Buddy Hield Out to Make Norman a Two-Sport Town

Posted by Chris Stone on April 2nd, 2016

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.

Buddy Hield will lead the charge for Oklahoma in the Final Four. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield will lead the charge for Oklahoma in the Final Four. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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.

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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 hoop-math.com, 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.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Oklahoma Sooners

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 29th, 2016

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next, Oklahoma. 

How Oklahoma Got Here

Oklahoma Celebrates Its First Final Four in 12 Years (USA Today Images)

Oklahoma Celebrates Its First Final Four in 12 Years (USA Today Images)

West Region Champions. After sleepwalking for the better part of the afternoon in their opener against Cal State Bakersfield, the Sooners found themselves down a single point with 15 minutes remaining. From there, a familiar story played out – one that would be repeated often on Oklahoma’s run to Houston: Buddy Hield took over. In the remainder of the game, Hield threw in 16 of his game-high 27 points to drag his team to the second round. From there it was a repeat performance, as Hield went off for a 29-point second half against VCU, including 22 points in the final 11 minutes after the Rams had come back from 13 down to tie the game. A Sweet Sixteen victory over Texas A&M allowed Hield to “only” go for 17 points (along with 10 boards in his sole double-double of the season) in a game that was never particularly close. But Buddy bounced back in a big way, scorching Oregon for 37 phenomenal points (including eight threes) to earn the Sooners’ first trip to the Final Four since 2002.

The Coach

Lon Kruger. This is Kruger’s 30th season of coaching a Division I basketball program. He started at Texas-Pan American in 1982, taking the independent program to a 20-win season in his fourth year. After getting hired by Kansas State in 1986, he brought on a little-known coach named Dana Altman from Moberly Area Community College — someone who happened to have a kid named Mitch Richmond on his team. The future Hall of Famer followed Altman to Manhattan and the Wildcats subsequently went to an Elite Eight in Richmond’s senior season. A coaching star was officially born. Kansas State went to the NCAAs in all four seasons Kruger spent in Manhattan, and he turned that run into a coaching upgrade at Florida in 1990. In his fourth season with the Gators, Kruger took Andrew DeClercq, Dan Cross and Craig Brown to the 1994 Final Four, the only other time he made it to his sport’s final weekend. Since then, Kruger spent time at Illinois, the Atlanta Hawks and UNLV, before settling in Norman five seasons ago. He’s taken five Division I teams to the NCAA Tournament, four to the Sweet Sixteen, three to the Elite Eight, and now two to the Final Four.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Oklahoma 80, #1 Oregon 68

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 26th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Buddy Hield Looked Like a Champion Today (USA Today Images)

Buddy Hield Looked Like a Champion Today (USA Today Images)

  1. Sure, Buddy’s Great, But There’s More. Don’t worry, we’re going to get to your National Player of the Year favorite, Buddy Hield, and his 37 points, in a moment. But there is so much more to Oklahoma than just a star shooter dropping threes in from 25 feet out. This is a complete team. The Sooners have at times this year had trouble on the glass at both end of the floor. Today, the entire team chipped in to help the relatively thin frontcourt compile a significant advantage on the glass, grabbing 42 percent of the available offensive rebounds. Freshman Christian James again provided a big spark from the wing, grabbing 10 boards of his own to aid the effort. Then there’s Hield’s backcourt mates Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard. They’re not as offensively explosive or as flashy as their more famous running mate, but both are highly efficient and always in control. While Hield definitely has the ability to carry the team for long stretches of time, there are more reasons than he that the Sooners are Final Four-bound.
  2. Oregon First Half Out of Sorts. Oregon wasn’t going to win with Buddy Hield playing so well regardless, but the Ducks didn’t do themselves any favors either. They seemed tentative throughout the first half, always a step late to loose balls. They had at least four mindless turnovers. They left points at the free throw line. And three-point shots just weren’t falling. Some of those struggles were certainly caused by the Sooners, who pressured the Ducks at the top of the key and took ball-handlers like Casey Benson, Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks out of their rhythm. But after playing fast and loose against Duke on Thursday night, the Ducks couldn’t bring the same level of energy in this one. They gave up 15 second-chance points and 12 points off turnovers, building up an 18-point halftime deficit that they never had a realistic chance to erase.
  3. Three-Point Shooting and Dunks. In the first half, the Sooners put on an offensive clinic, scoring 1.33 points per possession by hitting threes and getting easy looks at the rim. Of their 36 first half field goal attempts, 14 came from three while an equal number came at the bucket. Oregon adjusted somewaht in the second half through better energy and help defense, limiting the Sooners to just three point-blank looks in the second half. The difference was apparent in the Sooners’ production, as they dipped to just 0.97 PPP in the second half. This isn’t exactly groundbreaking news, but preventing the Sooners from getting easy looks at the rim goes a long way towards limiting their oft-prolific offense.

