Originally destined for San Juan, Puerto Rico, the Tire Pros Invitational will now be located in the ESPN Wide World Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida. The tournament also features Arizona State, Clemson, Davidson, Missouri, Northern Iowa, Tulane and Xavier. It was relocated primarily for concern due to the Zika virus outbreak. Somewhere, Michael Phelps is shaking his head.
The Sooners will open tournament play against the Tulane Green Wave on Thursday, November 17th. The Sooners have only one exhibition game and regular season game under their belt, while the Green Wave have played an exhibition game along with a couple regular season games. What are some things to consider before dialing into this contest? Let's take a closer look.
Sooners shooting lights out
Throughout the offseason and preseason, the biggest question is: "How do we replace Buddy?" However, this Sooner squad seems to not be so focused on this issue. Instead, they are putting up elite offensive numbers
Although the Sooners have only one regular season to compare to and faced a below-average Northwestern State team, the numbers they put up are impressive. Shooting 9-18 from the 3-point line in that contest, OU is currently 10th in the country in 3-point field goal percentage. Their field goal percentage against the Demons (.587) has them ranked sixth in the country for field goal percentage. What is even more impressive is that three players for the Sooners are in the top 100 for field goal percentage, and none of them are named Jordan Woodard or Christian James. OU's top three field goal percentage shooters are Matt Freeman (85.7%, 16th), Darrion Strong (80%, 42nd) and Khadeem Lattin (77.8%, 48th). Freeman is also ranked 46th in the country in 3-point field goal percentage after his 3-4 Sooner career debut. Strong and Freeman are providing depth early in the season, and they will need to continue this momentum going forward into the season.
With this fast start by the Sooners offensively, they may be a nightmare for the Green Wave. After facing a very good North Carolina team and Southeastern Louisiana, Tulane is currently 307th in the country in scoring defense, allowing 85.5 points per game. Not only are they allowing their opponents to score a lot, but their opponents are doing it efficiently. Tulane is 298th in field-goal percentage defense, with their opponents averaging 48.7% from the field. The way for the Green Wave to stay in this game is through outscoring OU, which they could do. They posted 12 3-pointers against UNC, scored 93 points against Southeastern Louisiana and are averaging 84 points per game. They are also 29th in the country for free throw percentage, shooting 79.6% from the line and going 43-54. The Sooners will need to play smart, aggressive defense and continue their great shooting on the other end of the court.
Next man up
Sooner fans can expect solid performances from Jordan Woodard, Christian James and Khadeem Lattin throughout the season. However, in both of the Sooners' appearances this year, an unexpected player has stepped up and provided crucial minutes to help propel the team.
In the exhibition game, Christian James (16 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists) and Khadeem Lattin (12 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks and 5 steals) showed up and lead the team like they are supposed to, but Darrion Strong (10 points) and Kameron McGusty (12 points) also came off the bench and played well. In the first regular season game, Jordan Woodard (16 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists) returned to his normal form and played well with Khadeem Lattin (19 points and 11 rebounds) once again helping lead. However, Matt Freeman stole the show with his 15 points and three 3-pointers. This leaves us wondering who will be the next man who will surprise Sooner fans. Could Jamuni McNeace give OU some energy off the bench? Or maybe Jordan Shepard will step in and give Oklahoma another leader at point guard. Rashard Odomes is another player that has potential to have a break out game. This type of threat can be a dangerous characteristic to have as a team. Unfortunately, Tulane is constructed the same way.
In each of Tulane's three appearances this season, they have featured a different leading scorer. In the Green Wave's exhibition game against Loyola New Orleans, Melvin Frazier led the team with 20 points and tacked on six rebounds. In the next game against North Carolina, Cameron Reynolds scored a career-high 21 points while making 5 of 6 3-pointers. In their most recent game, Tulane's leading scorer came off the bench. Kain Harris has had back to back games of setting his career-high in scoring. In the game against North Carolina, Harris scored 15 points, but then he beat that performance when he scored 19 against Southeastern Louisiana. The Green Wave have also had at least three players score in double digits in every game this season, while having four players score in double digits in two of out the three games. The Sooners will also need to make sure to keep Tulane from getting offensive rebounds because the Green Wave is 40th in the country, and has 17 offensive rebounds in every game this season.
The Sooners and the Green Wave are both in the same boat: they both have a lot of young players and new faces. Tulane has 16 players on their roster, but they only return eight players from the previous season. The Sooners also have 16 players on this years' roster, and they return eight players that played last year, although Matt Freeman joined the team halfway through the season but never played. Not only that, but Tulane has 12 players on the roster that are a redshirt sophomore or younger. Oklahoma has 11 players on the roster that are a redshirt sophomore or younger. Tulane lost three of their top four scorers, their top two rebounders and their leader in blocks per game. OU lost three of their top four scorers as well, and they also lost their top two rebounders. This matchup will provide many young players the opportunity to win their first tournament game, and this will be the Sooners' first regular season game away from home.
The Sooners are currently a 14.5-point favorite in this game, and it should be a somewhat easy win for Lon and his crew. After only a 12-22 record last season and losing some of its' production, Mike Dunleavy Sr. and his team will not be able to beat the Sooners. Oklahoma and Tulane have only played each other twice in basketball, and the series is currently split 1-1. The Sooners will come out with a hard fought win against the Green Wave, and will look to play either Northern Iowa or Arizona State in the semifinals.
Oklahoma 86- Tulane 71