The Oklahoma Sooners basketball program is in a pretty good position. Lon Kruger’s squad is 16-7 on the season and third place in the Big 12 with a chance to take second tonight against Iowa State. Their starting five rank among the best in the country, and for good reason. They’re lineup contains one of the best backcourts in college basketball with shooting guard Buddy Hield leading the way. But the Sooners’ depth may be what hurts them come March Madness. The Sooners play a seven to eight man rotation, but they like to stick to their starting five. This is mostly because the Sooners don’t have a key go-to guy coming off the bench.
But if the Sooners want to make a deep postseason run, they must find a sixth man they can rely on night and night out. And without trade deadlines in this sport, they’re going to have to work with what they have. But what exactly do they have?
Khadeem Lattin, Oklahoma’s freshman power forward, has proven at times to be a capable sixth man off the bench. Against TCU, he recorded just two points but scrapped away with five rebounds and two blocks early on to help kick start the Sooners defense and contributed to their road win. His scoring isn’t overly explosive and he is just a freshman, but if he keeps up games like those he will turn out to be the sixth man that could help the Sooners tournament run.
Another possible candidate is sophomore Frank Booker, who emerged last year as a big three point shooter, but has had a slightly smaller role this season. He averaged just under six points per game last year, compared to 3.9 this season. Booker always had the capability to hit a couple of threes every time he steps on the court. But, his three point shooting percentage is down from 37% last season, to 25% this season. The Sooners could use another shooter on the court when Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins need to rest. So, if Booker can get on track in the second half of conference play, it would be a boost to the offense.
A JUCO transfer, Dinjiyl Walker was Oklahoma’s best bench player during the non-conference slate. He scored 23 points in three games during the tournament in the Bahamas, but since then has struggled shooting the ball. In his past seven games, he’s shot just 4/24 from the field. If the junior can find his shooting stroke once again, he could help the Sooners greatly on a bench that lacks scoring threats.
The Sooners bench doesn’t get much deeper after that; the one exception is athletic standout D.J. Bennett, a shot blocker who plays with intensity. The rest of the roster is filled with players who see little to any action at all and a couple of redshirts who will contribute next season.
Ask any big time coach, or former player, the difference between a first or second round ouster, and a deep run in March can often times be bench play. Any of the previously mentioned players could emerge any time between now and next month. As for which player and when? It’s unlikely Coach Kruger will be picky. He just needs one of two to show up, and provide depth, preferably sooner rather than later. Without them, OU won’t last long in the NCAA tournament.