As Oklahoma football takes a bit of a break to get ready for the playoff, Sooner Hoops steps in front and center on the attention monitor. If you haven't had the chance to get into OU's basketball team then you're missing out. The Sooners traveled to Hawaii with a 5-0 record and a #7 ranking in the AP Poll. Tonight they'll be crossing paths with Villanova, at the Pearl Harbor Invitational, in a match-up of Top 10 teams. To help us break down the contest we turned to Chris Lane of SBN's VU Hoops blog.
CCM: Big 12 vs. Big East/#7 vs. #9 - You have to appreciate the event that these two teams are participating in but how much would you guys see this game played on the mainland in either of the home arenas?
VU Hoops: I think you're dead on that with the circumstances surrounding the game, it's pretty cool to have the program involved. It's such a meaningful occasion in the country's history and I like to see Villanova involved in promoting it (or any other events like Jimmy V). Given the horrid history of playing games on aircraft carriers in these military events, I'm just happy to see the game in an arena (hopefully the conditions are okay for the players).
But yes, I think when you think of big OOC games early in the season, you want to be playing these at one of the school's arenas. That's option #1. I still remember Oklahoma's visit to the Pavilion in 2005, which remains my all-time favorite on-campus game (I was a freshman at the time). I'd like to see both administrations turn this game in to a true home-and-home over the next few years given how successful both programs and coaches have been.
CCM: Talk to us about Big East Basketball. The Wildcats are the cream of the crop but how deep does the conference go?
VU Hoops: That was the big unknown entering the season. Villanova, barring some major injuries, was always going to be the best team in the conference. But how well the rest of the league has performed early on has been exciting for us, as it means more meaningful games and competition once 2016 hits.
Early on, Xavier has looked every bit like a true challenger for the conference title which shouldn't be too big of a surprise considering they made the second weekend of March last year. Georgetown's record is very deceiving given their schedule too, and they just whooped up on a Top 15 Syracuse team pretty easily. And then there's Butler (always a tough out) and Providence with National POY candidate Kris Dunn. It's very possible that all five teams are ranked come Monday, which would be a huge statement from the league as it battles to maintain it's strong basketball brand.
After that, I'd likely only give Marquette a chance at making the NCAA Tournament. They're got a ton of talent, but it's also a lot of young talent. Seton Hall could make some noise but I'm not entirely sure they can string together success. Creighton, St. John's and DePaul are the bottom feeders this season.
CCM: Alright, let's talk about this game. It looks like it'll come down to backcourt play being the most determining factor. Tell us what we should expect to see from Villanova's guard play.
VU Hoops: Expect to see a lot of lineups centered around Daniel Ochefu. Villanova likes to play a 4-out-1-in offense where they can space the floor and use penetration and quick ball movement to free up shooters. And if the defense over extends, Ochefu has shown the ability to punish teams inside. It's really well designed and executed.
Ryan Arcidiacono (yes, he's still in college) is likely the name fans will recognize most. The arrival of 5-star guard Jalen Brunson has allowed him to play more off the ball, and the result has been way less forced shots and turnovers. He's been so steady, and has developed in to a very good perimeter defenders, much to the delight/surprise of the fanbase.
For whatever reason, junior Josh Hart doesn't get plaudits he deserves. He's coming off a season where he won 6th Man of the Year and Big East Tournament MVP and is leading the team in scoring, yet still seems to fly under the radar. Expect him to be matched up with Buddy Hield most of the night. Finally, you've got Phil Booth and Kris Jenkins, both of whom can get hot in a hurry. Usually this type of depth overwhelms teams, but the Sooners appear to have the bodies to match it. It should be a great game and test for both teams.
CCM: Something that Oklahoma has been able to do early in the season is win the battle of the boards and take advantage of second-chance points. How strong are the Wildcats under the glass and tell us some key names there?
VU Hoops: Early on, this definitely appears to be the big weakness for Villanova. Daniel Ochefu is one of the best rebounders in the country, but given how Villanova likes to surround him with guards he can be gameplanned around. Josh Hart is an excellent rebounder in his own right and the others aren't afraid to hit the boards, but they've also gotten worked over in a couple of games against larger teams. Kris Jenkins (6'5) and Mikal Bridges (6'7 and skinny) will see a lot of time at the '4' but they are players much more comfortable on the perimeter.
Add in the fact that backup forward Darryl Reynolds' status is up in the air, and it's definitely an area fans (and Jay Wright himself) are worried about.
CCM: Oklahoma fans are looking at this as a "measuring stick" game to see where the team is compared to preseason expectations. How are the Wildcats looking compared to where they were thought to be heading into the season?
VU Hoops: Hey, twins! We're looking at it the same way!
It's funny, because I think most fans would tell you this team is the opposite of what they expected. Early on, we expected the offense to carry the team because Wright lost his top 3 defenders from a season ago and was introducing a few fresh faces to the mix. Now, Villanova still has a Top 10 offense per KenPom, but they've really struggled shooting the ball at times.
So it's crazy to think that Villanova has the #1 defense in the country per KenPom. They haven't faced great competition just yet, but they are just crushing teams on that end of the court, using their 1-2-2 press to create a lot of easy offense. That's been a big plus for the team while it waits for the shooting woes to subside.
Overall, this still looks like a team that will win the Big East (though maybe not romp through it), and a Top 3 seed come March. The expectation is the same - get out of the first weekend - something Wright hasn't done since he reached the Final 4 in 2009.
CCM: Prediction time. Tell us how you see this game shaking out.
VU Hoops: A friend and I were joking last week that we just have no idea what to expect. This is farther than the team has traveled for a game in years, and there was an alumni event stop in LA along the way and a lot of pomp and circumstance for the coaches and kids given the event. How locked in they are is a bit in question, but given the opponent I think they'll be focused.
These teams match up so well, so I think we're in for a close game. I'll be a homer and say 68-65, Wildcats.
You can read the other side of the Q&A, where I answer their questions, at VU Hoops.