Sitting at Will Rogers World Airport I watched the OU Men’s entourage getting ready to board their flight for Cincy and was impressed with one thing; Smiles. The players were friendly and positive to the fans. The staff and coaches were professional and showing positivity to anyone who watched. The Lon Kruger Era shows accountability and citizenry.
A brief reflection on my part.
But here are game notes for you fans…
THURSDAY’S GAME BASICS
A winner of five straight games, Oklahoma (9-1) plays its fifth contest away from home when it takes on Cincinnati (9-3) on Thursday at 8 p.m. CT at off-campus U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Sooners have won by an average of 20 points during their five-game winning streak. The Bearcats, who were ranked as high as No. 20 in the AP poll (Nov. 14), have rebounded from three losses over a six-game stretch to win their last four outings by an average of 34 points. Thursday’s contest will air on the Sooner Radio Network (KOKC AM 1520 in Oklahoma City; KTBZ AM 1430 in Tulsa) with Toby Rowland and Mike Houck announcing. The game will be televised by ESPNU with Mike Crispino and Tim Welsh calling the action.
• Picked to finish last (tied with Texas Tech) by Big 12 coaches in the league’s preseason poll, Oklahoma holds the conference’s fourth best record at 9-1. As of Tuesday, the Sooners are No. 36 in the CBSsports.com RPI rankings.
• The Sooners’ 9-1 start is their second best in last eight seasons (surpassed only by the 12-0 start during Blake Griffin’s sophomore year of 2008-09).
• Since sustaining its only loss of the season to Saint Louis in the 76 Classic championship game on Nov. 27, Oklahoma has shot .472 from the field, .459 (34-for-74) from 3-point range and .758 (75-for-99) from the free throw line in wins over Sacramento State, Oral Roberts, Arkansas, Houston and South Carolina State. The Sooners held those four foes to combined .385 field goal and .266 (25-for-94) 3-point shooting, and have won by an average of 19.6 points.
• Oklahoma entered the week ranked No. 12 nationally (out of 338 Division I teams) in 3-point field goal percentage (.413), No. 29 in scoring (78.7 ppg) and No. 45 in free throw percentage (.733). OU also ranks in the top 10 with its +10.8 average rebounding margin.
• No OU team in the last 16 years averaged more points for an entire season than the Sooners’ current average of 78.7 points per game. Kelvin Sampson’s second OU squad averaged 79.0 points in 1995-96.
• The Sooners have scored at least 75 points seven times in their 10 games. Last year’s team reached the 75-point mark seven times in its 32 contests.
• OU has shot better than .500 from behind the arc in three of its last five games.
• OU’s wins over Sacramento State (by 29 points), Coppin State (27), Arkansas (15), Washington State (15), Oral Roberts (14) and Houston (5) represent those teams’ largest margins of defeat this year. The Sooners also handed South Carolina State (35 points) its second worst defeat.
• The Sooners’ pressure defense under new head coach Lon Kruger has boosted the team’s offense through 10 games. Opponents have averaged 15.2 turnovers, resulting in 17.5 points per contest for OU on the other end of the floor. Foes haven’t been as opportunistic, averaging 11.4 points off the Sooners’ 12.5 turnovers per game.
• Rebounding was mentioned by Kruger several times in the preseason as a concern of his for 2011-12. However, OU has outboarded nine of its 10 opponents and ranks in the top 10 nationally with its +10.8 margin per contest despite not starting anyone taller than 6-8. Included were a +34 effort against Coppin State (61-27) on Nov. 18 and a +27 performance against South Carolina State (63-36) last Wednesday. The Sooners own a 168-113 offensive rebounding advantage on the year (despite shooting .451 to their opponents’ .410 mark).
PLEDGER OFF TO SIZZLING START
• After averaging 8.6 points and shooting .386 from the field and .345 from long distance over his first two seasons, junior guard Steven Pledger is averaging a Big 12-high 19.8 points this year and is shooting .575 from the field (ranks No. 1 among nation’s guards) and .490 from 3-point range (single-season school record is .473 by Tim Heskett in 1998-99). In addition to pacing the league in scoring, Pledger ranks No. 3 in 3-point field goal percentage, No. 4 in field goal percentage and 3-pointers per game (2.8), No. 5 in free throw percentage (.861) and No. 10 in steals (1.4 per game).
• To help put Pledger’s .575 field goal performance in perspective, the only OU guard since the start of the 3-point era in 1986-87 (25 years ago) to shoot at least .500 from the field over the course of an entire season was Nolan Johnson in 1999-00. Johnson shot .559 that year but only attempted two 3-point field goals and made none.
