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March 11, 2014
Kruger's coaching performance not over yet
One day after the Big 12's coaches voted Texas coach Rick Barnes Big 12 Coach of the Year, members of the media who cover the league turned right around and gave the award to Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger.
Barnes has done a job in Austin, Texas, but no one expected the Sooners to have the superlative season they're still playing through. The Longhorns managed a win against the Jayhawks at home but finished a game behind Kruger's team in the final Big 12 standings.
HD: LON KRUGER NAMED A.P. BIG 12 COACH OF THE YEAR
Under Kruger the Sooners have achieved their highest ranking in the Associated Press poll since 2009. Oklahoma is ranked No. 17 in the nation.
"This award is very obviously a reflection of how well our guys have played, the progress they've made and the strong finish they had to the regular season," Kruger said. "Now the challenge is to continue to get better and finish strong in the postseason."
Tyler Neal, who has put together his best season as a senior, was ecstatic for Kruger.
"Just what he's done for this program over the past couple years," he said. "It's not really just this year. Obviously, developing a winning program is not a one year thing or an overnight thing."
Kruger's coaching performance has brought on his most balanced in attack since arriving in Norman. That's the primary reason the Sooners have consistently been one of the top scoring squads in Division I.
All five of his starters have started all 31 of OU's games this season -- a rare feat in today's game. Four of his players shoot the trey at a 39 percent clip or better. Four starters average double figures scoring, and the fifth, sophomore Ryan Spangler, averages nearly as many rebounds (9.4) as he does points (9.9).
There's no go-to player on this team, and that's the strength of it. Even on the bench, there are players who have shown up when necessary to help win ballgames during winning time.
"Those teams that have balance maybe don't have as deep a balance as what we've got," Kruger said. "We've got not just five but even six or seven different guys that have been the reason we've won."
Oklahoma was picked to finish fifth in the conference during the preseason and ended up finishing second with just two seniors on the roster, two seniors who weren't linchpins as juniors.
This year senior Cameron Clark earned third-team All-Big 12 honors, and Neal shared the Sixth Man award with Oklahoma State guard Phil Forte. It's hard to imagine the Sooners going 23-8 through the regular season without their contributions this season.
23-8. That's also the same record No. 10 Kansas owns heading into this week's tourney. The Jayhawks were just two games better than OU during conference play and were given a run by the Sooners at Lloyd Noble and at Allen Fieldhouse.
OU and KU were the only two teams in the league to amass winning records (5-4) on the road during Big 12 competition.
The Sooners have won five of their last six games and will ride a three-game winning streak into Thursday's game and will begin the Big 12 tourney without having suffered a loss in a month's time.
What's more? Oklahoma is 7-1 against their side of the bracket in the Big 12 tournament. It's hard to beat a team three times in a row, but until now Kruger hasn't fielded a team many thought could accomplish that feat until this year.