Here are our five things to consider for the Oklahoma Sooners as they prepare to open the 2021-22 men’s basketball season against Northwestern State on Nov. 9.
Leaning on Lon
Lon Kruger’s retirement took Norman by surprise. There was little warning that Kruger was contemplating stepping away from the game, though he admitted at his final press conference it had been seriously weighing on his mind after the death of his former assistant, Lew Hill, to COVID-19.
Kruger retired to Las Vegas, where he had built a home before taking the Oklahoma job. But, he’s been around, according to his replacement Porter Moser, both on site and over the phone.
“I talked to him before I took it,” Moser said. “I’ve talked to him many times after. He’s been around, he’s been to workouts. It’s an honor to follow a guy like that. He did an unbelievable job in the 10 years he was there, not only winning, but he did a phenomenal job in the community.”
Moser has had to make some adjustments, though, including dealing with Kruger’s famous practice access.
“The hardest part about following Coach Kruger, besides his winning, is the amount of calls I get about open practices,” Moser said with a laugh. “It’s every day. He opened up every single practice every single day. I don’t think you see that in college basketball very often.”
It’s gonna be hostile
Oklahoma’s announcement that it would join the Southeastern Conference in 2025 had a lot to do with football. But will impact the Sooners’ basketball program, too. Besides new opponents and new road trips — eventually — the Sooners will have to deal with the cat-calls from the rest of their Big 12 opponents. Those cat-calls have already started with the football season. For instance, when Baylor football beat Texas in Waco, Bears fans started an ‘S-E-C’ chant. Texas is also leaving for the SEC.
Moser knows he can’t control the atmosphere on the road. He knows he’ll get a dose of it at each of the Big 12’s nine other venues. But he’s not dwelling on it.
“Even watching on TV, all those places are hostile anyways,” Moser said. “It’s not easy to go into any of these arenas anyways. If it’s additional, it is what it is. It’s still going to be the same hard atmospheres to play and win in.”
The ‘key’ transfers
The Sooners lost plenty of players to transfer after the Kruger news. So, when Moser arrived in Norman, he had to get to work. He managed to rope in two key transfers, both of which started in the Sooners’ exhibition win over Rogers State.
Former Duke guard Jordan Goldwire averaged 5.8 points and 4 assists last season. With the departure of De’Vion Harmon to Oregon and Austin Reaves to the NBA, the Sooners were in need of a true ball handler. Moser wanted to make sure he got someone with experience. Well, Goldwire played four years at Duke, the last two seasons of which he averaged at least 24 minutes per game. He also had 2.3 steals per game last season.
“Jordan, going through what he went through at Duke, he’s been on a high stage,” Moser said. “He was on the All-Defensive Team in the ACC. I knew we were going to get those things with him.”
The other significant piece was Tanner Groves, the former Eastern Washington star who was the Big Sky Player of the Year last season and earned national attention after dropping 35 points on Kansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Groves finished last season averaging 17.2 points and 8 rebounds per game. With the departure of Brady Manek to North Carolina, Moser is counting on those kinds of numbers from the fourth-year collegiate.
“He’s got an energy about him,” Moser said. “He’s one of our loudest guys in practice every day. He’s communicating, he’s talking. He’s been a sponge, watching tape, watches a ton of extra tape. He wants to be good.”
Moser and Harkless simpatico
Elijah Harkless didn’t get started for the Sooners until December of last season due to waiting for his NCAA transfer waiver. Once he got on the floor, he emerged as the Sooners’ toughest perimeter defender, and by March his offensive game had caught up. He averaged 8.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season. He also had nearly two steals per game.
Harkless’ defensive mentality meshes perfectly with what Moser wants on the floor, which is part of the reason Harkless was in the starting lineup in the exhibition game. If his offense moves into double-figure territory this season, Harkless will be impossible to bench. Right now, the second-year Sooner likes what he sees from his new coach.
