NORMAN — Oklahoma opens its ninth season under coach Lon Kruger against UTSA on Tuesday.
The Sooners return to Lloyd Noble Center following last season's 20-14 record and NCAA Tournament Round of 32 exit.
OU’s 2019-20 roster includes three starters — Jamal Bieniemy, Brady Manek and Kristian Doolittle — from last year’s squad.
As the Sooners embark on the start of nonconference play, here are five things to watch this season:
1. A mix of new faces: Apart from Bieniemy, Doolittle and Manek, plenty of Kruger's lineups looked unfamiliar last Tuesday in an exhibition against Southeastern Oklahoma State.
It's a product of a large Class of 2019 signing class, as well as the on-court arrival of Wichita State transfer Austin Reaves.
How OU manages blending its influx of talent in with its veterans should be interesting early in the schedule.
“That's a process,” Kruger said. “We've done a really good job. With five freshmen, they kind of take some pride in helping each other. They hang together much. They support each other in a good way. This is a good group from a chemistry standpoint. They like playing. They like getting into the gym. They are supportive of each other and I think that will grow with each ball game this year.”
2. De’Vion Harmon: Of OU’s new faces, De’Vion Harmon stands out.
The former four-star guard from Denton, Texas, was the crown jewel of OU's '19 signing class and he might be the focal point for the Sooners as a freshman.
Harmon started last week in OU’s lone exhibition and is already talking a player ready to assume leadership responsibilities for this team.
“I think it is just the person I am, the player I am,” Harmon said of embracing a leadership role. “I am the point guard and leader of this basketball team so it is my job to make sure my guys are ready to play. Win or lose, you can put it on me. Even if you think it isn’t on me, put it on me. I want to accept that role and I have accepted that role.”
3. Leadership: Aside from Harmon, OU will still need to lean on its veterans like Doolittle and Manek.
The upperclassmen will be staples in the frontcourt and should be able to stretch the floor with their diverse skill sets.
Kruger discussed both Doolittle, his lone senior, and Manek, a two-year starter as a junior, during his Media Day press conference last Wednesday.
“Kristian Doolittle, he knows what needs to be done and has been around a while,” Kruger said. “He understands he’s the only senior and guys are looking to him for direction. He sets the tone in a lot of ways, through energy, whether it’s offensively, defensively, motivating in every way.”
“Brady also, last year, is probably characterized as a catch-and-shoot a three [-point] guy,” Kruger continued. “I thought he could move the ball down the floor, worked hard in the post. I’d like to see him at the 3-point line a little more. Again, in every way, he’s been working hard to extend his game beyond just shooting the three-point.”
4. Handling a road-heavy nonconference schedule: It shouldn't be a surprise considering OU's recent history but the Sooners have a tough out-of-conference slate on deck.
OU plays only five home games between its Tuesday season opener and the start of Big 12 play on Jan. 4.
OU will play seven games away from Norman, starting with a Nov. 9 tilt with the Big Ten's Minnesota in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Sooners will then go to Portland, Oregon, for a Nov. 12 match-up with Oregon State. The Sooners hit another road stand from Dec. 5-17 with games at North Texas, Wichita State and Creighton.
OU also will participate in the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Missouri, with Stanford, Butler and Missouri in late November.
5. Another competitive year in the Big 12: Kruger doesn’t anticipate the Big 12 being any less competitive than it was a year ago.
“Just like it’s been, every year,” Kruger said, “obviously Kansas is picked at the top, and then every year it seems like you’ve got seven, eight teams in the tournament. You don’t know which seven to eight teams necessarily, but the other teams that don’t go are very good too. It’s very balanced. It will be very challenging.”
Kansas opens the season as the AP preseason No. 3-ranked team. Texas Tech, fresh off its 2019 Final Four run, ranks 13th in the country, while Baylor ranks 16th.