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Iowa State-Oklahoma Delivers, But Reveals March Madness Concerns

Posted by Chris Stone on March 11th, 2016

Thursday night’s quarterfinal battle between Oklahoma and Iowa State was just the latest in a long line of highly competitive contests between the two schools, as the Cyclones and Sooners have consistently delivered thrilling, high-scoring contests over the last three seasons. In three meetings this season, the two teams combined to score over 150 points each time, with an aggregate margin of victory amounting to only 12 points. Thursday’s quarterfinal, a three-point win for the Sooners, was an individual showcase of two the Big 12’s best players. For 40 back-and-forth minutes, Iowa State’s Georges Niang (31 points) and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield (39 points) threw haymakers; culminating in a dual postgame interview with ESPN‘s Holly Rowe in which both players called the performance “special.” And yet, as special as those individual performances were, last night’s contest revealed continued concerns about how deep either team’s March can go.

Oklahoma's Buddy Hield fires up a jumper over Iowa State's Matt Thomas during the Sooners' 79-76 win. (Mandatory Credit: Kelsey Kremer/The Register)

Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield fires up a jumper over Iowa State’s Matt Thomas during the Sooners’ 79-76 win. (Mandatory Credit: Kelsey Kremer/The Register)

Hield’s night was certainly spectacular. The senior guard poured in 39 points on 21 shots and grabbed nine rebounds. He only made two of his six three-point attempts, instead dazzling within the arc, knocking down fadeaways and catching alley-oops. Hield, though, has never been the Sooners’ problem. The concern for Lon Kruger’s squad looking ahead is whether he will get sufficient help. On Thursday, the rest of the Oklahoma team combined to shoot 14-of-42 (33.3 %) from the field. Hield’s backcourt mates (and the Sooners’ second and third leading scorers), Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard, made a meager 5-of-19 attempts. After delivering highly efficient performances for the first three months of the season, the duo has struggled with consistency down the stretch. In games since the beginning of February, they have each shot better than 50 percent from the field just once. During that stretch, Oklahoma has gone 7-4. For the Sooners to make a deep run this month, Buddy needs some help from his backcourt buddies.

For Iowa State, the concern is a physical one. Point guard Monte’ Morris suffered a strained rotator cuff in the Cyclones’ loss to Kansas last Saturday and the injury kept him out of practice leading up to the Big 12 Tournament. It also caused him to compare his jump shot unfavorably to none other than Dwight Howard. Morris admitted that he was in pain during Thursday’s loss to the Sooners, finishing a miserable 1-of-9 from the field and delivering a season-low two assists. A full recovery will likely take two to six weeks, but perhaps an early elimination could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for an Iowa State team that lacks a backup point guard. Morris will now be able to rest his shoulder for a full week leading into the NCAA Tournament, which should help the Cyclones get one of the nation’s best point guards back to better strength.

Last night’s game between Oklahoma and Iowa State was as exhilarating a matchup as you’ll find in the quarterfinals of a major conference tournament, but it also revealed some concerns about each team going forward. Sure, Buddy Hield and Georges Niang can deliver outstanding performances on a nightly basis, but it will be the successes or failures of their teammates that determines how far they can go this March.

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Oklahoma And Kansas Meet With First Place At Stake

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 12th, 2016

Tomorrow’s 2:30 p.m. ET rematch between Oklahoma and Kansas has been on our radar since the conference schedule was released, but the anticipation skyrocketed when the final horn sounded late into the night following the two teams’ first battle on January 4. From there the hype has only increased, as the Sooners and Jayhawks have fought to a draw through 11 conference games. At the end of the regular season, we could end up looking back on tomorrow’s game as the day the Jayhawks’ decade-long grip on the conference finally loosened. Or, we could learn that the road to the Big 12 title still goes through Lawrence, despite Oklahoma’s deadly trio of shooters and National Player Of The Year frontrunner, Buddy Hield.

To answer two key questions facing each team, we brought in Big 12 microsite contributors Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops).

