In Oklahoma's biggest test yet, the Sooners travel to Wisconsin to face the no. 17 ranked team in the country. This will be the first ranked opponent for this young OU team, as well as being the first true road game of the season. Oklahoma has only played at Wisconsin 3 times in program history, and the Sooners have the edge over the Badgers in Madison, 2-1. However, the last trip OU has made to Madison to play Wisconsin was in 1954. With the all-time series between these programs being level at 4-4, who will claim the lead with a solid, early out-of-conference win?
How to Watch
For those of you who cannot make it to the Bedlam game and don't mind doing some channel flipping during commercials, the Sooners play Wisconsin at 12 PM Central on the Big Ten Network. If you need an outlet to comment on about the game, this is the game thread for the game.
Two seasons ago, an unranked OU met the no. 2 ranked Wisconsin Badgers in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Sooners gave Wisconsin a serious fight, only being down one point at halftime. The more talented Badger team, carried by their leaders Frank Kaminsky III and Sam Dekker, bested OU in the second half, outscoring them by 12 points and winning by 13. This Badger team would go on to advance all the way to the national championship before coming up short and losing to Duke. Lon and his crew advanced to the Sweet 16 in that same season, falling to Michigan State by only four points.
Last season, OU was able to get some revenge on the depleted Wisconsin Badger team after they lost some crucial pieces from their national title run. The Sooners were the team to beat in this matchup last season, being ranked no. 7 in the country and the Badgers not being ranked. Ryan Spangler had a career-day against this team last year, putting up 20 points and 14 rebounds, as OU cruised to a 17-point win. Oklahoma would make a final four run last year before being upended by the National Champions, Villanova. Bo Ryan and his squad found themselves in the Sweet 16, but lost to Notre Dame by 5 points. This was also Bo Ryan's last season with Wisconsin, after coaching for this program from 2001 to 2015.
These programs meet for the third consecutive season, and they both look very different from when they met two years ago. Coaches have come and gone. Star players have gone off to make careers in the NBA or elsewhere. However, Wisconsin still has nine players on their roster from the 2014-2015 national runner-up season, while Oklahoma returns only six players from that same season. However, OU has nine players back from their Final Four season last year, but Wisconsin returns an impressive 13 players from last year as well. The winner of this matchup, the past two years, has gone on to at least make the final four, while the losing team has made it to the Sweet 16 in both seasons. This rematch could be an indication of what we will see in March.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The weaknesses of OU may be glaring by this point, but how does this team matchup with the Badgers?
Oklahoma has begun to establish its' new identity, and surprisingly, this aggressive team is more efficient from downtown then from short distance. After losing a huge portion of the scoring last season, many thought that OU would have to adjust from shooting the 3-pointer. However, just the opposite has occurred. Oklahoma is currently 22nd in the country in 3-point shooting percentage (40.5 percent) and ranked 116th in 2-point shooting percentage (51.4 percent). This, coupled with the fact that Wisconsin is ranked 164th in opponent 3-point shooting percentage, sets up an opportunity for OU to exploit this Badger defense.
Wisconsin is the complete opposite. They are currently 207th in the country for 3-point shooting percentage (33.5 percent) and 22nd in the country for 2-point shooting percentage (56.9 percent). Wisconsin also puts up 6.5 more 3-pointers than the Sooners each game. This type of offense might be beneficial to Oklahoma. Currently, OU is 7th in the country in opponent's 2-point shooting percentage (38.6) and 184th in 3-point shooting percentage (34.7 percent). The Sooners could disrupt the offensive flow of Wisconsin through blocked shots, especially since they are 22nd in the country in blocked shots per game (5.8). Oklahoma needs to force Wisconsin into contested 3-pointers, and alter shots under the basket to maintain the Badger offense.
Something OU will need to make sure they do in this game is crash the boards every single play with a purpose. Oklahoma has done a solid job of grabbing defensive boards so far, currently ranked 16th in the country with 28 defensive rebounds per game. However, the Sooners have been poor at getting offensive boards, and are currently ranked 125th in the country with grabbing only 9.8 offensive rebounds a game. Wisconsin will provide OU a big test in this category, considering they are 2nd in the country in opponent offensive rebounds per game (5.2) and 4th in the country in opponent defensive rebounds per game (17.6). Oklahoma will need to win some of these battles in order to maintain close in this game.
Both of these teams contain long and tall players that could pose a mismatch threat. For the Badgers, Nigel Hayes has the build and athleticism that could cause problems for OU. He is 6'8" and 240 pounds, but he can shoot and move like a shooting guard. He is the third leading scorer for Wisconsin (11.3 pppg), but he is also contributing with 6.1 rebounds per game and 3.5 assists per game. Kristian Doolittle, sitting at 6'7" and 236 pounds, will most likely be assigned this defensive responsibility. However, if this proves to be too much for the Freshman, do not be surprised to see Kruger interchange Doolittle with Rashard Odomes and Christian James.
Speaking of the guard duo from Oklahoma, we have arrived at the mismatches for the Sooners. This combo has created mismatch problems for OU's opponents. James (6'4" and 218 pounds) and Odomes (6'6" and 212 pounds) are tough, aggressive, big guards that have been able to bully their way past opponents. James is putting up 11.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, while Odomes is obtaining 8.5 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. These guards need to continue their aggressive play on both ends, and attack this Badger team when they can.
Both teams contain more players that could be a game-changer in this battle. Jordan Woodard is leading the team in points (17) and assists per game (4.7). He is also adding 5.5 rebounds and is tied for 19th in the country for steals per game (2.67). The senior will play a crucial role in whether the Sooners can leave Madison with a win.
A pair of players that Oklahoma needs to give full attention to are Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ. Bronson Koenig is the leading scorer, scoring 15.1 points per game. However, Happ may be one of the biggest threats OU sees all night. Happ is putting up 13.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. He is 74th in the country in defensive rebounds per game (6.25) and 31st in the country in offensive rebounds per game (3.62). He is ranked 42nd in the country in field goal percentage (68.7 percent) and 32nd in total rebounds per game (9.88). Need I say more? He will demand a lot of attention, and there is a reason.
Being the first true road game, and it being against a ranked team, this does not appear to add up in the Sooners' favor. It is not impossible for Oklahoma to walk-out with a win, but they will need to assemble their best performance of the season so far. Turning over the ball and going on scoring droughts will not suffice against a veteran, talented Wisconsin team. Considering the Big Ten championship is tomorrow, the environment may not be as crazy as normal. However, the crowd will still be ready, along with these Badgers who will look for revenge for last season. The Badgers will beat the Sooners in this one, making the all-time series 4-5 in favor of Wisconsin.
Oklahoma 72 Wisconsin 85