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OU basketball: Five takeaways from the early part of Sooners' season

Oklahoma's Austin Reaves, right, watches as Kur Kuath, back, moves between Texas Tech's Mac McClung, front, and Terrence Shannon Jr. on Tuesday. [AP Photo/Garett Fisbeck]
Oklahoma's Austin Reaves, right, watches as Kur Kuath, back, moves between Texas Tech's Mac McClung, front, and Terrence Shannon Jr. on Tuesday. [AP Photo/Garett Fisbeck]

NORMAN — OU’s season got off to an inauspicious start.

COVID-19 left the Sooners unable to play their first two scheduled games. That forced a scramble to reassemble the nonconference schedule in a strange season.

Welcome to 2020. Fortunately, 2021 is right around the corner.

The Sooners are 5-2 with a 1-1 mark in the Big 12 entering next Saturday’s home matchup with No. 7-ranked West Virginia.

Here are five takeaways from OU’s early portion of the season:

1. Reaves’ fast start

Austin Reaves, the point guard, is largely a success.

The Sooners’ senior loves having the basketball in his hands. He always thought he was a point guard anyway. Played there until he started college.

His numbers are up nearly across the board compared to last season:

2020-21: 15.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.9 turnovers

2019-20: 14.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.5 turnovers

It’s clearly a shrewd move by OU coach Lon Kruger. Get the ball to the best playmaker more and good things happen.

Like a 32-point performance at TCU to open Big 12 play just three games into the season. Or games with nine, eight and seven assists.

Reaves is making his teammates better along with being better himself.

Things have been great overall for Reaves, but he ended the early part of the season on a sour note. His point-blank miss as time expired in the loss to No. 15-ranked Texas Tech last weekend was crushing.

Kruger said afterward he believes Reaves will bounce back just fine. He probably will. Still, that miss could have a lingering impact.

2. Improved Harmon a boost

Sooners sophomore guard De’Vion Harmon spent the quarantine working on his shot with his father.

Harmon was looking for more consistency. What he found was an impressive level of play to start the season.

A natural point guard, he’s become the secondary ballhandler alongside Reaves. It’s worked well.

He’s averaging 11.9 points (up from 7.4 last season), 2.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists. He’s also been a spark defensively.

He’s become a strong presence on a veteran team in just his second season.

For instance, Harmon was the Sooners’ best player against Texas Tech. He played 39 minutes. He scored 17 points. He had just one turnover.

There’s a remarkable difference from last year, when Harmon was in and out of the starting lineup as he looked to find his way at the collegiate level.

3. Offense mostly shining

The Sooners can score.

They rank second in the Big 12 with 82.7 points per game, fourth in field-goal percentage (47.0) and 3-point percentage (36.5).

Reaves is third in scoring and senior Brady Manek is 12th (14.6).

But that’s about to really be tested in the Big 12, as Texas Tech proved.

The Red Raiders have the top defense in the conference and they really stifled key parts of the Sooners’ attack.

Manek entered the game as the team’s leading scorer, but had his worst game of the season, scoring just two points while making 1 of 7 shots in 23 minutes. He never looked comfortable as Texas Tech applied pressure.

The Sooners also had a season-high 16 turnovers.

They also struggled at the free-throw line, making just 17 of 27, but that could be just an off night.

But all areas were a concern after OU’s offensive flow was off most of the game against Houston Baptist a few days before hosting Texas Tech.

4. Defensive issues

OU’s offense can mask other issues, like the defense.

The Sooners are eighth in the Big 12, allowing 70.9 points per game. That’s way below Texas Tech’s average of 54.0.

Xavier was the first team to expose OU’s defensive issues, primarily defending the 3-pointer. The Sooners are ninth in the Big 12 in 3-point field-goal percentage allowed (37.1).

Three teams have made at least 10 3s against OU, including the 19 by Xavier. Houston Baptist and TCU each hit 10 in games OU won.

There are still plenty of positives, though.

The Sooners are second in the conference in turnover margin (2.0). Manek and Kur Kuath are both in the top 10 in blocks per game.

5. Depth will be a huge factor

Kruger hasn’t been bashful about the Sooners’ depth.

He loves it. He knows it will be crucial in the final portion of the season.

And he’s certainly right.

OU has put on display a deep roster through seven games with nine players averaging 12 or more minutes in conference play.

The starting five is primarily Reaves, Harmon, Manek, Kuath and Alondes Williams. They’ve all been effective.

North Texas transfer Umoja Gibson has been huge off the bench, bringing a strong 3-point presence. Victor Iwuakor is having a breakout season, bringing energy while making big plays around the basket.

Jalen Hill has been strong as a bench rebounder. Freshman Trey Phipps has shown his ability as a fearless sharpshooter.

And even the late emergence of Cal State Northridge transfer Elijah Harkless, who was recently granted eligibility, has been a good sign for the Sooners.

This is the type of roster that’s crucial not only for a grueling conference, but a trying season that could again face tests due to the pandemic.

Jacob Unruh

Jacob Unruh is a graduate of Northeastern State University. He was born in Cherokee and raised near Vera where he attended Caney Valley High School.During his tenure at NSU, Unruh wrote for The Northeastern (NSU's student newspaper), the... Read more ›