Post-Orlando Oklahoma Reset

Posted by Justin Fedich on November 23rd, 2016

Oklahoma didn’t make it to the championship game against Xavier at the Tire Pros Invitational but nearly everything else over the weekend in Orlando fell the Sooners’ way. An 89-70 win over Tulane was followed up by a blown lead against Northern Iowa (which knows a little something about blown leads) to lose 73-67 in overtime. The Sooners bounced back with a 70-64 victory against Clemson in the third place game on Sunday to notch a nice resume-enhancing win. Here are three takeaways from Oklahoma’s third place finish at the Tire Pros Invitational last weekend.

Jordan Woodard is clearly 'the guy' in Norman this year. (Sooner Sports)

Jordan Woodard is clearly ‘the guy’ in Norman this year. (Sooner Sports)

  1. Oklahoma’s bench is still a work in progress. This was to be expected considering that Lon Kruger’s bench rotation consists of two freshmen, Matt Freeman and Kameron McGusty; a transfer, Darrion Strong; and a sophomore (Jamuni McNeace) who averaged fewer than eight minutes per game last season. In the Tulane game, no bench player scored more than six points, although McNeace was able to pull down nine rebounds. In the Northern Iowa game, no bench player scored more than three points. Against Clemson, McGusty found a rhythm, going 6-of-8 from the field and scoring 14 points. Still, Kruger is giving 37 percent of his minutes to the bench without a corresponding level of production. He needs more. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Superlatives, Predictions and Storylines

Posted by Big 12 Team on November 11th, 2016

The 2016-17 Big 12 season is going to be an interesting one despite Kansas being the prohibitive favorite to win the conference yet again. The battle for second appears to be a three-horse race between Iowa State, Texas and West Virginia, while the middle and bottom tiers of the league will still feature teams capable of contending for NCAA Tournament bids. We’re beyond excited to see it all unfold, and with that, we unveil our Big 12 preseason predictions and superlatives (written by each voter).

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Player Of The Year

  • Drew Andrews: Monte’ Morris, Iowa State — While you could easily look at freshmen phenoms Josh Jackson and Jarrett Allen as potential Big 12 Player of the Year candidates, Monte’ Morris should win the award next March. With the departures of Cyclone stalwarts like Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay, Morris will be asked to bring a huge amount of the magic to Hilton Coliseum this season. The senior will need to carry more of the scoring load in addition to his league-leading 6.9 assists per game and second-place 1.8 steals per game if Iowa State wants to make its sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
  • Justin Fedich: Josh Jackson, Kansas — Unlike last season, the pick for this year’s Big 12 Player of the Year isn’t as obvious. I’ll take the most talented player on the best team, Kansas freshman Josh Jackson. The 6’8” wing from Detroit will benefit from playing with the experienced backcourt duo of Frank Mason and Devonté Graham. He might have some early growing pains, but Kansas will need someone to replace the void left by Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis, the top two scorers from last season’s team.

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One Burning Question: Can Jordan Woodard Carry Oklahoma?

Posted by Chris Stone on October 27th, 2016

March is sadistic. For all but one school, the month — and the few days of April we tend to group with it — inevitably ends in sorrow. For some teams like Texas or USC, that ending is abrupt, brought on by last second heroics that put an end to a once-promising season. For others, the ending is an excruciating wait. So it was for Oklahoma last season. Midway through the campaign, the Sooners were the top-ranked team in the AP poll. By the end of it, they had made the school’s first Final Four since 2002. In Houston, though, Oklahoma was steamrolled, losing to eventual national champion Villanova by the largest margin in Final Four history. With each missed three-pointer, the conclusion became clearer. It was like watching a car accident in slow motion.

Jordan Woodard will lead the way for Oklahoma this season. (Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports)

Jordean Woodard will have the keys to the engine with Buddy Buckets now gone. (USA TODAY Sports)

Now, Lon Kruger‘s team will have to rebuild its proverbial car and the model will look substantially different than last season. Gone are starters Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. The NPOY Hield, of course, will leave the biggest shoes to fill, but Cousins was a dogged defender and effective three-point shooter while Spangler was an experienced stretch four who brought a certain toughness to the team. Gone are 66.5 percent of the team’s total scoring and 59.2 percent of its total minutes played. Also gone is 7’0″ center Akolda Manyang, a potentially valuable rotation piece who was dismissed after being arrested for aggravated robbery. With so much of its Final Four roster no longer residing in Norman, Kruger will put one of his returning upperclassmen into the driver’s seat of the new model.  

