Sooners Open Season in South Texas
FRIDAY'S GAME BASICS
For only the third time in the last 40 years, Oklahoma (0-0, 0-0 Big 12) will open its season with a true road game when it travels to South Texas and face UTRGV (1-0, 0-0 WAC) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. CT. The Sooners and Vaqueros will play off campus at the newly-opened Bert Ogden Arena, home of the NBA G-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Lon Kruger, who is a perfect 7-0 in season openers at Oklahoma, will face former assistant Lew Hill, now in his third year at the UTRGV helm. Oklahoma is 8-7 all-time in season-opening true road games, but has only opened the year on the road two previous times in the last 40 years (1982 at UNLV and 2015 at Memphis).
ON THE AIR
Friday’s opener will air on the Sooner Radio Network (KRXO 107.7 FM “The Franchise” in Oklahoma City; KTBZ 1430 AM in Tulsa; Tune In Radio App) with Tom Dore and Kevin Henry announcing. Chad McKee and Bryndon Manzer will call the action on Fox Sports Oklahoma and nationally on Fox College Sports Pacific. Fans with proper cable verification can also stream the game through the Fox Sports Go app and on FoxSportsGo.com.
• For just the second time since 1939 and the first since 1977, the Sooners will open the season with two true road games. Oklahoma and North Carolina are the only schools from a major conference (American, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac 12 and SEC) to begin the 2018-19 campaign with a pair of true road contests. This schedule marks the first time the Sooners have begun their season with two road games outside the state of Oklahoma since Hall of Fame coach Bruce Drake’s first season as head coach in 1938 (OU played back-to-back games at Colorado that year).
• Oklahoma is 7-0 in season openers under head coach Lon Kruger. Additonally, the Sooners have won 15 consecutive season openers dating back to the 2003-04 season.
• The return to the Rio Grande Valley will be especially meaningful for Kruger, who began his head coaching career at Texas-Pan American in 1982. Kruger inherited a squad that was 5-20 in the year prior to his arrival and helped guide the Broncs to a 20-8 (.714) record in his fourth season (1985-86) at the UTPA helm. The .714 winning percentage by the 1985-86 team is the highest in the program’s last 38 years. In his four seasons at Pan American, Kruger accumulated a 52-59 (.468) record before taking a job at his alma mater, Kansas State, in 1986. During OU’s trip to Edinburg, UTRGV will induct Kruger into its Athletics Hall of Fame and Hall of Honor (UTPA was consolidated into UTRGV in 2015).
Friday's season opener will be just the third time Oklahoma has began a season with a true road game in the last 40 years.
SERIES HISTORY: UTRGV
• Although Oklahoma has never faced UTRGV under its current name, the Sooners were 4-0 against the University of Texas-Pan American, which was consolidated into UTRGV in 2015.
• OU is 6-2 all-time against current members of the Western Athletic Conference, with its only two losses coming to Seattle during the 1960s.
• The Vaqueros are in their third season under head coach Lew Hill, who took the UTRGV job after six years on Lon Kruger’s staff at Oklahoma. A staple on Kruger’s staffs at both UNLV and OU for a combined 12 season, Hill assisted Kruger in making eight NCAA Tournaments – including the 2016 Final Four. Hill inherited a UTRGV squad that was 8-22 (4-10 in conference) during the season prior to his arrival (2015-16) and already accumulated a 15-18 record (6-8 in conference) last season.
• Byron Peak is in his first season as special assistant to the head coach on UTRGV's staff. Peak had spent the previous two seasons as a graduate assistant for the Sooners and was an OU student manager for the three seasons prior to his GA position. His younger brother, Keldon, is a student assistant on OU’s strength and conditioning staff.
• To learn more about Hill's connection to Kruger and Oklahoma, read John Rohde's story on the Kruger coaching tree here.
RECAPPING OU'S EXHIBITION WIN
• Oklahoma topped Pittsburg State, 92-58, in its lone exhibition of the season. Twelve Sooners saw double-digit minutes as Kruger made sure his entire team received crucial game experience. Ten players scored at least five points, including three Sooners in double figures.
• OU paced by 12 points and 13 boards from sophomore Brady Manek. Coming off of a strong freshman campaign, Manek sunk three 3-pointers in 17 minutes on the floor.
• Center Jamuni McNeace poured in 15 points to go with six boards and five blocks. Forward Kristian Doolittle flirted with a double-double by producing eight points and nine boards.
• The Oklahoma defense held the Gorillas to 24.3 percent shooting (17-of-70) and outrebounded PSU, 64-38.
• The Sooners almost doubled PSU’s rebounding efforts, 64-38, as six OU players pulled down at least six boards. Oklahoma’s presence down low led to 50 points in the paint.
• Last season’s Sooner squad was one of the youngest teams in both the Big 12 and the country. With nine freshmen and sophomores and only one senior, Oklahoma was the second least-experienced team in the conference, according to KenPom.com. The analytics website’s formula, based on age and collegiate playing experience, ranked the Sooners 304 out of 351 Division I teams in experience. It will be a different story for Oklahoma this season, as its roster now features eight seniors or graduate students (six scholarship, two walk-ons) and only one scholarship freshman. Through the combination of time and targeting experienced transfers in recruiting, the Sooners now boast the most seniors and graduates of any team in the Big 12. With seven more seniors/graduates than 2017-18, Oklahoma owns the largest-known increase of seniors in NCAA Division I this season. The Sooners’ average age on opening night in 2017 was 19.9. Heading into Nov. 9’s season opener at UTRGV, the Oklahoma roster will be an average age of 21.1 and the oldest in the Big 12.