• Over the last three games, Pledger is averaging 25.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting .625 (25-for-40) from the field, .550 (11-for-20) from 3-point distance and .875 (14-for-16) from the free throw line. He recorded his first career double-double with 31 points and 10 boards in the Dec. 17 All-College Classic win over Houston.
• Pledger has scored in double figures in each of his nine outings and has shot at least .500 from the field in every game except two. He has scored at least 20 points five times after doing it three times all of last season.
• Pledger is averaging 15.7 points in the second half of the last three games on 15-for-20 field goal and 5-for-7 3-point shooting.
• Pledger averaged 13.6 points per 40 minutes last season but has almost doubled that figure this year (26.8).
• Pledger has made 61 field goals this year, already putting him at 54 percent of last year’s total (112). He is on pace for 197 field goals in this year’s regular season.
MORE INDIVIDUAL NOTES
• Junior guard Sam Grooms has been strong at the point, ranking No. 4 in the Big 12 in assists (5.2) and No. 2 in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.9). He has recorded one or zero turnovers five times in 10 games and leads the Sooners in minutes (29.1). Over the last two outings, Grooms has 14 assists and one turnover.
• Junior forward Romero Osby leads the Big 12 with his 3.6 offensive rebounds per game and ranks third with his 8.8 overall boards per outing. He has recorded at least 10 rebounds on five occasions this year (his career high entering the season was eight). His 18 rebounds last game against South Carolina State were the most by a Sooner since Blake Griffin’s 21 on March 4, 2009, at Missouri.
• Junior forward Andrew Fitzgerald has scored in double figures in each of the last five games (averaging 14.6 during stretch on .524 shooting) after doing it just twice in OU’s first five outings (averaged 8.4 points on .400 shooting). He has scored at least 16 points in three of the last four games.
• Since sophomore guard Calvin Newell left the team on Dec. 1, sophomore forward Tyler Neal’s production has jumped markedly. Neal is averaging 8.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists over the last five games. In OU’s first five games — before Newell announced he was transferring — Neal averaged 5.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 0.4 assists.
• After averaging 3.0 points on .167 (3-for-18) shooting in OU’s first two games, sophomore wing Cameron Clark has scored in double figures in six of the last eight outings and has netted at least 14 points in four of the last six. He is shooting .509 from the field and .556 from 3-point range (5-for-9) over the last six contests.
• Last Wednesday’s OU win over South Carolina State leaves Kruger just 12 victories shy of 500 for his career. He ranks second among current Big 12 head coaches with 487 career wins (Texas’ Rick Barnes has 533 victories).
CLEANING THE GLASS
• OU leads the Big 12 in rebounding margin at +10.8 (Kansas ranks second at +7.9), rebounds per game at 42.2 (ranks fifth nationally), offensive rebounds per game at 16.8 and offensive rebounding percentage at 46 percent (Kansas State ranks No. 2 at 42 percent).
• The Sooners have outrebounded nine of their 10 opponents. Washington State outboarded them by three (35-32).
• Oklahoma’s top two rebounding totals of the 16-year Big 12 era have been recorded this year (63 vs. S.C. State and 61 vs. Coppin State).
• OU has pulled down double-digit offensive rebounds in all but the Sacramento State game (nine) and is averaging 16.8 offensive boards per contest to its opponents’ 11.3. The Sooners are averaging 15.2 second-chance points while foes are averaging 10.1.
GETTING BETTER AWAY FROM HOME
After going 14-5 away from Lloyd Noble Center in the 2008-09 season, the Sooners went a combined 4-28 away from home the last two years (2-18 in true road games and 2-10 at neutral sites). So far this season, OU is 3-1 away from Norman (2-1 in the 76 Classic and 1-0 in the All-College Classic). Steven Pledger is averaging 20.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in those four contests, and is shooting .571 from the field and .522 (12-for-23) from 3-point range. The rest of the team is shooting .405 from the field and .333 (11-for-33) from deep in those four outings.
• Preseason No. 21 in the AP poll and No. 22 in the ESPN/USA Today version, unranked Cincinnati enters Thursday’s game with a 9-3 record. The Bearcats, who are 7-2 at home and 2-1 on the road, have won their last four games by an average of 34 points. Their losses have come at home to Presbyterian (56-54) and Marshall (73-69 in overtime), and at Xavier (76-53).
• Cincinnati ranks No. 1 in the Big East Conference with its 8.2 3-point field goal makes per game and No. 2 in 3-point field goal percentage (.405) and scoring defense (57.2 ppg). The Bearcats are averaging 13.8 treys over their last four games.
• Sophomore guard Sean Kilpatrick is averaging a team-high 15.4 points per game. He ranks No. 2 in the Big East with his 2.6 treys per game and is shooting .413 from deep. Kilpatrick has scored in double figures 11 times and has three games of at least 20 points.
