What to watch for this bas­ket­ball sea­son

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS - Ryan Aber raber@ ok­la­homan.com

NOR­MAN — After a dis­ap­point­ing sea­son a year ago, Ok­la­homa opens its sea­son Sun­day af­ter­noon against Omaha with high ex­pec­ta­tions and a re­made ros­ter.

Five things to watch this sea­son for the Soon­ers:

The Trae Young show

There have been few play­ers whose Soon­ers ca­reers have started with as much ex­pec­ta­tion on their shoul­ders as Young, the five-star point guard from Nor­man North.

Scor­ing hasn’t been a prob­lem for Young, who av­er­aged bet­ter than 40 points per game last year.

That scor­ing touch plus his abil­ity to dis­trib­ute fig­ures to change Ok­la­homa’s of­fense in big ways, free­ing perime­ter shoot­ers for drive­and-dish op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The Soon­ers strug­gled with point guard play for long stretches a year ago and im­prov­ing there would go a long way to­ward an im­prove­ment.

James’ resur­gence

Last sea­son, Chris­tian James was ex­pected to be a ma­jor of­fen­sive weapon after com­ing on strong to­ward the end of his fresh­man sea­son as Ok­la­homa made a run to the Fi­nal Four.

But when Jor­dan Woodard left the lineup, James put the pres­sure on his shoul­ders to carry the load. In­stead, his of­fense sput­tered and his con­fi­dence waned as his role less­ened.

James has shown big im­prove­ment over the off­sea­son but how that trans­lates into the sea­son re­mains to be seen.

Big Men

Like a lot of ar­eas, Ok­la­homa’s in­te­rior play last year was in­con­sis­tent.

Khadeem Lat­tin and Ja­muni McNeace had their mo­ments but each strug­gled with foul trou­ble among other is­sues.

But late in the sea­son, both seemed to turn a corner.

Lat­tin worked on his of­fen­sive range through­out the off­sea­son, though Soon­ers coach Lon Kruger also has asked Lat­tin not to try to force things too much on that end of the floor.

McNeace has al­ways had plenty of athletic abil­ity but has still been learn­ing the game since his ar­rival. If he’s able to be­come a con­sis­tent de­fender, Ok­la­homa’s depth on the in­side could be bet­ter than it’s been in awhile.

Doolit­tle watch

Kris­tian Doolit­tle was one of the bright spots a year ago, start­ing 25 games as a fresh­man and av­er­ag­ing 9.1 points and 6.2 re­bounds as a fresh­man. But the Ed­mond Memorial prod­uct was sus­pended from the school for the first se­mes­ter, leav­ing him out for the first month of the sea­son.

Fresh­man Brady Manek and red­shirt sopho­more Matt Free­man will take that play­ing time early in the sea­son. Manek, es­pe­cially, has been a wel­come sur­prise dur­ing a sum­mer for­eign trip and pre­sea­son camp, show­ing not only strong abil­ity to knock down out­side shots but ath­leti­cism near the bas­ket as well.

Tough road

The Soon­ers won’t have much time to get ac­cli­mated to things be­fore be­ing thrown into the fire, as their non-con­fer­ence sched­ule could be bumpy.

Ok­la­homa plays in the PK80 event in Port­land that starts with Arkansas and could fea­ture a matchup with North Carolina after that.

The pre-league sched­ule also fea­tures a vir­tual road game at USC and at Wi­chita State and a home game against North­west­ern. Those three games come in a four-game stretch in De­cem­ber.

[PHOTO BY BRYAN TERRY, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

Ok­la­homa fresh­man Trae Young av­er­aged bet­ter than 40 points per game last year at Nor­man North.

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