“He preaches something that I’ve kind of been gifted with naturally,” Harkless aid. “It’s good that my head coach preaches and coaches (that). It makes it easy for me to play harder because I know that’s what he wants.”
The Big 12’s tallest man
At 7-foot-1, Rick Issanza is the Big 12’s tallest player. As a freshman, he played just five games, averaging just four minutes per game. His final appearance came Jan. 12 against TCU. Before his retirement, Kruger was high on Issanza’s potential. Moser feels the same way. Issanza played just nine minutes in the exhibition win over Rogers State, scoring five points and grabbing six rebounds. If Issanza could produce six rebounds a game this season, the Sooners likely wouldn’t care whether Issanza has an offensive impact. OU needs a defensive presence inside off the bench, and his height and wing span can give it to them on a 10-12 minute per game basis — if he can be consistent.
Heartland College Sports Big 12 Basketball Preview
Top 25 Returning Players: No. 25 Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua| No. 24 Christian Braun | No. 23 Rondel Walker | No. 22 Umoja Gibson | No. 21 Matthew Alexander-Moncrieffe | No. 20 Nijel Pack | No. 19: Marcus Santos-Silva | No. 18 Mike McGuirl| No. 17 Jalen Bridges | No. 16 Kalib Boone | No. 15 Kevin McCullar | No. 14 Isaac Likekele | No. 13 Adam Flagler | No. 12 Jalen Coleman-Lands | No. 11 Sean McNeil | No. 10 Taz Sherman | No. 9 Matthew Mayer | No. 8 Jalen Wilson | No. 7 Courtney Ramey | No. 6 Mike Miles | No. 5 Avery Anderson III | No. 4 David McCormack | No. 3 Terrence Shannon Jr. | No. 2 Ochai Agbaji | No. 1 Andrew Jones
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
2021-22 Oklahoma Schedule
(all times central)
Nov. 9 Northwestern State, 7 p.m.
Nov. 12 UTSA, 7 p.m.
Nov. 14 Prairie View A&M, 2 p.m.
Nov. 18 vs. East Carolina, 6 [email protected]
Nov. 19 vs. Old Dominion or Indiana State, [email protected]
Nov. 21 TBA, [email protected]
Nov. 24 Houston Baptist, 7 p.m.
Nov. 27 at UCF, 1 p.m.
Dec. 1 Florida, 7 p.m.
Dec. 7 Butler, 8 p.m.-#
Dec. 11 vs. Arkansas, 12:30 p.m.-$
Dec. 19 UT Arlington, 2 p.m.
Dec. 22 Alcorn State, 7 p.m.
Jan. 1 Kansas State*, 7 p.m.
Jan. 4 at Baylor*, 6 p.m.
Jan. 8 Iowa State*, 5 p.m.
Jan. 11 at Texas*, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 15 at TCU*, 3 p.m.
Jan. 18 Kansas*, 6 p.m.
Jan. 22 Baylor*, 3 p.m.
Jan. 26 at West Virginia*, 7 p.m.
Jan. 29 at Auburn, 1 p.m.-&
Jan. 31 TCU*, 8 p.m.
Feb. 5 at Oklahoma State*, 11 a.m. or 1 p.m.
Feb. 9 Texas Tech*, 8 p.m.
Feb. 12 at Kansas*, 12 p.m.
Feb. 15 Texas*, 6 p.m.
Feb. 19 at Iowa State*, 1 p.m.
Feb. 22 at Texas Tech*, 7 p.m.
Feb. 26 Oklahoma State*, 11 a.m.
March 1 West Virginia*, 6 p.m.
March 5 at Kansas State*, 3 p.m.
March 9-12 Big 12 Tournament, Kansas City, Missouri
@-Myrtle Beach Invitational, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; #-Big East/Big 12 Battle; $-at Tulsa, Oklahoma; %-Compete 4 Cause Classic, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; &-Big 12/SEC Challenge; *-Big 12 games.