Final Four Preview: Oklahoma

Denzel Valentine of Michigan State was just named AP Player of the Year, but many would argue that the man who has almost single-handedly led Oklahoma to the Final Four this year is more deserving of the accolade. That man is Buddy Hield, and I’d imagine you’ve seen him play at least once by this point. But if you haven’t, make sure you tune in on Saturday night to watch the Sooners take on Villanova. Here is a look at how Oklahoma got here, and why they might end up the 2016 National Champions.

First Round
Def. 15-seed CSU Bakersfield 82-68
It was a little bit of a slow start for the Sooners, and their fans had to be worried, as at the same time, fellow 2-seed Michigan State was on their way to losing to 15-seed Middle Tennessee. Thankfully though, Buddy Hield and the Sooners were able to get it going and win this one by 13 points. Hield scored 27 points on 8-14 shooting to lead Oklahoma to the Second Round.

Second Round
Def. 10-seed VCU 85-81
It wasn’t shocking that VCU gave Oklahoma a really good game. It was shocking just how close VCU came to knocking off the Sooners in this one. It’s no secret that this has been the most difficult game in this tournament for Oklahoma, but just like he’s done all season long, Buddy Hield stepped up when his team needed him and got his team to the Sweet 16. Hield scored 36 points on 11-20 shooting, and the Sooners were on their way to Anaheim.

Sweet 16
Def. 3-seed Texas A&M 77-63
Texas A&M had to make a completely improbable comeback in the Second Round against Northern Iowa just to get here, and it was clear that they were over-matched in this contest. Oklahoma cruised to a victory as Buddy Hield kind of took a backseat. He did notch a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, but Oklahoma was led by Jordan Woodard in this one, who scored 22 points, including 5-6 from three-point range.

Elite Eight
Def. 1-seed Oregon 80-68
It was the Buddy Hield show yet again in the West Regional Final, as the Sooners made pretty easy work of the Oregon Ducks, winning by 12. Hield scored 37 points, which included an amazing 8-13 from three-point range. Oregon was riding high following their Sweet 16 victory over Duke, but they were no match for Buddy Hield and the Sooners, who are now in Houston for the Final Four.

How They Got Here: Buddy-Mania
Now don’t get me wrong, Oklahoma has some really good players. Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins, Khadeem Lattin, Ryan Spangler, etc. But the fact of that matter is that Oklahoma has made it this far because of Buddy Hield. It’s the “Year of the Senior” in college basketball, and you could argue that Buddy Hield is the best of the bunch. He has been a productive player his entire career, but he really turned a corner this season, becoming one of, if not the, most lethal scorer in the nation. He hasn’t seen a shot that he can’t make. His patented step-back three ball is probably the best individual move of any player in the country, and it’s that way because I don’t know how you could possibly defend it. He’s averaging just under 30 points a game in the Tournament, and Villanova is going to have their hands full for sure.

Why They’ll Be National Champs:
Refer to the previous paragraph. If Oklahoma wins the National Championship, there’s no doubt in my mind it will be on the back of Buddy Hield. In the first meeting with Villanova this season, Hield scored 18 points on 4-9 shooting from distance. The Sooners won by 23 points in that game, despite that pedestrian performance. If Buddy plays the way he has been playing, Villanova might not stand a chance. Oklahoma is the best shooting team left in the tourney, and they’ve arguably been the best shooting team in the country all season. If they are hitting their shots, I don’t see Nova, Syracuse or North Carolina being able to defeat Oklahoma.

Why They Won’t Win the Title:
All it will take is one bad shooting night, and Oklahoma will be finished. Thankfully for them, they’ve been shooting the ball great through their first four games. Unfortunately for them, NRG Stadium in Houston has been very unkind to shooters in the past. The National Championship game in 2011 was there, and both UConn and Butler struggled mightily to shoot the ball. That gives a team like Villanova, who doesn’t have to rely on their outside shooting, a clear advantage in this match-up with Oklahoma. The Sooners don’t necessarily always rely on their outside shooting, but when they win games, it’s mostly because they’re hitting shots from the outside. They could find tough sledding from the perimeter in Houston, and that could spell the end of Oklahoma’s season.

 

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