Perry Ellis and Buddy Hield will face one another for the eighth time in their careers. (Alonzo Adams/AP)

Perry Ellis and Buddy Hield face one another tomorrow for the eighth time in their careers. (Alonzo Adams/AP)

Two Questions Facing The Sooners:

Brian Goodman: Perry Ellis has been on a roll lately, converting 17 of his last 19 shots inside the arc. Last month, he carried Kansas after halftime in the instant classic and will be leaned upon heavily to have another big game tomorrow. Meanwhile, Oklahoma center Khadeem Lattin leads the Big 12 in blocks percentage during conference play, but he had trouble staying on the court in the Sooners’ last two games against Kansas State and Texas. What do you make of Lattin and Oklahoma’s chances of getting the better of Ellis the second time around?

Chris Stone: Ellis has averaged 18.5 points per game in four matchups against the Sooners since his freshman season (he wasn’t much of a factor in the Kansas offense back then), so how Oklahoma defends him will be a crucial factor in this game. In the first meeting, Lattin and Spangler did a good job of turning Ellis into an inefficient scorer. Although he finished with 27 points in the win, it took him 28 shots to get there. Don’t be surprised if we see a similar kind of night from Ellis in Norman. Bill Self is intent on making him the focal point of the offense, but if the game in Lawrence is any guide, Lattin’s length will make it difficult for Ellis to get as many of the easy buckets he’s used to.

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What’s Trending: A Month Away from March!

Posted by Griffin Wong on February 4th, 2016

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

SEC/Big 12 Challenge

The midseason SEC/Big 12 Challenge took place last weekend, giving teams from both conferences a chance to prove themselves in a high-profile event. The highlight of the weekend was surely Oklahoma’s surge to beat LSU in overtime, as senior Buddy Hield poured in 32 points and pushed still closer to legendary 50-50-90 Club (50% 3FG, 50% FG, 90% FT). While Hield’s late flourish stole the show, it may have been Texas A&M that proved the most. Behind 20 points from guard Danuel House, the Aggies, lacking a signature win, cemented themselves as one of the best teams in the nation with a 10-point win over Iowa State. Overall, the Big 12 took the bragging rights with a 7-3 victory, and the event was a resounding success.

More Tragedy Strikes

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Big 12 M5: 02.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 1st, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. Saturday’s headliner between Kansas and Kentucky lived up to its considerable hype, with the Jayhawks eventually outlasting the Wildcats in overtime, 90-84. After the game, CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander called for the two blue-blood programs to meet every year. College basketball took a big step forward when the Champions Classic began in 2011, ensuring a steady stream of high-profile matchups between Kansas, Kentucky, Duke and Michigan State. As memorable as those games have been, however, the neutral atmosphere has sterilized them to a certain degree. Norlander’s suggestion of rotating games between Rupp Arena and Allen Fieldhouse in the seasons when Kentucky and Kansas don’t meet in the Champions Classic is something both schools should explore. Given each program’s tendency to schedule aggressively, such an agreement wouldn’t be nearly as far-fetched as it sounds at first blush.
  2. The story from the game itself was Wayne Selden‘s 33-point explosion, as the junior wing finally looked like the aggressive player who led Kansas (er, Team USA) to a gold medal in the World University Games last summer. After Selden’s hot start to this season regressed, it was nice to see him step up with a huge performance on a big stage. Of course, the issue throughout his career has always been one of consistency rather than talent; with the Jayhawks set to take on a pair of weaker opponents in Kansas State and TCU this week, perhaps Selden can gather some confidence and momentum for the Big 12 home stretch.
  3. The undercard game was a fun matchup, too, with Oklahoma surviving against LSU in Baton Rouge behind yet another 30-point game from All-America guard Buddy Hield. Isaiah Cousins deserves plenty of credit as well for contributing 18 points of his own, including the game-winning jumper with four seconds remaining. While the Tigers are a borderline NCAA Tournament team, the drawing power alone of superstar freshman Ben Simmons allowed plenty of casual fans to tune in and watch the front-runner for National Player of the Year steal the show.
  4. It’s tough to win on the road, but it’s even tougher when two of your three best players are hobbled and the third hasn’t been able to catch a breather. That was the reality for Iowa State on Saturday, as the Cyclones fell to the best Texas A&M team since Billy Gillispie roamed the sidelines and Acie Law IV was burying threes. Jameel McKay put forth a gutsy effort, playing through knee trouble to finish with nine points and 14 rebounds, while Georges Niang — despite 15 points and six rebounds — was limited by a bruised hip and foul trouble. Lastly, the Aggies’ backcourt did a nice job in defending Monte’ Morris, who registered his third 40-minute effort in the last four games. Morris likely won’t get much rest in the Cyclones’ next game either, as Iowa State plays host to the physical, fast-paced pressure of West Virginia on Tuesday.
  5. Texas took another step toward an NCAA Tournament appearance with a decisive 72-58 win over a Vanderbilt team that is among the most disappointing teams in the nation. Prince Ibeh continued to look comfortable in filling in for Cameron Ridley, as he finished with his second straight double-double. Meanwhile, freshmen Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis have really come on as of late. The two paired up to score 28 points off the bench on Saturday and have now averaged a combined 23.3 points per game over the Longhorns’ last three contests. Texas may not have much of a ceiling this season, but it’s not hard to see Roach, Davis and a senior Isaiah Taylor as the Big 12’s most lethal backcourt in 2017. Of course, they’ll need inside help, but that’s a discussion for another day.
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Big 12 M5: 01.25.16 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 25th, 2016

