October 26, 2016

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) Last season, Oklahoma reached the Final Four. This season, the coaches have picked the Sooners to finish sixth in the Big 12.

The reasons are many. The core of the team, Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler, has moved on. Hield, an All-American who was edged by Michigan State's Denzel Valentine for AP Player of the Year, now plays for the New Orleans Pelicans.

Oklahoma still expects to be competitive as the holdovers take on more significant roles.

''They're a talented group,'' coach Lon Kruger said. ''How quickly they mature and grow into those roles remains to be seen, but certainly, we need them to do that. I think they can, and hopefully, even more quickly than people expect them to.''

Jordan Woodard, a senior who has started every game of his career, was second on the team with 13 points per game last season and shot 45.5 percent from 3-point range. He played primarily shooting guard last season, but he'll play point guard most of this season.

''As he did last year, we need him to score,'' Kruger said. ''We need him to push the pace. We need him to be aggressive defensively. With the other three guys, they had the target on their back. Now, Jordan's going to have that target on his back. He's got a big adjustment in terms of preparing for that.''

Center Khadeem Lattin, known as a defensive specialist, will be expected to score now. Lattin averaged 5.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and just over two blocks per game last season.

''Much more aggressive this year offensively,'' Kruger said. ''He'll be a guy that we need to score. He'll be able to. He's worked hard, put a lot of time in. He's shooting the ball well.''

Here are some things to watch for with the Sooners:

LATTIN LEADER

Now that there are spots available for new leaders, Lattin can be heard throughout practices.

''With the seniors gone, he's stepped up and done a really nice job verbally and vocally and providing enthusiasm and energy,'' Kruger said. ''Khadeem's brought that every day. That's more of a natural role for him.''

THE WAIT IS OVER

Talented swingmen Rashard Odomes and Dante Buford were behind more experienced players in the past, but they were good enough to play at most schools. Buford averaged 3.5 points last season. Odomes averaged 1.9 points. They will need to help replace Hield's 25 points per game.

FRESHMAN PHENOM

Kameron McGusty follows Hield as an Oklahoma recruit from Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas. The 6-foot-5 freshman guard will challenge for a starting job.

''Anytime you have a freshman coming in, you're never sure how quickly it's going to transpire,'' Kruger said. ''He's a scorer, a slasher, shoots the ball well. He will definitely play a significant role. What that is remains to be seen based on production and results, but he's doing a really good job in practice.''

FINAL FOUR CARRYOVER

Kruger said the experience of reaching the Final Four last season will help his team. More importantly, the work ethic the Sooners needed to get there has been instilled into the program by the departed seniors.

''We'll see that, probably, for years to come,'' Kruger said. ''The investment they made, the time they put in certainly has been carried over by this group, and hopefully, the next group and the group after that.''

RISING STAR?

Christian James, a 6-foot-4 guard, worked his way into the rotation late in the season and had some key moments for the Sooners. He scored 13 points in the Big 12 Tournament against West Virginia and 12 points in the NCAA Tournament win over Texas A&M. Expectations will be much higher this season.

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