Last night, Kansas and Oklahoma played one of the best basketball games I’ve ever seen at any level. Number two ranked Oklahoma went into Allen Fieldhouse against number one Kansas and the epic battle lasted three overtimes, with Kansas coming out on top 109-106. Despite the loss, I still believe that Oklahoma is the team to beat in the BIG 12.
A prime reason the Sooners will win the BIG 12 is due to their vast amount of experience. The senior trio of Buddy Hield, Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins is irreplaceable. Hield and Cousins have been contributors for this team in all four of their years on campus. Ryan Spangler didn’t play much as a freshman, but has really come on the last three seasons as an energy guy and has value in a shooting big man. These guys have been played in March Madness every year, and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen a season ago. Hield had the opportunity to leave and be drafted last season, but a big part of the reason he came back to Norman was that “he had unfinished business to take care of”, and you can bet that winning a national championship was at the top of that list of unfinished business. He, along with the other seniors, have proved to be a motivated basketball team, and I wouldn’t want to play them in March Madness.
To be a successful team, you need to be able to rebound the basketball, and Oklahoma can do that with the best of them. It’s not the sexiest thing to be good at, but it’s the sign of a good team. The Sooners rank sixth in the nation in rebounding, and everyone chips in on the glass. Ryan Spangler leads the team in rebounding at 10.2 per game. But he also gets help from Hield (5.3 per game), sophomore Khadeem Lattin (5.9) and Cousins (4.5). Controlling the glass limits other teams opportunities to score, and when crashing the offensive glass, it can give your team more opportunities to score. Lon Kruger’s squad has a major advantage over their opponents night in and night out with their proficiency on the glass.
It’s easy to say that offense is a big part of being a championship contending team. But with the Sooners, it’s the offensive efficiency that makes them so good. Oklahoma is sixth in the country in scoring, with 87 points per game. They love to get out and run and get easy transition buckets, but if the drive isn’t there, they may be even more comfortable shooting the trey. The Sooners don’t shoot many threes, but when they do, they succeed at a high rate. This squad only takes 22 threes per game, but they connect 45% of the time, good for third in the entire nation. A roster that loves to run and gun with efficiency like Oklahoma does is beyond scary to defenses trying to game-plan against them
And maybe THE biggest reason Oklahoma will win the BIG 12 is just too simple. Oklahoma has hands down the best player in college basketball. Forget Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram and Denzel Valentine, Hield is going to win the Player of the Year, book it. Give it to him right now. Hield is lighting nets on fire this season, and it doesn’t look as though it’s going to stop. After dropping a career high 46 points on the Jayhawks (8-15 from three, 12-14 from the line and also chipping in eight rebounds and seven assists), the senior is now averaging a cool 24.7 points per game while having shooting numbers of .495/.494/.905. He’s scored over 20 points in all but three games. Your team always stands a chance when you have the best player in the game, and Hield certainly looks as though he’ll keep his 12-1 Sooners in the top 10 rankings all year.
Kansas has owned the BIG 12 for the last 11 seasons, winning the last 11 conference championships. They’ve knocked off attempts from Kevin Durant among other NBA players. They’ve beaten the great teams of Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma teams in recent years. But this year may be the year they finally get knocked off. The Oklahoma Sooners have the talent, experience and advantages to finally knock off the Jayhawks, and I for one am a believer in the Sooners.
Picture via NBCSports
Stats via ESPN