• Christian James, Rashard Odomes and Jamuni McNeace form the core group of OU seniors, as all three have spent at least three years in the Sooners’ program. The trio combines for 266 games of collegiate experience and 105 starts. Both James and Odomes have been consistent members of OU’s starting lineup over the past two seasons, while McNeace continued to see his role expanded as the 2017-18 season progressed. James’ 11.9 points per game last season are the most among returning players while McNeace led Sooner returners in rebounds (5.4) and blocked shots (1.4). With a 7-foot-4 wingspan and one of the most athletic builds on the team, McNeace is gearing towards having a breakout senior season as the Sooners’ starting center.
• Oklahoma also installed significant experience and leadership into its roster through the addition of two graduate transfer guards: Aaron Calixte and Miles Reynolds. An experienced point guard from the University of Maine, Calixte brings career averages of 11.6 points and 3.0 assists. With 1,125 career points to his name, Calixte averaged 16.9 points per game and shot 61-of-158 (.386) from 3-point range in 2017-18. Calixte faces the challenge of filling OU’s point guard role, left open by Trae Young’s top-five selection in the 2018 NBA Draft, but will rely on his own experience at the position along with veteran players surrounding him.
• Reynolds joins the Sooners after two seasons at Pacific, where he scored 13.3 points a game last season. The guard has experience at both the point guard position and playing off the ball and aims to lend a veteran voice to the court and locker room. In the team’s annual player poll, Reynolds’ teammates voted him the best vocal leader and one of OU’s best leaders by example.
THE OTHER STAR FRESHMAN
• Last season, freshman sensation Trae Young catapulted himself into the national spotlight by becoming the first college player to lead the country in points and assists. While Young’s dominating success garnished the headlines, fellow freshman Brady Manek quietly put together a solid rookie season of his own. The forward ranked in the top 10 among Big 12 freshmen in points (10.2), rebounds (5.2), blocks (0.7), 3-point field goal percentage (.383) and made 3-pointers (59). Manek’s 312 points were the 12th-most by a freshman in OU history and his 59 3-pointers rank fourth-most ever by a Sooner rookie. He was one of three Big 12 freshmen to average over 10 points and 5 rebounds and one of only nine Division I freshmen to produce at least 160 rebounds and 50 3-pointers over the 2017-18 season.
• Manek proved to be a crucial component in the Sooners’ winning recipe. In Oklahoma’s 18 victories last season, Manek averaged 12.4 points and 5.1 rebounds while shooting 46-of-91 (.505) from 3-point range. OU was 11-4 when Manek scored in double figures and 7-0 when he hit four or more 3-pointers.
• Now entering his sophomore season, Manek will continue to be a key piece for the Sooners to succeed. He is one of two returning Sooners to average double-digit scoring in 2017-18 and his 26 starts are the second most among returners.
• In each of the past three seasons, ESPN’s College Basketball Index has ranked the Sooners’ strength of schedule as one of the top-five toughest in the country, and the Sooners head into the 2018-19 season with a chance to continue that trend through tough competition and marquee games.
• Continually proving to be the toughest and deepest conferences in college basketball, the Big 12 will once again provide a challenging double round-robin schedule. Eight of OU’s nine Big 12 opponents (Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia) qualified for the 2018 NCAA Tournament or NIT.
• The Sooners will prepare for the Big 12 portion of the schedule with a packed non-conference lineup. OU will play as many as nine non-conference contests against teams that have reached the NCAA Tournament at least once in the past two seasons. Five teams qualified for the 2018 NCAA Tournament and an additional four competed in the 2018 NIT. The non-conference schedule is highlighted by home games against Wichita State (Dec. 8 in Oklahoma City) and Creighton (Dec. 18) and neutral-site contests against Florida (Nov. 21 in Bahamas), Notre Dame (Dec. 4 in New York City) and Southern California (Dec. 15 in Tulsa).
UP NEXT: UTSA
• The Sooners' Texas two-step continues on Monday when Oklahoma heads to the Alamo City to face UTSA. The 7 p.m. CT contest will air nationally on CBS Sports Network.
• Oklahoma owns a 3-0 all-time record against the Roadrunners and defeated UTSA, 97-85, last season in Norman. This will be the Sooners’ first road matchup against UTSA.
• OU is 38-6 all-time against current members of Conference USA and is 4-1 against C-USA teams during the Kruger era.
• Similar to the Sooners’ season opener against UTRGV, Monday’s matchup will also be against a former Oklahoma assistant coach. Steve Henson is in third year at the helm of the UTSA program, joining the Roadrunners after nearly three decades of playing and working for Lon Kruger. Henson was a four-year starting point guard for Kruger at Kansas State from 1986-90, earning All-Big Eight Conference honors as a junior and senior. Following his professional career, Henson got his start in coaching as an assistant for Kruger at Illinois in 1999 and went on to also be a member of Kruger’s staff with the Atlanta Hawks, UNLV and Oklahoma for a combined 15 seasons. When Henson was hired by UTSA, the Roadrunners were coming off a last-place 5-27 season. Just two years later, Henson coached UTSA to a 20-15 record and fifth-place finish in Conference USA, earning himself the 2018 C-USA Coach of the Year honors.
• Joining Henson on the UTSA staff is assistant coach Scott Thompson, who served as OU's video coordinator from 2011-16.
• Henson’s son, Pearson, is a sophomore at OU and in his second season as an equipment manager for the men’s basketball team.