Oklahoma men’s basketball is one week removed from its return to Norman after 11 days in the Southern Hemisphere. The trip to New Zealand and Australia offered numerous benefits to Lon Kruger’s young team, from extra practices in Norman to four games of international competition three months before the regular season tips off.
The Sooners went 4-0 during their time Down Under, scoring 119.0 points per game and winning by an average margin of 40 points. While its difficult to directly compare Oklahoma’s level of competition with what the Sooners will face during a competitive non-conference schedule, here are five observations from OU’s foreign tour and what might carry over into the 2017-18 season.
The Sooners collectively shot 50-of-117 (.427) from 3-point range, sinking an average of 12.5 treys a game. Oklahoma, a team that went .343 from long range with 6.2 makes a game in 2016-17, is hoping to carry over the improved firepower into the regular season.
One of the keys to OU’s 3-point barrage Down Under was guard Christian James. The incoming junior was near unstoppable from behind the arc, shooting 12-of-13 (.923) during the trip and 10-for-10 in the final three games.
James wasn’t the only Sooner to find success from deep as freshman guard Trae Young shot 12-of-30 (.400) on the trip, including a few quick shots while bringing up the ball in transition. Forward Brady Manek and Matt Freeman – both 6-9 or taller - combined to shoot 16-of-45 (.356).
Stepping Up the Pace
The Sooners have made it very clear during their summer workouts that they expect to up their tempo and pace in the upcoming season. With the additional practice time to work on conditioning and execution, Oklahoma debuted its quicker offense in Auckland and Australia.
With OU opponents shooting under 40 percent, the Sooners used defensive rebounding to fuel transition opportunities before the defense could be fully set. Oklahoma also displayed quickness after made opponent buckets, taking advantage of mismatches to get to the rim or even pull up for a quick 3-pointer. Although fast break points weren't tracked in all of the overseas games, the Sooners were visibly a faster-minded team than the previous year.
Young was a notable difference maker in transition – using his quickness to get to the rim and court vision and creative passing to seek open teammates while in motion.
Another visible element of the Oklahoma offense was the constant ball movement. Whether in transition, set offenses, or off of offensive rebounds, the Sooners found their open teammates and worked together to create high-percentage shots. OU assisted on 27.3 baskets per game and .622 percent of its made field goals were off of assists.
As expected, the nexus of the ball movement came from Oklahoma's two point guards - Young and Jordan Shepherd. Shepherd distributed 8.3 dimes per game, including two outings with nine or more. Young, who led the Sooners in points per game on the trip (22.3), also set up scoring opportunities for his teammates and produced 7.0 assists per game.
Owning the Boards
One area Kruger was especially pleased with was Oklahoma’s dominance on the boards in all four games. Rebounding is already a strength for the Sooners, who ranked third in the Big 12 in boards per game last season and return .835 percent of their rebounding.
The Sooners pulled down 50.0 rebounds per game on the foreign tour - an average of 16.8 more boards than their opponents. Six players averaged at least four rebounds (while all playing under 21 minutes a game), led by Rashard Odomes with 7.3. Khadeem Lattin, Jamuni McNeace and Manek all pulled down 5.3 boards per outing.
Oklahoma averaged 15.6 offensive rebounds - turning .427 percent of its own missed field goals into second-chance opportunities. Although second-chance points were not calculated during the exhibition games, the Sooner big men looked especially aggressive in creating put back opportunities around the rim.
Not only was the evolution of the Sooners’ team chemistry obvious on the court during OU’s four games abroad, it was also evident during the time away from basketball. From sightseeing to time together on 15 hour flights, the 12 scholarship players on the trip to New Zealand and Australia came away a closer, better team.
"Off the court, we definitely got closer as brothers," said Young. "It was great bonding time. These are moments we’re never going to be able to get back and are memories that will last forever.”
While the Sooners commit to preparing for next season, don't miss your chance to #Commit to making a difference inside the Lloyd Noble Center. Current season ticket holders can renew their tickets with just a $50 deposit. Fans interested in reserving new season tickets can learn more here.