Oklahoma Basketball: Sooners Open Big 12 Schedule Hosting Baylor

If you think things are bad now for men’s Oklahoma basketball in this transition season, wait till you see what lies ahead on the schedule over the next couple of weeks.

Feb 17, 2015; Lubbock, TX, USA; Baylor Bears forward Jonathan Motley (35) shoots over Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Toddrick Gotcher (20) in the first half at United Supermarkets Arena. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Sooners enter Big 12 play with a 6-5 record, their worst nonconference record under sixth-year head coach Lon Kruger and their worst record beginning conference play since 1980-81, 36 seasons ago, in Billy Tubbs first year at Oklahoma. The Sooners began that season going 5-6 to begin Big Eight play.

And their is little relief in sight with fourth-ranked Baylor as OU’s opponent in the conference opener on Friday. It might be a good thing that the Sooners’ opening Big 12 test is at home at Lloyd Noble Center, where they’ve been a very tough out throughout the arena’s 41-year history.

Over the past 499 games, Oklahoma is 433-66 at home, a winning percentage of .865.

Baylor comes to Lloyd Noble Center on Friday with the conference’s best record at 12-0, including wins this season over Louisville, Xavier and Oregon, all ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.

Dec 17, 2016; Norman, OK, USA; Memphis Tigers guard Markel Crawford (5) drives to the basket against Oklahoma Sooners guard Christian James (3) during the first half at Lloyd Noble Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Following the opener with Baylor, the Sooners hit the road for games at TCU and Kansas State before returning home to face 12-time defending conference-champion Kansas, currently ranked just ahead of Baylor in the national rankings.

The Sooners first four opponents own a collective record of 45-3 heading into the Big 12 season. The top seven teams in the conference entering league play own a combined record of 77-7, and the Sooners play six of them in their first seven conference games.

Suffice to say, this could be an enormously challenging season for the young Sooners, who are about to grow up very fast, given the upcoming schedule.

Looking ahead to Baylor, the Bears are led by junior forward Jonathan Motley, who is averaging a career-best 16.0 points a game and also pulling down nearly nine rebounds per contest.

Three other Bears’ players are averaging in double figures in scoring. A major reason for Baylor’s undefeated record through the first dozen games is a superlative effort on the defensive end. The Bears’ are giving up an average of 58.7 points a game and holding opponents to just 29-percent shooting from three-point range.

Dec 17, 2016; Norman, OK, USA; Memphis Tigers forward Chad Rykhoek (15) handles the ball while guarded by Oklahoma Sooners guard Rashard Odomes (1) and Oklahoma Sooners forward Khadeem Lattin (12) during the first half at Lloyd Noble Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor leads the Big 12 in blocked shots (6.3 per game) and is second only to West Virginia in assists, which speaks to excellent ball movement and finding the open shooter.

Jordan Woodard continues to lead the Sooners in the scoring column, averaging 17.6 per game. Oklahoma has been struggling to find consistency on the offensive end and hasn’t played well enough on the other end of the floor to hold on to double-digit leads and close out games.

The Sooners are bound to get better as the season progresses, but so too will the other teams in the conference, which doesn’t bode well for a team that has made four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and advanced all the way to the Final Four last season.

In all but one game this season (the last one vs. Memphis being the one outlier), the Sooners have gotten out of the gate quickly and owned double-digit leads midway through the second half. In four of their five losses, they have been unable to hold off opponents coming down the homestretch.

Oklahoma has outscored its 11 opponents by 67 points in the opening half but by just 22 in the final 20 minutes.

Prediction for Big 12 opener: Thank goodness for playing at home, or this game could go sideways very quickly. Baylor is playing with great confidence right now, and I don’t see the Sooners hanging with them for a full 40 minutes. Baylor 78, Oklahoma 64.

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