Using a barrage of three pointers, the Oklahoma Sooners have appeared unmatched on the offensive side of the court for a majority of the season. Playing extended minutes, the starters continued to carry the flag into battle earning the country's top ranking behind a slew of wins over ranked foes. Soaring the new heights, Oklahoma was a lock for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. With the the Sooners trending upward, Buddy Hield found himself at the forefront of the Player of the Year conversation. However, since that moment the outlook has changed quite drastically.
The current situation begs the question, "did the Sooners peak too early?"
Across the nation, programs like the Michigan State Spartans and Kansas Jayhawks are finding their late season stride. Denzel Valentine continues to shred Big 10 opponents and Brice Johnson recently showcased why he's one of the ACC's best. But, one Big XII Contender has slipped out of top gear...Oklahoma.
After setting the nets on fire behind stellar shooting performances leading up to the SEC | Big XII Challenge, Lon Kruger's team led the nation in three point percentage hovering around the 50% mark as a team. While the Sooners continue to lead the country in the statistical category at 44%, it's important to look at what has transpired since facing the LSU Tigers, what has become a turning point in OU's season.
Three Point Shooting Percent Since SEC | Big XII Challenge
|TCU Horned Frogs||36.7%|
|Kansas State Wildcats||25%|
|Texas Tech Red Raiders||26.1%|
A quick look at the numbers reveals a significant dip in three point conversion rate from the seasonal average. Only once has Oklahoma eclipsed the 40% mark in the past five games. The effort puts OU in the middle of the pack with a pedestrian 32% shooting from behind the arc during the span. The uncharacteristic change has led to three losses including back-to-back losses in less than a week. Before the SEC | Big XII Challenge, the Sooners dropped a mere two games because they were able to spread the floor utilizing solid shooting and excellent ball movement.
As of late, fans have witnessed the court shrink and ball movement suffer as a consequence. Without those two factors working in favor of Hield and the gang, the scoring output has decreased as well. In this small stretch of games we're focusing on, the Sooners have failed to regularly break the 80-point barrier.
Credit opposing coaching staffs for a change in philosophy on how to guard the conference's elite players. Let's also give credit to those same coaches for finding a way to counteract top three point shooters with top notch defenders. Regardless, things are only going to continue to increase in difficulty as a blueprint has been laid. If OU cannot find a way around, through, under, or over the issue, they'll likely continue to struggle moving forward with the likes of West Virginia and Texas on the road.
From that point, assuming the same problem persists, any and all opponents will have a shot at downing an incredible talented and experience team. These are the factors that could ultimately lead to an early exit from the NCAA Tournament.