NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - Not much was expected from Lon Kruger's Sooners this season.
Oklahoma was picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big 12 after losing its top three scorers from last season, and most of the hype around the state focused on Oklahoma State and superstar guard Marcus Smart.
Turns out, the 25th-ranked Sooners are worth a look, too. Oklahoma enters Saturday's game at Texas Tech tied for second place in league play.
Offense was a question mark heading into the season after Romero Osby, Steven Pledger and Amath M'Baye exhausted their eligibility. Despite no returning player who averaged more than 7.8 points last season, Kruger has crafted an explosive offense among the most productive in the Big 12.
Kruger's experience helps, too. After the Sooners let one slip away in a 90-83 home loss to Kansas on Jan. 8, he didn't worry.
'We have got to keep learning, we have to keep going, we have to keep working, keep attacking and stay aggressive,' Kruger said. 'I know this group will do that.'
He was right. The next game, the Sooners beat then-No. 9 Iowa State 87-82. One week after that, Oklahoma won at then-No. 12 Baylor 66-64.
'He just knows it all,' forward Cameron Clark said. 'He's been doing this for years. He's a student of the game.'
Clark, a senior forward, leads the way with 17.0 points per game after averaging 6.5 last year as a reserve. This season, he has scored 32 points against Michigan State, 31 against Texas Arlington and 32 against Kansas.
Buddy Hield, who averages 16.6 points, has bumped that up to 18.2 during conference play. Isaiah Cousins, another sophomore guard, averages 10.6 points and 4.4 rebounds. Freshman point guard Jordan Woodard averages 10.8 points and 4.5 assists.
The biggest surprise has been 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Ryan Spangler. The Tuttle, Okla. native transferred from Gonzaga and has given the perimeter-heavy lineup the toughness it needs. He averages 11.3 points and a Big 12-best 9.8 rebounds. In his past four games, he's averaging 14.3 points and 13.5 rebounds while shooting 64.0 percent.
Spangler, who wasn't highly recruited out of high school, carries a chip on his shoulder, and his energy lifts the rest of the team. He had 13 points and a career-high 16 rebounds in a 77-69 win over TCU on Wednesday.
'He's been fantastic,' Kruger said. 'Every night out, every day in practice, he brings a great work ethic, great attitude, rebounding the ball like crazy, produces some offensively, real good awareness defensively. He's been fantastic all year.'
Oklahoma's balance - having all five starters averaging double figures - makes the Sooners a tough team to handle.
'For other teams, it's harder to guard us,' Spangler said. 'One person might go off that night, but if not, all the other five or six people can score, so I think that just opens it up for us.'
If the Sooners are in position to contend for a title at the end of the season, though, it will be because of their defensive play. After allowing 85.7 points per game in their first three conference games, they've surrendered just 68.3 per contest in the last three.
'I think the last couple weeks we've gotten better defensively," Kruger said. "We've got to keep working at it, got to keep working on the rebounding, keep doing all the things we can as a group defensively.'
They may need another solid defensive showing to slow down the Red Raiders (10-9, 2-4), who are playing at home for the first time since beating Baylor 82-72 on Jan. 15 to snap a 32-game losing streak to ranked opponents.
Texas Tech, which lost both meetings with Oklahoma last season, had another strong offensive showing Wednesday at West Virginia but suffered an 87-81 setback. The loss spoiled a sensational performance by Dusty Hannahs, who had a career-high 25 points and made all seven 3-point attempts.
"I like the way he played," coach Tubby Smith. "He's capable of doing that. He's an outstanding 3-point shooter."
The sophomore guard is averaging 13.0 points and shooting 53.3 percent from 3-point range in conference play after averaging 7.1 and making 34.9 percent from beyond the arc in the first 13 games.
The Associated Press News Service
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