Oklahoma Basketball: Are the Sooners the Big 12's Best Sleeper Team?

Ryan ReschContributor IIIMay 30, 2012

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 07:   Sam Grooms #1 of the Oklahoma Sooners listens to Lon Kruger head coach of Oklahoma Sooners during the first round of the Big 12 Basketball Tournament March 07, 2011 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Oklahoma University may be more focused on its football team at the moment, but the Sooners’ basketball team is certainly not one to be overlooked.

Oklahoma basketball saw its heyday back in the 80s when it won four conference regular-season championships, two conference tournament championships, four Sweet 16 appearances and a Final Four shot.

Yet, nowadays, the Sooners are more known for being the home of a basketball hoop’s biggest fear, Blake Griffin. 

The Sooners thrived under Griffin’s two years of play, but they have since fallen off the radar in the Big 12, finishing eighth in the Big 12 last season with a 5-13 conference record (15-16 overall).

Even so, the Sooners are poised to rise in the rankings in the 2012-13 season for two main reasons.

First, the Sooners are bringing back three very talented players who fill key roles.

Romero Osby, a forward who transferred from Mississippi State in 2010, is, simply put, a fantastic athlete. He is a strong guy who continues to improve with each season and knows how to play his position well.

Last season was Osby’s first taste of major playing time (30.2 minutes per game), and with a complete offseason under his belt as a starter, he should only get better. Look for him to increase not only his points per game, but his rebounding numbers as well, which will be very important for a smaller Sooners squad.

The other two returning players will make a very solid backcourt for the Sooners.

Steven Pledger, a shooting guard, is one of the most efficient three-point shooters in the Big 12, averaging 41.6 percent from beyond the arc. He will probably see more looks next year as teams start to focus more on Osby, allowing him to score even greater numbers.

In addition, after his infamous premature celebration from last year, Pledger still has to prove to Oklahoma that he can be a clutch player.

Lastly, the Sooners are retuning one of the better point guards in college basketball in Sam Grooms. 

Grooms, a junior college transfer, passed his way to an even six assists per game. He has great court vision and a good ability to run plays and be a leader on the floor. He will be a key part of the Sooners team next year, but he has to get better at shooting. He only sank a miserable 35 percent and brought Oklahoma a little under seven points per game.

As for the other reason the Sooners have a chance to succeed next year, numbers never lie and second-year head coach Lon Kruger should be very happy about that.

Despite Kruger’s minimal trophy case, he has never allowed back-to-back losing seasons since taking over the coaching position of Kansas State back in 1986. With a 15-16 overall record last season, Kruger has all of the pieces to bring his team to a record in the high teens or low 20s.

Oklahoma most certainly is in the best position to break out of the bottom ranks in the Big 12 next season. However, it will be a very important season for another reason: recruiting.

The three players listed above will be seniors next season and Kruger will have to find someone to replace them. With success comes good recruiting, and Oklahoma, this time around, cannot afford to disappoint.