#8 Villanova Wildcats (7-0) vs. #6 Oklahoma Sooners (5-0)
When: Monday, December 7, 2015, at 7 p.m.
Where: Bloch Arena, Pearl Harbor, HI
Coverage: Fox Sports 1
Oklahoma’s Previous Season Record: 24-11, Lost to Michigan State in Sweet 16 of NCAA Tournament
Key Players for Oklahoma: #24 Buddy Hield (6-4, 214) Sr., G; #0 Ryan Spangler (6-8, 234) Sr., F; #10 Jordan Woodward (6-0, 187) Jr., G
Scouting Report: Villanova will honor our fallen heroes in Monday, on the 74th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks. The Wildcats will face off against the sixth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners, Villanova’s first ranked foe of the season. The Sooners are a formidable opponent coming out of the Big 12, ranking among the top teams in the country in many statistical categories. The last time Villanova faced an opponent ranked this high was on December 28, 2013, when they lost by 16 to then-ranked #2 Syracuse.
The Sooners are led by NBA Lottery hopeful Buddy Hield. Last season, he was named Big 12 Player of the Year and was the favorite to repeat going into this year. Through five games, Hield is on pace to set his personal bests in nearly everything: points, rebounds, assists, steals, and all three shooting percentages. Hield is a dynamic scorer on the wing, using a multitude of tools to help him average 21.4 points per game. Hield is a blur in transition and can finish at the rim with power and grace. He has also improved tremendously as a shooter, jumping from 23.8% from beyond the arc in his freshman year to 50% this year. Hield can spot up, hit threes off the bounce, and has even been known to connect on long balls in transition. Hield is awesome at stepping into his shot, and uses this ability to create slashing opportunities as well. He also does work on the glass, averaging 5.8 rebounds per game.
While Hield may be the most talented player that Villanova has played in the past two years not named Kris Dunn, Doug McDermott, or Andrew Wiggins, the Sooners are more than just a one trick pony. Back court mates Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodward are combining to shoot 50% from beyond the arc this year, and have formed one of the most deadly guard trios in the nation along with Hield. Cousins and Woodward also have combined for a 2.77 assist-to-turnover ratio and 9.2 rebounds per game so far this campaign. Both players are very well rounded guards that really play end to end. Woodward is defensive nightmare, averaging 2.2 steals per game. The Sooners also have senior big man Ryan Spangler. Spangler has shown he can do it all this year, averaging 12.6 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game. He is shooting an efficient 63.2% from the field and has even showed off his range, stepping out to knock down four threes. Spangler has been an anchor in the middle for Oklahoma for the past three years and will be an interesting challenge for Villanova.
The Oklahoma Sooners do a lot of things well. They have the 26th best scoring defense in the country, and they rank 12th in points per game at 88.2. They are also an efficient, smart team that averages 16.6 assists per game and shoots 44.6% from beyond the arc, the latter being good for fourth in the country. This team’s greatest strength is on the glass. Boomer Sooner ranks third in the country with 48.6 rebounds per game. Six Sooners average 3.4 rebounds per game or more, including seven-footer Akolda Manyang, who does so in just 9.6 minutes.
Like any team, the Sooners are not without weakness. As a matter of fact, Oklahoma has two big weaknesses that Villanova could exploit: Depth and free throws. The Sooners have a lot of star-power at the top of their lineup, but they lack the same level of production down the line. Head coach Lon Kruger plays just four players more than 15 minutes per game. Compare that to the eight Villanova players who play 15 minutes per game and it could spell trouble for Oklahoma at the end of a tight game. The Sooners also shoot a pedestrian 67.2% from the charity stripe. At 58% and 40% from the free throw line, respectively, Spangler and Cousins are liabilities at the end of games.
Outlook: Despite being the lower ranked team, I actually think that Villanova has the upper hand in this one. Especially if it comes down to the wire. Oklahoma has more star power, but Villanova is deeper and has more ways to hurt you. Villanova will have a distinct advantage in outlasting the Sooners if this turns into a war of attrition.
Villanova’s back court combo of Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiacono, and Jalen Brunson will go toe-to-toe with Hield, Cousins, and Woodward in what promises to be an exciting match-up. Hart has turned into the heart (no pun intended) and soul of this team, ramping up the effort on both ends and making his presence felt in a multitude of ways. Arcidiacono ranks 14th in the nation in assist to turnover ratio, setting up a dog fight between him and Woodward, who ranks 13th. The key to this win however, will be Daniel Ochefu. Ochefu has seen a huge slip in his number over the past four games, largely due to the foul trouble he was in in three of those games. Ochefu is averaging just 5.3 points per game and 4.5 rebounds per game over that stretch. He actually has the same number of rebounds as backup Darryl Reynolds over the last four contests. While Reynolds has been a nice replacement, the ‘Cats could find themselves in trouble if Ochefu gets into foul trouble early. Not much is entirely known about Reynolds’ status, but he has been sighted walking around campus in a boot earlier this week.
Both teams have been relatively untested going into Monday. However, I actually do think Villanova will pull away with this one, largely due to the depth and free-throw shooting advantages. It will be close and certainly fun to watch, but Nova should prevail. Jay Wright will dazzle in one of his “vacation Jay” polos, and the Wildcats will advance to 8-0, continuing a December that sees them face off against three top 12 opponents.