Final Four Previews: Oklahoma/Villanova Will Win If…

Posted by Brian Goodman & Tommy Lemoine on April 1st, 2016

We’re a little more than 24 hours from the Final Four, so it’s time to break down the upcoming games by determining what it will take for each team to win. Let’s start with the early battle between Oklahoma and Villanova, tipping off at 6:09 PM ET on Saturday evening. RTC’s Brian Goodman (Oklahoma) and Tommy Lemoine (Villanova) with the honors.

Oklahoma Will Win If…

Buddy Hield and the Sooners look to reverse the trend of poor shooting at the spacious NRG Stadium. (Getty Images)

Buddy Hield and the Sooners look to reverse the trend of poor-shooting teams at spacious NRG Stadium. (Getty Images)

  • It overcomes NRG Stadium’s reputation as a challenging shooting environment. Though the sample size isn’t overwhelming, teams have historically shot below their averages in the expansive confines of this year’s Final Four venue (as detailed last year by Ken Pomeroy and expanded upon earlier this week by Yahoo!‘s Jeff Eisenberg). The Sooners and Wildcats are notoriously reliant on jump-shooting, but what you may not know is just how eerily similar the two teams are in this fashion. Per, 67.4 percent of Villanova’s field goal attempts this season have come away from the rim, and Oklahoma is just below the Wildcats in that category at 67.2 percent. Though it’s hardly earth-shattering, sometimes these things are simple: Whichever team solves the puzzle of performing well in spite of a tougher shooting environment will prevail, and with three Sooner regulars connecting from long range at rates of 42 percent or better, Oklahoma should have the slight edge.
  • It wins the battle of the interior. Should both teams struggle to find the range at NRG Stadium, inside play will become much more important to the outcome, and Oklahoma will have to answer some questions there. Ryan Spangler logged 10 points and eight rebounds against Texas A&M, but he hasn’t had a very good NCAA Tournament otherwise. The same can be said for rim-protector Khadeem Lattin, who went for 10 points and a pair of blocks against the Aggies, but has blocked just four shots in the Sooners’ other three tourney games. Though he’s technically a guard, freshman Christian James, a Houston native who emerged with a pair of quality outings in Anaheim, may be called upon to help inside as the Sooners look to best Daniel Ochefu and Kris Jenkins.

  • Isaiah Cousins stays one step ahead of Villanova’s defense. The Wildcats took down overall #1 seed Kansas last weekend by constantly shifting defenses from zone to man-to-man while sprinkling in some backcourt pressure to limit the Jayhawks’ strong transition game. While Jay Wright’s team likely won’t throw a press on Oklahoma unless the game starts to get away from it, don’t be surprised to see the Wildcats occasionally pick Cousins up at three-quarter court to buy some time for the defense to set itself against the Sooners’ uptempo offense. Cousins will have to read Villanova’s defenses and react decisively to keep the Wildcats on their toes.

Villanova Will Win If…

Villanova will look to knock out another Big Twelve power on Saturday. (Rich Sugg | The Kansas City Star)

Villanova will look to knock out another Big 12 power on Saturday. (Rich Sugg | The Kansas City Star)

  • It limits Buddy Hield’s touches. This is easier said than done, of course. Hield, the RTC Player of the Year, has been even more dominant than usual during the NCAA Tournament, averaging 29.3 points per game and shooting 47.5 percent from behind the arc. Among his many highlights, the 6’4” senior dropped 37 points on 32 percent of possessions used (8-of-14 3FG) against Oregon in the Elite Eight, including a vintage step-back three late in the second half to put the game on ice. If Villanova is going beat the Sooners – which housed the Wildcats by 22 points back in December – it must prevent Hield from having the ball in his hands. Whether that means extended minutes for 6’7” freshman Mikal Bridges, whose length and athleticism gave Kansas’ guards fits last weekend, mixing defenses, or throwing extra bodies at him – anything predicated on ball-denial, really – Villanova simply cannot allow the Big 12 Player of the Year to get going. The last team to beat Oklahoma – West Virginia, back on March 11 – held Hield to just six points on 19 percent of possessions used. The Wildcats could stand to learn a thing or two from the Mountaineers’ game plan.
  • It knocks down three-pointers. Even if the Wildcats slow down Hield, they still need to make outside jumpers in order to keep pace with the Sooners. Only two other NCAA Tournament teams – Iona and Michigan – took a larger percentage of their shots from behind the arc than Villanova this season, and perhaps no other team’s success relies more heavily on the three-ball than Jay Wright’s group. In their first meeting with Oklahoma, the Wildcats shot a paltry 4-of-32 from behind the arc, an especially dreadful performance when you consider that the 32 shots accounted for more than half of the team’s field goal attempts. Kris Jenkins, Ryan Arcidiacono and their teammates – who have shot 46 percent from three-point range during the NCAA Tournament – will fare much better against the Sooners in Houston if they remain hot.
  • The pace slows down a bit. Villanova has proven itself to be an elite defensive team this NCAA Tournament, holding three of its four opponents to under one point per possession – including #1 seed Kansas, which mustered just 0.91 PPP. In that game – a relative grinder at 65 possessions – the Wildcats were especially effective in the half-court, preventing Perry Ellis from going to work inside and relentlessly attacking the passing lanes. The Jayhawks finished the game with 16 turnovers at an ugly 24.6 percent rate. If Villanova can turn Saturday’s game into another somewhat methodical half-court affair, it may work to its advantage against an Oklahoma team that hasn’t played a game below 67 possessions since its loss to West Virginia.
  • Mikal Bridges can actually give Buddy fits. Look, slowing Hield down is one thing – again, no easy task – but truly shutting the superstar down? That would almost surely mean a great night for Villanova. If Bridges, who recorded five steals in 26 minutes against Kansas last weekend, can do the near-impossible and force Hield to be inefficient, that will put a lot of pressure on guys like Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard – extremely capable shooters in their own right – to knock down shots. And if the Wildcats as a team can consistently take away the three-point line from the nation’s second-best outside shooting squad altogether? Well, then, Wright’s club will probably be playing basketball on Monday night.
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