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Today’s U Top 25 Countdown: No. 8 Oklahoma Sooners

Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire

The Oklahoma Sooners may not have brought home any hardware last year, but it was still a good season for the program and easily the program’s best performance since head coach Lon Kruger took over before the 2011-12 season.

Oklahoma’s season started with relatively mixed results in non-conference play. Despite pulling off impressive back-to-back wins over Butler and UCLA, the Sooners dropped two disappointing losses to Creighton and Washington in route to just a 9-3 record. Though neither loss was terrible, for a team trying to compete at the top level, each was a significant blow to the team’s resume.

Those mixed results continued early on during Big 12 play as well. Despite opening at 2-0 with wins over Baylor and Texas, the Sooners would drop four of the team’s next five games including a home loss to an underwhelming Kansas State team in overtime. Luckily, the team got back on track and ended regular season play with a 9-2 record that included wins over Iowa State and Kansas.

Although the Sooners didn’t quite play that well in the postseason, the team still performed well. In the Big 12 Tournament, Oklahoma was able to beat rival Oklahoma State in the team’s first matchup, but fell to eventual Big 12 Tournament champion Iowa State in the second game. In the NCAA Tournament, Oklahoma was able to push its way to the Sweet 16 with wins over Albany and Dayton.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma fell short against Michigan State in the Sweet 16 with the Spartans eventually going on to the Final Four. The game was competitive throughout with Michigan State ultimately taking control in the second half.

Though some will undervalue Oklahoma’s performance last season because the team didn’t earn a championship or have an extremely deep postseason run, it was still a good year with 24 overall wins, including numerous wins over quality teams. Now, the Sooners will hope that a very good returning core can lift the team to the next level.

Key Offseason Departures: Frank Booker (forward), TaShawn Thomas (forward)

27 MAR 2015: Oklahoma Sooners forward TaShawn Thomas (35) battles Michigan State Spartans guard Denzel Valentine (45) during the first half of the NCAA Sweet Sixteen Game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Michigan State Spartans the game is being played at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse NY. The Michigan State Spartans defeat the Oklahoma Sooners 62-58. Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

27 MAR 2015: Oklahoma Sooners forward TaShawn Thomas (35) battles Michigan State Spartans guard Denzel Valentine (45) during the first half of the NCAA Sweet Sixteen Game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Michigan State Spartans the game is being played at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse NY. The Michigan State Spartans defeat the Oklahoma Sooners 62-58. Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Though Oklahoma didn’t lose a ton this offseason, there are a few departures that the Sooners will have to try and replace. Two of the most notable departures came from Frank Booker and TaShawn Thomas, who both averaged a good amount of playing time last season.

Of the two departures, Thomas’ absence will likely be felt the most. He was Oklahoma’s primary option at power forward and though his numbers didn’t compare to some of the other contributors on the team, he still was a key piece. Thomas was an effective player inside on both ends last season, and he was both one of the team’s best shot blockers and efficient interior scorers.

Booker had more of a bench role for the Sooners last season, but also made his contributions as well. Though he wasn’t necessarily that efficient or a great scorer, he was one of the team’s primary wing backups behind both Isaiah Cousins and Buddy Hield. Even if he didn’t have the best numbers, Oklahoma will have to find a backup option this season.

Overall, Oklahoma is looking at losing a starter in Thomas and a few bench options. The Sooners will have plenty of talent to work with this season, but will have to find at least one quality option to insert into the lineup this year.

Key Additions: Akolda Manyang (center), Rashard Odomes (forward)

The Sooners are set to add three players in the team’s 2015 recruiting class with one coming as a JUCO transfer. This class includes several highly-rated prospects and 247Sports rates the recruiting class at No. 51 nationally.

The most heralded recruit in the class is JUCO transfer Akolda Manyang. He played at Indiana Hills Community College in Iowa last season and is rated as a four-star prospect by 247Sports. Here is what Brad Winston of JUCO Recruiting had to say about Manyang:

What is Oklahoma getting in Manyang? They are getting an immediate impact frontcourt player who impacts the game on both ends. Manyang is extremely long and mobile for his size. Many JC centers don’t have the combination of size, strength and mobility like Manyang does. He was one of the best shot blockers in the country in the 2015 JC class and has a developing offensive game.

Odomes is not as highly regarded as Manyang, but will have the potential to get playing time off the bench with the transfer of Frank Booker. He averaged 25.2 points and 12.4 rebounds as a senior in high school and could be set to be the primary backup behind Buddy Hield. He has a diverse skillset that should allow him to fit in positionally wherever the team needs him.

Schedule Analysis

Yet again, this should be a very tough schedule for the Sooners. The non-conference schedule features some of the nation’s best teams over the last few years and a stacked Big 12 should add even more excitement and challenges for the team.

The highlights of non-conference play should be the Diamond Head Classic featuring BYU, Harvard, and New Mexico, a home game against Wisconsin, a neutral site game with Villanova, and a road game against LSU. With LSU, Villanova, and Wisconsin being ranked in the Today’s U preseason top 25 rankings, there should be plenty of challenges.

Of course, with Oklahoma being set to be a pretty good team itself, the Sooners still have a pretty good shot at a non-conference record with two losses or less.

Conference play will be a different animal entirely.

With the Big 12 having four total teams ranked (Oklahoma included) in the Today’s U preseason top 25 rankings, there are going to be plenty of challenges. Plus, that doesn’t even include teams like Oklahoma State, Texas, and West Virginia, who are always tough games. Nonetheless, with Oklahoma’s talent, look for at least 10 conference wins this season.

Preview and Prediction

08 NOVEMBER 2013: Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lon Kruger during a NCAA basketball game between the Oklahoma Sooners and Alabama Crimson Tide in the Tip-Off Showcase at American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX. Ray Carlin/Icon Sportswire

08 NOVEMBER 2013: Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lon Kruger during a NCAA basketball game between the Oklahoma Sooners and Alabama Crimson Tide in the Tip-Off Showcase at American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX. Ray Carlin/Icon Sportswire

Though the Sooners may have teetered between good and great during all of last season, this appears to be an Oklahoma team set to take the next step. With an All-American candidate in Buddy Hield along with several other proven contributors, head coach Lon Kruger has plenty to work with this year.

The biggest concern for Oklahoma will easily be how the team sorts out the front court. With the addition of Akolda Manyang, the Sooners will get a boost in size that may allow the team to play Ryan Spangler primarily at power forward. However, whether Manyang is prepared enough offensively and whether Spangler can hold up in this lineup are important questions. Both have the talent and skillsets to be successful, but until fans see it, these will be question marks.

Losing TaShawn Thomas is nothing to overlook, but with so many returners, valuable additions, and the continued emergence of Buddy Hield, this should be a team that is nationally competitive all season. Though the team will probably have to see some improvement from the backcourt and Manyang to emerge to be a true Final Four contender, this team is more than good enough to be near the top of the Big 12 and in position for a great NCAA Tournament seed.

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