Just as everyone expected, the Oklahoma Sooners breezed by the Ole Miss Rebels on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to set up a date with the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers on Sunday in Columbia, S.C.
OK, so maybe not everyone expected it.
Laying 1 w/ ole miss over OU feels like the best bet of the first round to me— Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism) March 21, 2019
To be fair, OU put together easily its strongest game of the year as the Sooners sliced and diced the Rebels in a 23-point win. With forward Kristian Doolittle giving arguably the best performance of his career, OU owned the paint and physically dominated Ole Miss. Meanwhile, the Rebs offered no resistance on the defensive end of the floor, enabling OU to shoot a scorching 57.6 percent from the field and get to the free throw line 26 times.
The Sooners’ next opponent won’t be so accommodating.
It wouldn’t be surprising if OU coach Lon Kruger looked at the second-round matchup with Virginia and screamed, “I don’t really wanna live this life!” UVA is so tough you’d think the Cavaliers’ daddies wrestle alligators and mamas work on carburetors.
Using Tony Bennett’s intuition magic and famed “Pack Line Defense”, UVA locks down opponents as well as any team in the nation. The Hoos rank third in the country this season in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, per kenpom.com. Although UVA doesn’t force many turnovers, the Cavaliers rank fifth nationally in effective field goal percentage at 43.8 percent. Their relentlessness on defense often leaves worn-out opponents looking like they smoke a pack a day.
The Hoos play a grinding style of basketball at an offensive tempo that puts them firmly among the slowest teams in the country at 353rd nationally. Combining its stifling D with the second-most efficient offense in college basketball, UVA’s slowdown game puts pressure on opponents to play almost perfectly on offense. Every empty offensive trip down the floor leaves teams worrying that they won’t likely see the ball again for about 25-30 seconds.
As teams try to speed the game up, that can lead to ill-advised shots when the moment is not right. On the other hand, if teams can’t score efficiently when try to play at UVA’s tempo, the Hoos will snuff the life out of them. It’s a balancing act akin to wearing high heels when exercising.
Meanwhile, even though Bennett and his players are building up the challenge presented by OU’s overall size, the Sooners won’t physically dominate the Hoos in the front court the way they did Ole Miss.
The Cavaliers do play what is nominally considered a four-guard lineup, but Virginia never compromises on size. One of wings is 6-7 swing player De’Andre Hunter. Additionally, Bennett can throw a host of big bodies at opposing front lines. In addition to 6-10, 250-pound center Jack Salt, UVA has two post men averaging double-digit minutes in 6-9 Mamadi Diakite and 7-1 sophomore Jay Huff.
OU has thrown up some horrendous performances against UVA-like opponents this year. It started with a 20-point loss to the Wisconsin Badgers in November. The Sooners dropped both matchups with the Texas Tech Red Raiders, including a double-digit loss in Norman. The Kansas State Wildcats beat OU by 13 and 15 points in their games in the regular season.
Virginia is essentially a superior version of any of those teams. The Cavaliers’ style can overshadow the quality of their roster, though. Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy – they all fit Bennett’s system, but they can also play in their own right.
In fact, it’s hard to find one individual matchup where the ninth-seeded Sooners might have an edge here. That means it would take an otherworldly performance from three-point range on OU’s part to send the Hoos packing early once again. The Sooners don’t have those kinds of shooters.
UVA seems to shake off its early jitters in the second half of its first-round win over Gardner-Webb. Look for the Cavaliers to play sharp ball on Sunday, which doesn’t bode well for OU.
Prediction: Virginia 71, Oklahoma 54