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.

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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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Big 12 Power Rankings: It’s Practically March Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 26th, 2016

It is practically March, isn’t it? We’re just four days away. You can almost feel the bubble shrink as at-large hopefuls drop games they shouldn’t be dropping and simultaneously expand whenever a recent winning streak is validated with a big win. As of now, the Big 12’s bubble situation is relatively clear. Barring a flurry of wins from Kansas State within the next two weeks, the conference will send seven teams to the NCAA Tournament. The last team among the seven is Texas Tech. When Big 12 coaches picked them to finish 10th a few months ago, how could anyone have seen this coming?



Texas Tech has eight conference wins at this point which bodes well with how the selection committee has historically treated eight-win Big 12 teams. Oklahoma State (twice) and Texas (once) made it safely into the field of 68 with that number in 2014 and 2015. Much has been written about the Red Raiders’ rise from rotten to respectable, and rightly so, but we shouldn’t forget that they’ve gone on this five-game winning streak without the services of starting center Norense OdiaseTubby Smith is the favorite for Big 12 Coach of the Year and is also creeping into National Coach of the Year discussions as well. Now let’s hope all seven clubs make it to the Sweet Sixteen.

Big 12 Power Rankings

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Big 12 M5: 01.25.16 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 25th, 2016


  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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Three Keys For Kansas and Oklahoma in Tonight’s Huge Showdown

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2016

When Kansas and Oklahoma tip off tonight, it will be the first time the nation’s top two teams have squared off in conference action since 2007. We know what you’re thinking: We’re not sure what we did to deserve this, either. It’s way too early to be certain of the precise impact this matchup will have on the impending Big 12 race, but as a result of their tremendous seasons to this point, it is safe to say that this game will be a big one, and that it pits #1 versus #2 only elevates the excitement. To get you ready for tonight’s main event (9:00 PM EST, ESPN), here are three keys for each team, brought to you by Big 12 microsite writers Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops).

Three Keys For Kansas (BG)

Perry Ellis is having a great season, but will he find success against Oklahoma's talented back line? (UTASI)

Perry Ellis is having a great season, but will he be able to find success against Oklahoma’s talented back line? (UTASI)

  1. Stretch Oklahoma’s defense. Perry Ellis is having his best season as a Jayhawk — averaging 15.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game — but his lack of overwhelming size for his position and wavering levels of assertiveness could be exposed by Oklahoma’s interior defense. Led by Ryan Spangler and Khadeem Latin, the Sooners are allowing just 50.4 percent shooting on attempts at the rim, which ranks 33rd nationally. There’s always the chance that a friendly whistle in Allen Fieldhouse helps even things out, but if Spangler and Lattin clamp down inside, Kansas will need to try something different. With five players shooting 39 percent or better from long-range, the Jayhawks certainly have the personnel to extend the Sooners’ defense.
  2. Lock down Jordan Woodard. When facing a team with a legitimate National Player of the Year candidate like Buddy Hield, the conventional wisdom is to force his supporting cast of role players to make plays. While it sounds good in theory, that shouldn’t be the Jayhawks’ plan tonight. Yes, if Kansas contains Hield, there’s a very good chance it will come out on top, but this is no one-man operation. Oklahoma’s supporting cast — especially Jordan Woodard — is also very good. The junior is shooting a scorching 53.1 percent from long range and draws 4.1 fouls per 40 minutes, which is more than any other Sooner than Hield. He’ll make you pay for those whistles, too, as he’s made 89.7 percent of his free throw attempts this season. Hawaii hung close to the Sooners two weeks ago in large part because the Rainbow Warriors held Woodard to just one made field goal. The Jayhawks have enough firepower to use a rough game from Woodard as the difference between a win and loss.
  3. Keep the Sooners out of transition. Kansas’ standing as a top-10 defensive unit can largely be attributed to their outstanding transition defense. Just 17 percent of opponents’ shot attempts have come in transition, with Kansas foes shooting just 44.8 percent in that situation. The Sooners love to push the ball, and even though Kansas’ athleticism and stable of quality big men allows them to run with anyone, the Jayhawks must make sure they beat Oklahoma back on defense. Kansas isn’t a pressing team, but don’t be surprised if you see the Jayhawks pick up the Sooners in the backcourt on at least a few occasions in an effort to slow down Oklahoma’s transition game.

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Big 12 M5: Oklahoma vs. Kansas Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 4th, 2016


  1. So… there’s a little game going on in Lawrence tonight. The implications of OklahomaKansas are enormous considering the game is likely to feature the top two teams in this week’s Associated Press poll. It is also a tiny bit disappointing that the first of two games in this epic clash will be played so early in the conference season. It’s sort of like having really good chocolate for breakfast. Not exactly a 3 Musketeers-level of chocolate (not that there’s anything wrong with a 3 Musketeers-level of chocolate) but Oklahoma at Kansas would qualify as a higher class of chocolate (Ghiradelli-esque). Let’s try to save some of the good chocolate for February 13 (lunch) and March 12 for the Big 12 Tournament title game (dinner).
  2. On Saturday, the Jayhawks dropped a triple-digit offensive effort on a Baylor team well-known for their defensive prowess. Spearheading that effort were Kansas’ two point guards Frank Mason and Devonté Graham who are natural complements to each other’s talents and inconsistencies. In addition to their games, the two players assert themselves differently on the floor. Graham is the more emotional player while Mason is the player who will let his game do the talking for him. It’s not a surprise these two mesh well on arguably Bill Self’s deepest team since arriving in Lawrence.
  3. We knew going into tonight that Sooners coach Lon Kruger and the state of Kansas were connected considering his memorable tenure at Kansas State in the late 1980s. As The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel notes, the personal ties go much deeper than that. The journey for Kruger in Manhattan, Kansas, to Norman, Oklahoma, has gone through more than a few stops along the way. Still, the journey from Kruger’s introductory press conference at Oklahoma in April 2011 to national title contender in January 2016 is one to marvel at. It took time, it took a few beatdowns and close calls at the hands of Kansas but now, Kruger’s chance to disrupt Big 12 hierarchy is as good now as it has ever been for him.
  4. What’s sure to play a pivotal role in tonight’s proceedings is the fan environment of Allen Fieldhouse. It will be loud and it will be uncomfortable for the Sooners just as it was for Baylor on Saturday afternoon. The Bears dropped their ninth game at Allen Fieldhouse in the Scott Drew era which insanely equals the amount of times Kansas has lost at home in the Bill Self era (Drew and Self both entered the Big 12 head coaching ranks in 2003). Oklahoma will attempt to pull off something schools like Texas A&M, San Diego State, Oklahoma State, Texas and a few others were able to do in recent years — win in The Phog.
  5. The Sooners were able to remain undefeated entering tonight’s game by edging out Iowa State on Saturday night. A large part of the victory came via senior big man Ryan Spangler,who battled through banging knees with Iowa State’s Matt Thomas and a trip to the locker room, in order to finish with 20 points and 12 rebounds. It’ll be interesting to see how a nicked-up Spangler deals with long and versatile frontline of Kansas, the shot-blocking Hunter Mickelson, floor-spreaders like Perry Ellis and Carlton Bragg and the quickness of Cheick Diallo. Needless to say, we’ll be waitin’ all day for Mondayyyyyy Nightttttt. Or something.
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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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