The Tigers enter the season ranked No. 15 in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 Coaches Poll. The ranking is the highest for the Tigers, who have climbed since the 2008-2009 season, when they won 31 games and fell one game short of the Final Four.
Last year’s leading scorer Kim English returns along with guard Marcus Denmon and forward Laurence Bowers. The trio combined for 34.4 points per game last season. Also returning is senior forward Justin Safford, who averaged 8.8 points per game before tearing his ACL against Colorado. Safford looks to assume a leadership role as the only starting senior in the lineup.
“Justin’s been here for three years, so he has seen the bad, the good and the real good,” coach Mike Anderson said. “I’m sure he’s feeling pretty good to be in this position. But at the same time, his leadership is going to be valuable to our basketball team.”
Newcomers include junior forward Ricardo Ratliffe, a transfer from Central Florida Community College who is looking to make an impact in his first year with the Tigers. Ratliffe had a historic career in his first two years, becoming one of only 13 players in junior college history to earn first team All-America honors. He also set Central Florida school records in scoring with 1,653 points and rebounding with 580.
Ratliffe was hyped to enter the Tiger’s 2010-2011 season and was named the preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year as voted by league coaches. The last person to earn the preseason award was forward DeMarre Carroll, who is in the NBA with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Coach Mike Anderson said he has been pleased with what he has seen from Ratliffe in practice so far.
“For a guy that comes in with the accolades he has, his work ethic has been great,” Anderson said. “In sprints, he is outrunning some of the guards, so that’s good to see. Anything that we’re doing, he’s working as hard as he can and if he doesn’t understand it, he’s asking questions.”
The Tigers open up the season with the Black vs. Gold scrimmage Oct. 28.
Senior linebacker Luke Lambert will not be in the lineup Saturday against Oklahoma. Lambert strained his knee in last week’s victory over Texas A&M but played through the game. Coach Gary Pinkel said he was unsure of when the senior would be able to return to action.
“He has a knee strain that happened in the third quarter, but he played through the game with it,” Pinkel said. “The medical staff précised two games that he will be out. That can change, but for sure he’s out this week. He’s had some tough luck. He’s a great kid, a great leader, a great captain and everything else, and hopefully we’ll get him back soon.”
Lambert has accumulated 17 tackles and one sack in four games played.
Another notable Tiger injury going into Saturday’s contest is redshirt sophomore Aldon Smith, who fractured his fibula earlier in the season.
“I don’t want to project,” Pinkel said. “I think it’s certainly a possibility that he can play. His attitude has been great through this situation, so we will see where it goes."
Smith is second on the team in sacks, with three in three games. As a freshman, the defensive end earned the Big 12 Newcomer and Freshman of the Year awards.
The Tigers will look to remain unbeaten against the Sooners at 7 p.m. Saturday at Faurot Field.