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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 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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Rushed Reactions: #2 Oklahoma 77, #3 Texas A&M 63

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 24th, 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 Led His Team to Its First Elite Eight Since 2009 (USA Today Images)

Buddy Hield and Friends Move On to Oklahoma’s First Elite Eight Since 2009 (USA Today Images)

  1. Buddy Ball. When you’ve got a National Player of the Year candidate like Buddy Hield involved, one of the big questions going into a game is always how the opponent plans to slow him down. Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy opted to put his best defender, Alex Caruso, on Hield from the opening tip in an effort to deny him the ball. In implementing this strategy, however, it took Caruso — a defender effective at coming off his man and providing help defense — out of his normal role. This opened up the rest of the Oklahoma offense to take advantage of a distracted Aggies’ defense to find driving lanes and easy looks around the hoop. Hield didn’t exactly have his normally explosive offensive night, but the attention the Aggies paid him left a distinct mark on the rest of the game.
  2. A&M Mis-Step and Adjustment. Early in the first half, Texas A&M had the good fortune of knocking a few early threes down. This turned out to be a short-term blessing and a long-term curse. Following the discovery of that fool’s gold, the Aggies spent the remainder of the first half relying unsuccessfully on jumpshots, leading to an extended drought that allowed Oklahoma to build a lead. Over the last 14 possessions of the first half, A&M turned it over six times, missed three threes, clanked five two-point jumpers and only made one layup and one jumper — turning a game that was tied 18-all into an overwhelming 45-25 deficit at the half. A&M adjusted, however, by pounding it inside either via the post-up game (specifically freshman Tyler Davis) or the drive early in the second half. That proved much more successful, but its inability to hit free throws (11-of-22 in second half) was the ultimate killer. Of interest going forward is that this is an area that Oklahoma could potentially be taken advantage of in the next week-plus.
  3. Scrappy Sooners. Perhaps the popular conception of this Sooners team is a fun-loving bunch of three-point bombers. While there’s some truth to the notion, there’s also a little bit of junkyard dog in this team as well. Despite statistics telling the story of a team that struggles to clean the glass, the Sooners today paid special mind to it and fought the bigger A&M team almost to a draw there. Even superstar Hield grabbed 10 boards on his way to his first double-double of the season. More to the point, though, is that the Sooners were consistently first to a number of loose balls in order to add extra possessions.

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Rushed Reactions: West Virginia 69, Oklahoma 67

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2016

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Three key takeaways.

Buddy Hield's buzzer-beating three was a fraction of a second late, nullifying the crazy celebration it sparked.

Buddy Hield’s buzzer-beating three was ruled to be fraction of a second late, nullifying the celebration it sparked just behind Press Row.

  1. Buddy Hield and the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. The National Player of the Year candidate had arguably his worst game of the year in more ways than one. Having played 152 of his team’s last 160 minutes, Hield wasn’t at 100 percent and it showed as he struggled to a 1-of-8 performance from the floor, but he had an opportunity to redeem himself in the game’s closing seconds. After West Virginia’s Jonathan Holton hit the back end of two free throw attempts to put West Virginia ahead by two points with one second left, Oklahoma had one last chance to tie the game or take the lead. Hield broke free from his defender, caught the inbounds pass and started up the sideline, hoisting a three from 50 feet away just as the buzzer sounded. The shot miraculously banked in, seemingly giving Oklahoma the victory and catapulting Hield into the stands to celebrate. After further review by the officials, though, the party was broken up and the bucket was overturned. Jubilation among the Sooners quickly transferred to the Mountaineers as the crowd buzzed in equal parts shock and delight. The absence of another game this weekend for Oklahoma could be a blessing in disguise, though, as it gives the Sooners another day of rest before the NCAA Tournament starts next week. The drama of March certainly hit Oklahoma’s star very hard on this night.
  2. West Virginia gets hot from deep. The Mountaineers will never be mistaken for a team that blinds opponents with their spacing, but they can get hot from outside and they did so tonight. Led by Jevon Carter’s 6-of-9 three-point shooting performance, West Virginia regularly found open shooters on its way to a 45.5 percent clip, the eighth time this season in which they eclipsed 40 percent from distance. The Mountaineers’ preferred style of offense is to create high-percentage looks generated by their press, but the added wrinkle of a perimeter game worthy of respect could raise this team’s ceiling once the brackets are unveiled on Sunday.
  3. There was more to the finish than the buzzer-beater that wasn’t. Between Hield’s struggles and West Virginia’s hot shooting, the Mountaineers built a 12-point lead with seven minutes left, but the Sooners rallied to create a back-and-forth contest over the last three minutes. Hield’s desperation heave twas a product of two key plays in just the last five seconds. With four ticks remaining and his team down by one, Christian James drove for a layup that would have given the Sooners the lead, but he shockingly missed the high-percentage look, which was rebounded by Holton. After Holton was fouled, he missed the first free throw to keep the lead at one with just one second remaining. Rather than intentionally missing the second free throw to significantly reduce the chance of Oklahoma getting a clear look, though, Holton hit the second free throw, setting the drama of the final play into motion. Fortunately for Holton and the Mountaineers, Hield’s three was ultimately waved off, but it’s always interesting to look back and see how one play — James’ botched layup, in this case — changes the complexion of a game.

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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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