Monday's dominating win over Texas has caused a lot of people around college basketball to take Oklahoma a lot more seriously.
The Sooners were always considered a threat to challenge Kansas' run of 10 straight Big 12 regular season titles, but based on how the other contenders have fared thus far, the Sooners may just be the team to beat. The Sooners look to continue their early success on Saturday, when they host Kansas State at 6 p.m.
But Oklahoma knows they have a long way to go to become Big 12 champions and their biggest battle will be against a mindset that says the Sooners have arrived.
“Just not let our heads get high,” OU forward Ryan Spangler said on what the Sooners can't do. “I think we know we're a really good team but we also know the last two years we've been beat in the tournament and in the Big 12 tournament. Anybody can beat us so we can't slip up.”
As the head coach, it's Lon Kruger's job to keep his guys focused on the task at hand. Every coach has a different style when it comes to keeping their team grounded. Some focus entirely on the negative while others tend to be more positive. Kruger's style is really quite simple.
“Well, we talk about it,” Kruger said. “That's exactly what we have to do, is understand that, you know, it's very early, we're 2-0 and everyone else is right there. So we've got to get better, and that's our objective. We can't be thinking about what lies out there two months [ahead].
“Everyone wants to be there in two months from now, but we can't focus on that. We've got to focus on getting better every day. And again, with our maturity and leadership, I think this group should do a good job of that.”
However, the thought of what the Sooners are trying to accomplish is a great motivator to stay grounded and keep working on improving.
“You've just got to stay focused at the goal at hand and that's winning a Big 12 Championship,” point guard Jordan Woodard said. “So we've just got to keep our focus and keep on getting better in practice every day and take each game as a learning experience and knowing that we can't get too high after any big win because every game in the Big 12 is going to be a big one for us.”
One of the things Kruger and his staff do well is emphasize the positives from the season thus far. The Sooners are an operation built on confidence and positive energy, so you won't find the OU coaches showing their players a lowlight reel of all their mistakes.
“You always like reinforcing [good things],” Kruger said. “We want to definitely reinforce all the good things that happened in the Texas game and then still pick up what we can do better. You always want to enjoy the good things. But then you get better by improving the things that you need to improve on.”
The Sooners have improved dramatically on defense this season, holding every opponent through 14 games to less than 70 points, and are No. 1 in the Big 12 in field goal percentage defense. But the offense—Oklahoma's calling card a year ago—hasn't been at the same level.
The Sooners know there is plenty of room to improve, but things are definitely on the rise after the offense seemed to bottom out in the Bahamas.
“We've been getting better offensively, but I still don't think we've found our groove yet,” Spangler said. “You know, there's just points in the game where we're not getting buckets and so luckily we have our defense to sit back on right now, but we're going to keep trying to get our offense rolling.”
Things are going well for the Sooners, but two games into Big 12 play is a very small sample size compared to the grueling, 18-game conference season. Oklahoma will face a lot of good competition over the next two months, but its most difficult opponent may lie between the players' ears.