), but his three-point shooting is outstanding; he’s made 8-19 trey tries (42.1%).
Sixth-man Calvin Newell (6-0, 205 lb sophomore guard), a first-year major college performer who played at the Evelyn Mack Academy last season, has provided Capel with a steady scoring hand (9.3 ppg), as well as depth at the all-important guard position. Newell is yet another three-point threat, having made four of 11 (36.4%) on the season.
Leading the Sooner frontcourt is 6-8, 226 lb sophomore forward Andrew Fitzgerald. A highly rated recruit out of high school, Fitzgerald is second on the team in scoring at 15.3 points per game (he scored 22 and 23 points in OU’s first two games), and second on the team in rebounding with 6.7 per game: He also hits the offensive glass with a vengeance, averaging 3.0 offensive boards per contest. A sweet shooter out to 12-15 feet, Fitzgerald is making 54.8% of his shots (17-31) and 75.0% of his free throws (10-12). A strong defender, Fitzgerald leads Oklahoma in steals with six. JUCO transfer (College of Eastern Utah) Nick Thompson, a 6-9, 208 lb junior, mans the other forward spot. A rookie to major college competition, Thompson has been a real bright spot for Capel, supplying immediate minutes and immediate results: While averaging a modest 6.0 points per game (making 35.3% of his shots), Thompson leads the Sooners in rebounding with 9.0 per game, and assists, with 5.0 per contest.
Aiding the Sooners in both the front and and backcourts is freshman Cameron Clark, the #32 recruit in the nation according to ESPN.com. Clark, a 6-6, 189 lb swing, is averaging a strong 8.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. He has been an effective shooter from the floor, making 52.9% of his shots (9-17) and four of eight three-pointers (50.0%). While thin, Clark is extremely athletic and versatile, and capable of beating an opponent from beyond 18 feet, or in the paint.
The only other Sooner averaging double-digit minutes is Southern University transfer Barry Honore’. The SWAC Freshman of the Year in 2008 (he averaged 8.8 ppg & 4.5 rpg), the 6-7, 258 lb Honore’ (2.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg in 11.3 minutes per game) adds depth and bulk to the Oklahoma front line.
In wins over Coppin State (77-57), NC Central (71-63 in OT), and Texas Southern (82-52), the Sooners are averaging 76.7 points per game (OU is shooting 45.7% from the field; 38.8% from long-range), while giving up 57.3 points, and only 36.9% from the field (32.8% from three-point range). An excellent free throw shooting team, OU is making 80.6% of their charity stripe tries.
Coach Capel is most decidedly in rebuilding mode this season, but he has added some productive pieces to the puzzle. And with OU’s bulky, athletic frontcourt, UK will be tested in an area concern for coach John Calipari (as well as Kentucky fans). How UK fares against the Oklahoma forwards might very well portend how successful UK navigates its early season schedule.
Gametime is scheduled for 5:30 EST, with ESPN2 televising.
And finally, a Big Blue congratulations to the #9 ranked Kentucky Wildcat women’s basketball team for their 81-76 victory over #12 ranked Notre Dame. The win marks the 20th straight victory at Memorial Coliseum for coach Matthew Mitchell’s outstanding team.