As part of its preview of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. All stats are through Monday, March 16.
Record: 22-10 (12-6 Big 12)
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 109.3 (50th)/88.9 (5th)
Seed: East No. 3
Impact player: Buddy Hield, junior, guard. 17.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 109.1 offensive rating
The Case For: Hield—a 6’4”, athletic, high-energy scorer who is dangerous in both transition and the halfcourt—deservedly gets the most attention; he was the Big 12’s Player of the Year for a reason. But his backcourt mate, Isaiah Cousins, is more than mere sidekick, averaging 12.2 points per game on 45.4% three-point shooting. Very few teams have two guards capable of scoring in so many ways.
Inside, 6’ 8” forward Ryan Spangler is an efficient scorer and quality rebounder who excels at the dirty work that helps keep teams running. He and TaShawn Thomas can kill teams on put-backs on the offensive glass and anchor the nation’s sixth-most efficient defense on the other end, where both are quality post defenders. The Sooners like to run: 22.4% of their offensive possessions come in transition, and their average possession length of 16.6 seconds is 28th-lowest in the nation. If an opponent is comfortable playing fast, Oklahoma can keep its foot on the gas and run them into the ground. With a 12-6 record in the deep and daunting Big 12 and neutral-site non-conference wins over Butler and UCLA, the Sooners have been thoroughly tested and proven as legit.
The Case Against: As Kansas State showed twice, if a team can put the brakes on the Sooners, they may put a stop to them: their offense drops from an outstanding 1.145 points per possession in transition to a pedestrian 0.835 in the halfcourt. They also don’t compensate for offensive struggles by getting to the line, as their free throw rate ranks just 288th in the country.
None of Oklahoma’s players has proven themselves as an isolation scorer, so if you can take them out of their offense and force individuals to try to make plays late in the shot clock, they can be vulnerable. And while Hield is a prolific scorer, he is also prone to occasional high-volume off nights, having had games where he shot 0/7, 2/11, 1/8, and 2/7 from three this season. A team that denies Hield good looks and makes his teammates work for shots in the halfcourt can find itself facing a much more beatable Oklahoma offense than the one that has piled up points on so many others this season.