Sooners Open Atlantis Against Florida
WEDNESDAY'S GAME BASICS
After opening the season with a trio of wins, Oklahoma (3-0, 0-0 Big 12) enters the heart of its challenging non-conference schedule when it travels to the Bahamas to compete in Battle 4 Atlantis. The Sooners open their time on Paradise Island against Florida (2-1, 0-0 SEC) at 11 a.m. CT on Wednesday. The Gators, OU’s first major-conference opponent of the season, are coming off a 21-13 season and trip to the NCAA Tournament. A win would give Oklahoma its first 4-0 start since the 2015-16 season.
ON THE AIR
Wednesday’s matchup 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. Jon Sciambi and Dan Dakich will call the action on ESPN. Fans with proper cable verification can also stream the game on the Watch ESPN App.
• Christian James enters Battle 4 Atlantis as the Big 12’s leading scorer at 22.7 points per game. Heading into his senior season, James had never surpassed 23 points in his first 97 games as a Sooner. This year, he opened the season by posting 29 points at UTRGV (Nov. 9) and 24 at UTSA (Nov. 12). James has scored at least 15 points in all three games this season - just the second such three-game streak of his career. He’s done so while shooting an efficient 21-of-36 from the field (.583).
• Oklahoma also possesses the conference’s leading rebounder in sophomore forward Brady Manek. The 6-9 forward averaged 5.2 rebounds during his freshman season (fourth most among Big 12 frosh), but after putting on roughly 20 pounds during the offseason he is showing more physicality on the glass. Manek is averaging 13.3 points and 11.3 rebounds through three games and is one of only two Big 12 players averaging double-digit boards. He entered the season with zero career double-doubles, but has recorded a double-double in each of the first three games this season.
• The Sooners have gotten out to aggressive starts on the defensive end in their past two contests. In a road win at UTSA (Nov. 12), the Sooners held UTSA scoreless until the 12:09 mark as the Roadrunners missed their first 16 shots of the game. Oklahoma also saw a strong defensive start at home against Wofford (Nov. 18), as the Terriers missed their first six shots before getting on the board at the 15:48 mark.
Sophomore forward Brady Manek is averaging a double-double with 13.3 points and a Big 12-leading 11.3 rebounds .
OU AT BATTLE 4 ATLANTIS
• The Sooners are making their second appearance in Battle 4 Atlantis, previously finishing in second place in 2014. Oklahoma claimed wins over UCLA and Butler in the opening two rounds before falling to Wisconsin in the title game.
• Oklahoma’s previous trip to the Bahamas was especially meaningful for 2016 National Player of the Year and Freeport, Bahamas native Buddy Hield. A junior at the time, Hield was able to play in his home country with his college team.
• OU is 16-6 during in-season tournament games under Lon Kruger, having won at least two games in all seven previous in-season tournaments in the Kruger era.
• Next up, Oklahoma will face either Stanford or Wisconsin in its second game on Paradise Island. Should the Sooners defeat the Gators, OU will play the winner of the Cardinal-Badgers game on Thanksgiving Day at 12:30 p.m. CT on ESPN or ESPN2. If OU falls into the losers bracket, the Sooners will tip at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN2 or ESPNU.
SERIES HISTORY: FLORIDA
• The Sooners and Gators have met twice previously with Florida winning both contests. UF defeated OU, 84-52, in Norman in 2017 as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. In their first meeting, Florida prevailed in overtime, 76-72, in the 1995 All-College Basketball Classic in Oklahoma City under an up-and-coming head coach named...Lon Kruger.
• Kruger coached the Gators from 1990 to 1996, racking up a record of 104-80. When Kruger took over the Florida job, the Gators were coming off of a 7-21 season. Four years into the role, Kruger guided UF to the 1994 Final Four. The turnaround work was almost identical to his time at Oklahoma, in which he also inherited a team coming off a losing season (14-18 in 2010-11) and led the Sooners to the Final Four five seasons into the job. Kruger is one of just two head coaches (also Rick Pitino with Kentucky and Louisville) to inherit two teams coming off a sub-.500 year and take both to the Final Four within the first five seasons as head coach.
