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October 10, 2008


Head coach: Jeff Capel.
Last season: 23-12 overall, 9-7 in the Big 12.
Postseason: Earned at-large bid to NCAA tournament. Lost 78-48 to Louisville in second round.
Breakdown: Probable starters | Backcourt | Frontcourt | Offense | Defense | Outlook

Backcourt

As Oklahoma's guards went, so went the Sooners last season. Senior Austin Johnson and junior Tony Crocker averaged 13.1 and 10.1 points, respectively, in the Sooners' wins. Johnson averaged just 7.6 points and Johnson dipped all the way to 4.8 points per game in the team's losses. They combined for seven points on 2-for-11 shooting from the field in a 30-point loss to Louisville in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Oklahoma's Blake Griffin is one of the nation's best post players.

PROBABLE STARTING FIVE
G Austin Johnson, 6-3/Sr.
8.6 ppg
G Willie Warren, 6-4/Fr.
Rivals.com five-star prospect
G Tony Crocker, 6-6/Jr.
11.3 ppg, 42.4 percent from 3-point range
F Taylor Griffin, 6-7/Sr.
6.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg
F Blake Griffin, 6-10/So.
14.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg
TOP RESERVES
F Juan Pattillo, 6-6, Jr.
Junior college transfer
F Ryan Wright, 6-9, Jr.
UCLA transfer
G Cade Davis, 6-5, So.
3.7 ppg
But that veteran duo won't have as much pressure to produce. The addition of five-star prospect Willie Warren, a score-first point guard and one of the highest-profile recruits in school history, instantly gives the Sooners a big-time playmaker in their backcourt. Ranked No. 10 overall in the 2008 class, Warren has the speed and ballhandling skills to beat even the best defenders off the dribble. He also has the strength and leaping ability to finish around the basket. His cartoonish-like dunks have made him an Internet legend. Warren will share the point-guard duties with Johnson, who posted a career-best 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio last season, and will also see significant time on the wing. If he can live up to the massive hype, the Sooners will be a legitimate Final Four threat.

The 6-foot-6 Crocker should benefit from Warren's ability to penetrate and draw multiple defenders. Crocker's strength is his outside shooting the former four-star prospect hit 42.4 percent (64-for-151) of his 3-point attempts last season and now he can camp out around the arc more and look for Warren to get him the ball.

A pair of young wings sophomore Cade Davis and freshman Ray Willis will come off the bench. Davis earned some heavy minutes near the end of last season and has the potential to be a good 3-point shooter. Willis is a slasher who was ranked the No. 108 prospect in the 2008 class.

Frontcourt

Blake Griffin shocked many by choosing not to enter the NBA draft. A powerfully built, athletic power forward who craves contact, Griffin would have been a lottery pick and is now projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft. Griffin was one of the nation's elite freshmen last season, posting 10 double-doubles and ranking ninth in the Big 12 in scoring and fourth in rebounding. The Sooners need him to elevate those numbers because of the loss of Longar Longar, who leaves the Sooners without 11.4 points and 5.6 rebounds a game. The key for Griffin will be better free-throw shooting. He attempted 197 free throws the fourth-highest total in the Big 12 but made only 116 (58.9 percent).

Griffin may have chosen to stay in school for one last chance to play with his brother. Power forward Taylor Griffin enters his senior year and probably will start. The two have a good chemistry. The elder Griffin lacks his brother's physical tools and doesn't add much offensively, but he is a solid rebounder and defender.

A pair of newcomers UCLA transfer Ryan Wright and junior college transfer Juan Pattillo will both play steady minutes and make the Sooners a little deeper. The 6-9 Wright, a former top-100 prospect, was a role player on two UCLA teams that reached the Final Four. Wright spent much of his summer working out in California with the Griffins. Pattillo, an athletic 6-6 small forward, will be a weapon in the open court and should be a good offensive rebounder. He turned down scholarship offers from Kentucky and Oklahoma State.

Offense

The Sooners run a motion offense, often with four players on the perimeter and Blake Griffin in the post. That won't change much, but they will look to get the ball in the hands of Warren and give him freedom to create.

The surprising return of Blake Griffin along with the bulk of his supporting cast would have made Oklahoma a top-20 team. Blake Griffin is the definition of a workhorse and will contend for All-American honors. Three other starters return, including a junior (Crocker) and two seniors (Johnson and Taylor Griffin). When you add an explosive guard like Warren to that already solid mix, the Final Four becomes a realistic goal. Warren is the attacking threat from the perimeter the Sooners have lacked in the past. An out-of-conference schedule that is strong, but not nearly as daunting as what Big 12 rivals Texas and Kansas face, will also help. The Sooners should finish in the top two in the league and win at least two NCAA tournament games.

Defense

Coach Jeff Capel has talked about using some full-court pressure in the past, and he may have the personnel to start this season. With a deeper and more athletic team, expect a more aggressive man-to-man and some pressing mixed in.

Shoes to Fill

Longar. The 6-11 big man teamed with Blake Griffin to form one of the nation's top inside duos. Longar was the Sooners' second-leading scorer and rebounder and led the team in blocked shots.

Must Step Up

Wright. The Sooners need this Canadian native to make up some of the inside presence lost with Longar's departure. Wright must help on the glass and be a shot-blocking threat.

Impact Newcomer

Warren. This ultra-talented combo guard should be the heavy favorite for Big 12 Freshman of the Year. He'll start from Day One, and his playmaking ability will add a dimension the Sooners have been missing.

Andrew Skwara is a national basketball writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.



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