Assessing the soaring Sooners, an unheralded freshman, more mailbag

Wednesday January 29th, 2014

Jordan Woodard has been a key leader in Oklahoma's offense this season, averaging 11.3 points per game.
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Every week in Fast Five, Seth Davis will answer five questions from Twitter followers whose questions were left over from his weekly Twenty for Tuesday live Twitter chat.

@hawkman021 what do you think about college athletes trying to unionize?

Hawkman is referring to the effort on the part of some football players at Northwestern to form a legally recognized union. On the one hand, I say: Bravo! I am in very much in favor of athletes having more of a say in the rules-making process, and I applaud the effort of any athlete to stand up and be heard. That's why I am also a big fan of Ramogi Huma, the former UCLA linebacker who created the College Players Association to advocate on behalf of athletes as well. I don't always agree with Huma's arguments, but I am glad he's out there making them.

Having said that, I have to laugh when I read all these pronouncements that this latest effort to unionize is going to be the death knell of the NCAA's "shamateurism" model. As Yahoo!'s Dan Wetzel outlined so well, this group is a long, long way from becoming a legally recognized union -- and in fact, there is very little chance that it will ever do so. People don't want to hear this, but it happens to be true: College athletes are amateurs, not employees. There is no way they are every going to be legally classified as employees. Yes, the system needs fixing so schools can take better care of their athletes, and the current effort to create a separate division for the five biggest conferences will help bring about some necessary changes. But to any football player at Northwestern or anywhere else who wants to be treated as a unionized employee, there is one simple solution: Drop out of school, and go get yourself a job.

@DanHarrison1985 When will your fellow members of the media start voting Oklahoma inside the Top 15 like you have?

What can I say? I'm ahead of the curve -- again. I have been over-voting the Sooners for the last couple of weeks, but in the wake of Oklahoma's win over Oklahoma State Monday night, I am guessing my fellow balloters (or is it balloteers?) will catch up and give this team their due.

Last August, I was in Norman to do an interview with Bob Stoops. As it happened, Lon Kruger's basketball team was practicing in advance of a trip overseas, and he invited me to come by and watch. This, I assure you, was not any kind of special treatment. Unlike many of his peers, who run a closed practice as if they work for the NSA, Kruger invites friends and family into all of his practices. He has even live-streamed them on Oklahoma's website. There were probably 50 or so people in the gym that day. When I mentioned to Kruger that this was unusual, he shrugged and said, "We don't have any secrets."

After watching that workout, I came away thinking this team would be lucky to make the NCAA tournament. What I did not realize was that freshman point guard Jordan Woodard would be this good, this soon. He is only shooting about 35 percent from the field, but Woodard has done a terrific job this season running the offense and attacking the rim. His 9-for-13 performance from the foul line Monday night was decisive, partly because it led to foul trouble for numerous Cowboys starters. I also did not realize that Ryan Spangler, the 6-foot-8 transfer from Gonzaga, would prove to be so tough on the boards. Throw in a couple of big-time scorers in 6-7 senior forward Cameron Clark and 6-4 sophomore guard Buddy Hield, and you have all the pieces in place for a top 15 team.

The most important piece, of course, is the man on the sidelines. Wherever Kruger has been in college, he has won -- at Texas Pan-American, Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and now OU. The only exception was his three-year stint with the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. Kruger is a composed, intelligent and, yes, somewhat boring coach, but his teams reflect that cerebral approach to the game, as well as his even temperament. The Sooners are no joke, and it's only a matter of time before the rest of the world stops laughing.

@PromoBon who has the best bench right now?

There are several ways to answer this question. The first thing you can do is look on the basis of minutes. According to, some of the major teams getting the most use of their bench include Purdue (ranked 11th in the country in percentage of minutes from the bench), Louisville (28th), Oregon State (32nd), Ole Miss (54th) and Texas A&M (67th).

Still, as I have written in the past, there is a difference between depth and meaningful depth. That's why my answer here is Iowa. The Hawkeyes are ranked 16th in the country in bench minutes, but what really separates them is just how productive those reserves are. Their third-leading scorer, Jarrod Uthhoff, has not started a single game this season. Eleven players are averaging between 12 and 28 minutes, and 10 players are averaging between 10 and 16 points per game. If anything, I'm wondering if it might behoove Fran McCaffrey to shorten his bench and give his best players more minutes, but it's hard to argue with success.

Generally speaking, I think the idea of having a lot of depth is overrated. This is not about fatigue. It's about overcoming foul trouble and injuries, and being able to ride hot hands and exploit matchups. It's also about what works, and Iowa's deep bench is clearly a tremendous asset as the Hawkeyes make their push toward the postseason.

@johnakruse where do you rank K-State's Marcus Foster in the freshman rankings?

As you may know, I don't do freshman rankings, and I really don't do NBA draft talk. However, I am happy to talk about Foster, because for all the attention that is given to this year's freshman class, he has been lost.

Well, find him. Foster is an elite athlete who leads the Wildcats in scoring at 13.4 points per game. He is also averaging around four rebounds and two assists while sinking 36 percent from three-point range. A big reason why the 6-2 guard from Wichita Falls, Texas, isn't getting a lot of attention is because he was totally unknown coming out of high school. He was not even ranked among's top 150 players in his class. He has surpassed expectations thanks largely to an intense work ethic, which he might not possess had he been told at a young age how good he was. Foster was overweight as a high school player, but his extra time in the gym and weight room (not to mention additional discipline in his diet) has taken care of that problem. Kansas State is one of the season's surprises because Foster is one of the season's surprises.

@TreyHerbert Is VCU a tourney team?

This question called to mind a conversation I had with Shaka Smart on Jan. 9, the day of his team's home game against George Mason. The Rams were 12-3 at the time and owned an impressive road win at Virginia. But they had also lost to two mediocre teams (Florida State and Georgetown) on neutral courts and one less-than-mediocre team (Northern Iowa) on the road. So when I asked Smart what was "wrong" with his team, he laughed. "Hey man, we are 12 and 2," he said. "It's like people forget we're VCU."

Therin lies the rub: This is not your older brother's VCU. This is a program that has been to a Final Four and, depsite its midmajor status, has shown that it can hang with the elite programs. So when the Rams don't look like world beaters, we wonder what has gone wrong. That's why VCU can be 16-4 (4-1 in the Atlantic 10) heading into its home game against Fordham tonight, and still have people wondering whether it is a tourney team.

The answer, quite obviously, is yes. Barring a collapse, VCU will be in the NCAA tournament. The only questions will be where it is seeded and how far it will advance. The problem for VCU has always been that, as good as its "havoc" fullcourt press can be, if a team is able to handle that press and force the Rams to execute in the halfcourt, they can be just another team. VCU is ranked 110th in offensive efficiency and 132nd in three-point percentage. Those would not be problems if senior forward Juvonte Reddic can play like an Atlantic 10 player of the year candidate, but so far he has not done so consistently (although his 27-point, 15-rebound performance in Saturday's win at La Salle was encouraging). The Atlantic 10 is just strong enough to help VCU get enough high-quality wins, yet it is not so deep that it would send the Rams into a losing streak that would jeopardize their chances at a bid. We'll have to see how it all plays out, but for the time being, we can rest assured that VCU will be in the field of 68.

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