• Wednesday’s matchup is already the third game this season where Kruger is facing a team he previously coached. Oklahoma played Pittsburg State in an exhibition contest on Nov. 1 (Kruger was an assistant for the 1976-77 season) and opened the regular season at UTRGV on Nov. 9. UTRGV was previously named Pan American, where Kruger began his head coaching career in 1982.
• OU is 8-9 against current SEC teams in the Kruger era, including 6-5 against schools which were SEC members at the time of competition.
RECAPPING OU'S WIN OVER WOFFORD
• Oklahoma (3-0) won its 25th straight home opener on Sunday when it hosted Wofford (2-2) at Lloyd Noble Center. Despite being down by one at halftime, the Sooners outscored the Terriers, 38-26, in the second half to clinch the 75-64 victory. The win also gave Oklahoma its fifth 3-0 start of the Lon Kruger era.
• Wofford led 53-52 with 10 minutes remaining before the Sooners sparked a 19-4 run to seperate themselves. Graduate guard Miles Reynolds scored 8 of OU’s 19 points during the run and 12 total second-half points. Sophomore forward Brady Manek added 11 points after halftime.
• The Sooner defense locked down the Terriers in the final minutes of the game. After re-taking the lead for the last time (54-53 at the 9:45 mark), Oklahoma held Wofford to 4-of-19 shooting (.211) and 1-of-10 from 3-point range (.100) the rest of the way.
• Manek picked up his third double-double in as many games with a team-high 18 points and 11 rebounds.
• Senior guard Christian James posted 15 points in the win. Although his 3-point shot wasn’t falling (0-of-4 from deep), James still found ways to score by going 4-of-5 inside of the arc and 7-of-8 from the foul line.
• Junior forward Matt Freeman sunk a career-high-tying three 3-point shots (on four attempts) to score 11 points off the bench.
• 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 and only one scholarship freshman. Using the same KenPom experience metric, Oklahoma is No. 23 in experience this season and No. 1 among teams from major conferences.
• 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. On the day of OU’s 2018 season opener (Nov. 9), the Oklahoma roster was 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 275 games of collegiate experience and 111 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.
LARRY FROM THE PRAIRIE
• 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.
• Manek has been off to a strong start in his first two games of the season. Entering the year with no career double-doubles and only one game of over 10 rebounds, Manek has produced double-doubles in each of his first three games as a sophomore. The forward recorded 12 points and 12 rebounds to open the season at UTRGV (Nov. 9), 10 points with 11 boards at UTSA (Nov. 12) and 18 points with 11 rebounds against Wofford (Nov. 18). Manek is the only Big 12 player to record a double-double in every game this season.
• 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: STANFORD OR NO. 25 WISCONSIN
• Should the Sooners defeat the Gators, OU will play the winner of the Cardinal-Badgers game on Thanksgiving Day at 12:30 p.m. CT on ESPN or ESPN2. If OU falls into the losers bracket, the Sooners will tip at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN2 or ESPNU.
• The Sooners are 1-2 all-time against Stanford with all three meetings coming on neutral courts. The most recent meeting was in the first round of the 1997 NCAA Tournament in Tuscon, Ariz. OU’s lone win against the Cardinal came in 1951 in Kansas City, Mo.
• Oklahoma has been dominant when facing Pac-12 opponents during the Kruger era (since 2011), racking up a 6-1 record against the conference. The Sooners have won four straight against Pac-12 teams with its last loss coming to Washington in 2014.
• A second-round matchup with the Badgers would be Oklahoma’s fourth meeting with Wisconsin in the past five seasons. Wisconsin defeated OU in the championship game of the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis followed by a home-and-home series where the home club won on both occasions (OU in 2015, UW in 2016). The Badgers lead the all-time series 5-4 and are 2-0 against the Sooners on neutral courts.
• In the Sooners’ loss at Wisconsin in 2017, Rashard Odomes posted 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting and Christian James added 11 points with four boards.
• The Sooners are 2-4 against Big Ten teams during the Kruger era.