The Oklahoma Sooners and Villanova Wildcats are set to play inside a football stadium for the Final Four. A stupid idea? Possibly but all teams will be playing on the same court so there are no excuses. Ahead of the action, VU Hoops' own Chris Lane sat down to answer a few questions of ours.
Back in December two top ten programs met in Hawaii in what was a marquee match-up. Was that moment the "wake-up" call for Villanova?
VUH - Definitely. Oklahoma is clearly one of the elite teams in the country and they showed up to play that day. Villanova did not, and the Sooners punished them. And that taught 'Nova a valuable lesson - bring your A game every night or you may not just lose, but you can get embarrassed in the process.
From a tactical POV, it really brought to light the ever-important issue of shot selection in the Wildcats' offense. Oklahoma did a great job of pressuring the Wildcats shooters in to a ton of bad shots. Now, it didn't help that they couldn't even make the open shots either but when Buddy Hield got off to a fast start that game, it baited 'Nova in to a shootout that they couldn't win. Since then, it's been defense first with a much greater emphasis on playing inside-out instead of launching the first open look that pops up.
Without a big name star like Buddy Hield or Brice Johnson on the roster, the Wildcats have racked up 33 wins. However, they've also suffered five losses including an upset in the Big East Tournament to Seton Hall. What has been the biggest weakness for Nova this season?
VUH - I think the 'starless' narrative is a bit overrated, much like Buddy Hield is a one-man wrecking crew for Oklahoma. They've got other players that are fantastic as 'Nova knows all too well. Josh Hart is on the final Wooden List, so he's clearly one of the best in the country and really suffers because Jay Wright talks so much about 'team' to the media. It's a good thing, don't get me wrong, but several teams have found out the hard way that there are players on Villanova capable of taking over a game.
Back to your question - the big weakness is frontcourt depth. Daniel Ochefu and Darryl Reynolds are the only true forwards which means that both Jenkins and Mikal Bridges have to punch above their weight class from time to time. The other big weakness is 3-point defense - it can be random as Ken Pomeroy has noted - but Villanova doesn't like to give up easy buckets inside and would rather force jumpers from the outside. Oklahoma will likely be happy to oblige and if they get hot, it could spell disaster.
Mentioning Buddy Hield, if you are in Jay Wright's shoes, how would you plan to slow down the guard who is averaging 29 points per game during the tournament?
VUH - "Hope is not a strategy" but it might as well certainly be one here. Buddy is as hot as he's been all year and he looks like he has the confidence to make it from anywhere on the floor. I think the most you can do is keep a pair of fresh legs on him - expect to see Hart, Bridges and maybe even Arcidiacono take turns on him - and try to make life difficult for him. Oddly enough they did a decent enough job on him in December and he finished with a very inefficient 18 points.
The trouble is when you overcommit to helping on Buddy, the Sooners have enough weapons to hurt you elsewhere. It's pick your poison at its finest and that's not a fun thing to think about heading in to Saturday.
Ryan Arcidiacono has led the team in scoring with 16 points on average each outing during the month of March. Who else should Sooner fans be worried about?
VUH - Kris Jenkins is really the guy that's been carrying the team offensively - Kansas slowed him down due to some questionable foul trouble - but he's a matchup nightmare who has the confidence to shoot it from anywhere. Him vs. Ryan Spangler should be a fascinating matchup.
Josh Hart is the other guy that will take the bulk of the shots. His outside shot hasn't been falling lately but he's one of the best slashers in the country, as well as one of the best rebounding guards. Watch for him on the offensive glass, and his defense will fuel a lot of turnovers and transition offense.
Give us your score prediction.
VUH - Unless one team is shooting below 20% from deep and the other is above 50% like what happened in December, I would expect this to be a very good game. Villanova's defense is playing better than anyone in the country right now, and although their offense took a game off against Kansas, they were as hot as anyone in the three NCAA games before that. The same can be said for Oklahoma, so this probably comes down to who makes the plays at the end. Can't bet against my 'Cats, so let's go 70-68, 'Nova.