• Senior guard Dion Dixon has also scored in double figures in all but one outing, and averages 13.3 points, 3.9 boards and 1.9 assists.
• Junior point guard Cashmere Wright averages 11.7 points and 5.1 assists per game, but over the last three outings is averaging 19.7 points and 6.0 assists. He is shooting .600 from the field and .583 (14-for-24) from 3-point range in those games.
• Senior forward Yancy Gates (13.5 ppg, team-high 9.5 rpg), is serving a six-game suspension and will miss Thursday’s contest.
• Head coach Mick Cronin is 96-80 in his sixth year at Cincinnati. The former UC assistant coach returned to the Bearcats following a three-year stint as head coach at Murray State (posted a 69-24 record there).
OU-CINCINNATI SERIES HISTORY
Thursday’s game will mark the sixth between Oklahoma and Cincinnati, with the Bearcats owning a 3-2 series edge. OU won the first two meetings, 78-65 in 1985-86 in the All-College Tournament in Oklahoma City and 89-81 (in overtime) in the second round of the 1991 postseason NIT in Norman. Third-ranked Cincinnati posted a 72-59 home win during the 1998-99 season and, as the nation’s No. 4 team the following year, beat the No. 21 Sooners by a 72-57 score in Norman. UC won 66-56 last year (Dec. 18) in Oklahoma City.
LAST YEAR VS. THE BEARCATS
• Oklahoma shot .333 from the field (its fourth lowest mark of the year) and .182 from 3-point range (second lowest figure) in a 66-56 loss to Cincinnati (10-0) at the All-College Classic in Oklahoma City last Dec. 18. OU held Cincinnati to .420 field goal and .176 (3-for-17) 3-point marks. The Bearcats improved to 10-0.
• The Sooners, who never led, trailed 28-21 at halftime before scoring the first six points of the second half to draw within one. Cincinnati led by just five (49-44) with six minutes remaining before going on an 8-1 run to go ahead by 12 (57-45) with 3:22 left.
• Sophomore point guard Carl Blair finished with a game-high 15 points and OU highs of six rebounds and four assists, but also committed six turnovers. He was the only Sooner who shot at least 50 percent from the field (6-for-12).
• Steven Pledger netted 13 points while Andrew Fitzgerald contributed 10 points, five boards, two assists and three steals.
• Cashmere Wright and Dion Dixon led the Bearcats with 12 points each.
DEC. 21 SOUTH CAROLINA STATE RECAP
• Oklahoma overcame .395 field goal shooting with strong defensive play and a 63-36 rebounding advantage to post an 83-48 home win over South Carolina State last Wednesday. The Sooners held the Bulldogs to .339 field goal and .125 (2-for-16) 3-point shooting.
• OU’s 61 rebounds were its most in 22 years. Its 26 offensive rebounds were just two fewer than SCSU’s 28 defensive boards.
• Steven Pledger was 6-for-15 from the field (just his second sub-.500 performance of the season) but still finished with a game-high 22 points with the help of 4 treys (on 10 attempts) and 6-for-6 free throw shooting.
• Junior forward Romero Osby recorded his third career double-double (all this season) with 10 points and a career-high 18 rebounds. The 18 boards were eight more than his previous career high and tied as the most by a Big 12 player this year. The 18 boards were the most by a Sooner since Blake Griffin pulled down 21 at Missouri on March 4, 2009 (span of 79 games).
• Junior forward Andrew Fitzgerald was 8-for-11 from the field and scored 17 points in just 22 minutes.
• Senior forward C.J. Washington came off the bench to supply five points and a career-high 12 rebounds (seven offensive) in only 13 minutes of action. His previous career high was eight rebounds. Junior center Casey Arent grabbed a career-high-tying nine boards.
SOONER TIP INS
• OU has recorded 32 dunks in its 10 games (3.2 average) and junior forward Romero Osby has half of them.
• Osby has grabbed at least six rebounds in nine of 10 games this year. In his 35 games at Mississippi State as a sophomore in 2009-10, Osby pulled down at least six boards on three occasions.
• Thirty-six of Osby’s 88 rebounds (41 percent) have come on the offensive end.
• Junior Sam Grooms has recorded at least six assists four times. He has 32 assists and four turnovers in those contests (8.0 ratio).
• Last year, Steven Pledger averaged 15.4 points in OU’s wins and 7.4 points in its losses. This year, the junior guard is averaging 20.7 points in wins (he missed the season-opening victory) and was held to 11 points in the loss to Saint Louis.
• Senior forward C.J. Washington’s three assists against Coppin State on Nov. 18 were more than he had all of last season (two). He has five handouts this year.