KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Oklahoma will be missing some familiar faces and Tulane will have the addition of a familiar name when the Sooners take on the Green Wave at 7 p.m. ET Thursday in the opening round of the Tire Pros Invitational at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.
For the first time in four years, the Sooners are learning what it’s like to not have Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler on the court. That trio started every game for Oklahoma over the past three seasons, helping the Sooners compile a 76-29 record during that stretch, including a trip to last year’s Final Four. Hield was the national player of the year last season and finished his college career as the all-time leading scorer in the Big 12 Conference with 2,291 points.
“It’s a new squad with a new identity,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “This group is going to make progress all the way through March. It’s going to be a work in progress for a while, but I’m excited to see where they go and who steps up and who is doing what roles. Being that much different than last year is one of the more intriguing, enjoyable parts of this team.”
The Sooners are expected to rely heavily on senior guard Jordan Woodard and junior forward Khadeem Lattin, who started all 37 games last season. They combined for 35 points and 16 rebounds (11 by Lattin) in Oklahoma’s 97-61 season-opening victory over Northwestern State.
As for the Green Wave, the most prominent addition this season will be on the sidelines, not the court. Tulane hired long-time NBA head coach Mike Dunleavy to try to change the fortunes of a program that has not made the NCAA Tournament since 1995. Dunleavy spent 17 years in the NBA, but has not coached since the 2009-10 season.
“We’ve made a lot of improvements from day one (of practice),” Dunleavy said. “Our guys have been learning how to read situations, play together, take good shots. … I really like how hard they’ve played. They want to get better, and I’ve seen growth in them.”
Sophomore guard Kain Harris scored a total of 34 points in Tulane’s first two games this season, a 95-75 loss to North Carolina followed by a 93-76 victory over Southeastern Louisiana. UNC coach Roy Williams said he was impressed with what he saw from the Green Wave in the season-opener.
“They were very scrappy,” Williams said. “They beat us to death on the offensive backboards (grabbing 17). I’ve known Michael a long time, and he’s going to do a great job. They are going to be harder and harder to guard as the season goes along.”