Oklahoma isn’t a college that is historically known for basketball. That doesn’t mean that a number of outstanding basketball players and several teams haven’t passed through Norman over the years, but the Sooners are set to play in just the program’s fifth Final Four in history (the most recent was in 2002). They have twice made the national title game (1947 and 1988), but the school has never raised a championship trophy in hoops. Oklahoma is much more commonly known as a football school — the only such entity in this season’s Final Four (North Carolina, Villanova and Syracuse are, without question, basketball schools) — and while the Sooners can lay claim to seven gridiron national titles, Buddy Hield is ready to challenge football’s dominance in the Sooner State this weekend.
What makes this Oklahoma team the one that can cut down the nets in Houston? The short answer is Hield himself, one of the most prolific collegiate scorers in recent memory. The senior guard is the only player since 2009-10 (the first year Basketball Reference began tracking minutes played) to average more than 25.0 PPG and finish the season with a true shooting percentage higher than 65 percent. The long answer is that Oklahoma is a lot more than just the RTC National Player of the Year. The Sooners’ backcourt, comprised of Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard, is one of the best in the country. Both players shoot better than 40 percent from behind the arc and can act as point guards capable of navigating Villanova’s stingy trapping defense. And contrary to popular belief, the Sooners are more than just an offensive show. Oklahoma is also stout on the defensive end where it can flexibly switch one through three on the perimeter and employ the shot-blocking prowess of Khadeem Lattin inside — whose grandfather, incidentally, played on the 1966 Texas Western team that won an NCAA championship.
The last time the Sooners were national title good was in 2008-09 when future #1 pick Blake Griffin was a sophomore. Griffin’s squad lost to the eventual champion, North Carolina, in an Elite Eight game that was generally noncompetitive. This season offers the Sooners a shot at redemption. If they can make it past Villanova this evening, they’ll likely get another shot at the Tar Heels, and this time with a national title on the line. Oklahoma has already become the first school to make both the College Football Playoff and the Final Four in the same season, but Lon Kruger‘s group have a chance to surpass their football counterparts, if only for a weekend. Still, given the folk hero popularity of Hield around Norman, maybe this is the team that could help turn it into a two-sport town.