big12m5

  1. Kansas is struggling a bit right now. I don’t think that’s a large statement to make. Traveling to traditionally noisy road environments (West Virginia, Oklahoma State) only to come away with losses isn’t the biggest deal but when an undermanned-yet-solid Texas team had a real chance of pulling the upset at home, there might be something more to this recent rough patch. Accordingly, Bill Self tinkered with his lineup and rotation on Saturday after tinkering with it Tuesday against the Cowboys. Still, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they dropped another road contest to a really good Iowa State team later tonight but I’d like to think Kansas fans would sound the alarms if they laid another egg.
  2. Speaking of the Cyclones, Iowa State will host Kansas tonight in a match-up that has become the Big 12’s premier tussle over the past four years. As a line of tents wrap around Hilton ColiseumSteve Prohm has finally been able to build trust and encouragement with his veteran-laden team. It’s more intimidating than it is easy when you think about it. A situation where the players are good, have a years-long way of doing things and then all of a sudden, a new guy is hired from the outside. The players weren’t likely to revolt or be outright disrespectful to Prohm but there did remain a possibility that, while they knew he was successful at his previous stop, Cyclone players could have ran things they way were accustomed to for years under Fred Hoiberg. At last, the coach and his players are mentally one. The implications of this fact now radiate throughout the Big 12.
  3. My main complaint, well the nation’s main complaint, with West Virginia is that they shoot the ball like a 30-second shot isn’t sufficient for their kind of offense. And then a game like Saturday’s comes along. The Mountaineers were already shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from the perimeter and still trailed Texas Tech by four with under a minute to go. Then, the (TarikPhillip-ing occurred. The junior guard owned the last minute of play when he nailed a three-pointer, converted an old-fashioned three point play, made a dunk and tacked on two of his final three steals on the day. Most bench players don’t get that much activity playing 20 minutes and Phillip did all that — and still finished with 20 points. Because of his effort, West Virginia maintained their four-way tie for first place in the Big 12.
  4. Texas Tech was feisty in their home loss to West Virginia despite learning that sophomore big man Norense Odiase broke his fourth metatarsal bone in his right foot following Tech’s win over TCU and will be in a cast for the next three weeks according to Tubby Smith. Odiase had been growing as a more consistent low-post threat while also adding a jump shot to his arsenal. He was averaging 9 points and 4.4 rebounds in just 19.5 minutes per game. With Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa State as Tech’s three of their next five games, a presence like Odiase’s will be sorely missed in games that will determine their worthiness of an at-large berth.
  5. As Oklahoma‘s dream season rolls on, the athletics department announced late last week one of its faces of the program is coming home. On March 1, Blake Griffin will ride into Norman, as the Sooners take on Baylor, where his No. 23 jersey will be retired. March 1 will almost assuredly be even more emotional as the jersey ceremony coincides with Senior Night where Sooner fans will say goodbye to Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Ryan Spangler and the rest of the senior class. I have a strange feeling the Lloyd Noble Center will be filled to capacity that night.
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Circled Wagons: A Peek at Oklahoma’s Red Hot Start

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 17th, 2015

Early this season, we’ve seen a fair amount of national chatter about a lack of great teams in college basketball. The tent poles of recent dominance (e.g., Duke, Kentucky, Kansas) have all seemingly taken a half-step back this year and we’re left with an intriguing collection of very good teams. But as we sit halfway through December, there is one team that has won all seven of its games by an average margin of 24.8 PPG, with two victories over clubs in the KenPom top 40. That team is Oklahoma.

