The Oklahoma Sooners found their way back to the NCAA tournament this season for the first time in four years. A season-closing three-game losing streak left a bitter taste in the Sooners' mouths, but it's impossible to ignore the success Oklahoma experienced this year and how far OU coach Lon Kruger has brought the program in just two years. Now, the Sooners will be looking to continue that success into the future. It's more difficult to maintain success than initially experience it, so Oklahoma is about to begin the heavy lifting of maintaining the program. Here's what Oklahoma will be working with next season.
Losing: Romero Osby, Amath M'Baye, Steven Pledger, Sam Grooms, Andrew Fitzgerald, and Casey Arent. Obviously, Osby is the biggest loss, both on and off the court. His scoring and rebounding will be difficult to replace, but his leadership will be arguably more difficult to replace. M'Baye declaring for the NBA Draft Wednesday took everyone in the program by surprise. That's a huge and unexpected loss that leaves the Sooners without a proven post player. Pledger's shooting and Grooms' ability to direct the offense will be missed as well.
Incoming: Jordan Woodard, Frank Booker, Dominique Elliot, Keshaun Hamilton, Jarion Henry?
The Sooners are bringing in a pair of guards, Woodard (Edmond Memorial) at point guard, and Booker, a shooting guard out of Georgia, who committed to the Sooners this past week, and could have an opportunity to be the spot-up shooter Pledger was during his career. The Sooners are also bringing in a pair of junior college post players—Elliot and Hamilton—who should be able to provide the Sooners with some depth in the post. The situation surrounding Henry, a 2012 signee who ended up at junior college is unclear. If he joins the Sooners next season, OU will have a nice assortment of big guys to rotate through next season. The only problem is they won't have any experience at the D-I level.
Remaining: Buddy Hield, Je'lon Hornbeak, Isaiah Cousins, Cameron Clark, Tyler Neal, C.J. Cole, D.J. Bennett, Ryan Spangler
The Sooners are set at the guard position, with all three freshmen guards—Cousins, Hield, and Hornbeak—returning with NCAA tournament experience. Clark's role with the team suddenly has become one of the most important. He'll have to really showcase the ability that caused him to be a four-star recruit out of high school. However, the biggest contributions could come from transfers Spangler and Bennett. Spangler transferred from Gonzaga and Bennett from Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. Both redshirted this season, so they know Kruger's system and could contend for starting spots next season. Cole and Neal will also be important contributors next season.
An already difficult task got more difficult for Kruger and the Sooners with M'Baye's departure. OU's backcourt should be just fine. All three freshmen guards return, along with Neal. Throw in Woodard, and OU will once again have a nice rotation at the guard positions. It's the frontcourt that will be a major concern. No experience in the post will be a tough thing to overcome, and Clark's inability to become a great player is cause for concern.
Kruger has rebuilt the program from the ground up in two seasons, but if he is able to take next season's OU team and turn them into another successful bunch, it would arguably be more impressive than the previous two years.