Lon Kruger's Sooners had an excellent week to say the least. (USA TODAY Sports)

Lon Kruger’s Sooners had an excellent week to say the least. (USA TODAY Sports)

Lon Kruger’s club has admittedly played a less challenging schedule, ranked 223rd nationally to this point. Against that competition, though, they’ve impressed. Their wins include a true road game at Memphis, a neutral court drubbing of highly-ranked Villanova, and a waxing of Wisconsin in which the Badgers’ only lead was 3-0. Against their lesser opponents, the Sooners have notched four more wins, each coming by more than 23 points. Their 7-0 record represents one of only eight teams still unbeaten, and yet they aren’t drawing as much attention as you might expect. Oklahoma currently sits at #3 in the AP Poll, receiving zero first place votes and behind one-loss Kansas. So why aren’t more people buzzing about the Sooners as a potentially great team? And what has made them so outstanding this season? The answer to those questions might, somewhat shockingly, represent the same thing. Take a look at the table below featuring Oklahoma’s three-point shooting this season.
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Oklahoma Looks to Outlast Villanova in Clash of Unbeatens

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2015

Three weeks into the season, college basketball is down to just 13 undefeated teams. We’ll be in for a treat tonight when two of those teams, Oklahoma and Villanova, square off at the Pearl Harbor Classic in Hawai’i. When people talk about the Sooners, they generally lead with the play of All-American Buddy Hield, and with good reason. The story of his transformation from Bahamian sleeper recruit to National Player Of The Year candidate on a top 10 team is worth telling.

Buddy Hield leads Oklahoma against Villanova in tonight's clash of unbeatens. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Buddy Hield leads Oklahoma against Villanova in tonight’s clash of unbeatens. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

While the Sooners aren’t lacking for weapons outside of Hield, he’s taken an even bigger role in his team’s offense and he’s only improved (albeit against suspect competition). His true shooting percentage, which measures collective efficiency on two-point shots, three-pointers and free throws, has risen from 54.5 percent to 62.0 percent this season, largely on the strength of improved accuracy from beyond the three-point line and the foul line. He has also done a better job of involving his teammates in Lon Kruger‘s offense, as his assist rate has improved from 13.2 percent to 16.2 percent this season.Additionally, Oklahoma’s opponents are struggling to contain the senior, fouling him an average of 7.1 times per 40 minutes.

As special as Hield has been, Oklahoma’s complementary players are worth much more ink than they’ve received. Ryan Spangler keeps the Sooners’ inside game steady with consistent rebounding and finishing down low, and Khadeem Lattin and Akolda Manyang have provided the help needed to fill the void left by TaShawn Thomas’ departure. As a sophomore, Lattin is making life miserable for opposing forwards with his rebounding and shot-altering ability despite only playing about 15 minutes per contest; meanwhile, the seven-foot Manyang has been a shot-blocking force in limited opportunities as he’s adjusted to the college level. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oklahoma’s Rise Powered By Defensive Transformation

Posted by Chris Stone on December 3rd, 2015

On Sunday afternoon, Oklahoma held Wisconsin, one of the country’s top 25 offenses, to just 0.80 points per possession. The Sooners’ 65-48 thrashing of last year’s national runner-up is just the latest example of a defensive transformation that has turned Lon Kruger’s squad into one of the top teams in the nation. Sure, the Badgers no longer have Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky on the floor, but their departures doesn’t take anything away from the latest example of Sooner stinginess.

Oklahoma's swarming defense makes them a Final Four contender. (Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports)

Oklahoma’s swarming defense makes them a Final Four contender. (Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports)

In 2013-14, Lon Kruger’s squad was upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by North Dakota State. They finished 91st in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric that season. With four of their starters returning, the Sooners knew they would need to improve on their defense to take a leap forward in 2014-15. Those four starters — Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins, Buddy Hield, and Ryan Spangler — are still in Norman, and still starting. That quartet, along with graduate transfer TaShawn Thomas, helped turn Oklahoma into one of the nation’s 10 best defensive teams last season. Despite Thomas’ graduation, Oklahoma is on pace for a similarly strong defensive campaign. The Sooners are currently ranked seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency. Read the rest of this entry »

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