By the time the buzzer sounded, No. 1 Kansas (AP poll) and No. 1 Oklahoma (Coaches Poll) had played 55 minutes and scored 215 points. In the end, the Jayhawks beat the Sooners, 109–106, cementing their status as the top team in the country right now. It was the perfect game at the perfect time for college basketball. With the NFL approaching the playoffs and college football closing down after next week's national championship game, Monday night reminded casual sports fans everywhere that college hoops is ready for the spotlight. Here are three thoughts on the best game of the college basketball season:
It was a wild one
Almost no one other than my eagle-eyed colleague Luke Winn noticed, but this game nearly ended on a six-man technical foul on Kansas in the first overtime. With 2.4 seconds left and the game tied at 86, the Jayhawks’ Frank Mason III was on the baseline about to get the ball from an official to inbound. Kansas had six players on the court at the time, but Devonte’ Graham made it from about a foot outside the key to the bench before the officials noticed.
There were plenty of questionable calls in this game, but the three most egregious were:
1. Wayne Selden Jr. and Jordan Woodard getting called for an unnecessary double technical with 16:06 left in the second half. That foul would come back to haunt Woodard, who fouled out with 16 seconds left in triple overtime. Oklahoma needed another three-point threat on its final two possessions, and the tech cost Woodard a chance to be on the floor.
2. Mason III was clearly hit in the face on a potential game-winning layup. The officials missed it and then bizarrely, but correctly, called an over-the-back foul on Kansas’s Landen Lucas as he went up for the layup. Fortunately for college basketball fans, but unfortunately for the Sooners, Khadeem Lattin (a 52% free-throw shooter) missed a potential game-winning free throw (there were three seconds left).
3. Mason III did not give Buddy Hield enough space on that triple-overtime inbound pass, and he appeared to even have potentially stepped out of bounds when he stole the pass. Kansas was up 106–105 on Oklahoma, but the Soomers had possession when Mason essentially grabbed the ball out of Hield’s hands. Inbounds passers are supposed to have a window to work with, and Hield clearly didn’t. The rules explicitly state that defenders cannot cross the boundary line, and photos show Mason doing just that. After the turnover, Woodard fouled out and Kansas retook the lead and never relinquished it.
Fortunately, the players covered over a multitude of sins by the officials. Although there were some sloppy possessions toward the end of regulation and in overtime, this was for the most part a tightly fought, well-executed, exciting basketball game. Eight players scored in double figures, 10 posted offensive ratings above 100 and the teams combined to shoot 49.1% from three. And then there was Hield.
Buddy Hield is the clear front-runner for national player of the year
Hield scored a career-high 46 points (13 field goals on just 23 shots), and added eight rebounds and seven assists for good measure. He played 54 out of 55 minutes. Hield has scored at least 22 points in each of his last seven games, and he’s already scored 30 or more in five games on the season. You have to go back to Feb. 21 at Texas Tech to find the last game in which Hield didn’t score in double figures. He’s hitting 49.5% of his field goals, 49.4% of his threes and 90.5% of his free throws. He’s never been a 40% three-point shooter in his career, so it’s possible that he will regress back to his average, but it’s also possible that with Oklahoma boasting more offensive threats this season, he is simply benefiting from better looks and will continue to shoot opponents out of the gym.
More amazing than his raw stats are his tempo-free numbers. He is using more possessions and taking a higher percentage of Oklahoma’s shots this year but has managed to improve his offensive rating from 110.2 to 127.5. His effective field goal percentage and true-shooting percentage are in the top 100 nationally. Although Oklahoma is a better team in almost every aspect over 2014–15, the Sooners still revolve around their star in Hield. Even Kansas fans respected Hield’s performance. Hield stayed behind after a heartbreaking loss to do a SportsCenter interview, and when he wrapped up, he received a standing ovation from those who remained at Allen Fieldhouse. When Denzel Valentine returns for Michigan State, expect a close and captivating race for Wooden and Naismith Awards.
The Big 12 still runs through Lawrence
Bill Self is 198–9 at Allen Fieldhouse as Kansas’s coach. Now in his 13th season at the helm for the Jayhawks, he has two more Big 12 titles than home losses. Kansas’s era of dominance in the conference is one of the greatest all-time streaks in college basketball, and it’ll get plenty of attention in the coming months if his Jayhawks win their 12th Big 12 title in a row. Kansas took a huge step toward accomplishing that goal with this win. Although there are several contenders in the conference—Iowa State, West Virginia, Baylor and Texas Tech look like tournament teams, too—Oklahoma is Kansas’s biggest threat (Kansas beat Baylor by 28 to open Big 12 play).
The Jayhawks have all the right pieces in place to succeed in the Big 12 and in the Big Dance. They are led by an enviable three-headed guard rotation of Mason III, Selden Jr. and Graham, and senior forward Perry Ellis is a sleeper player of the year candidate. Just how deep are the Jayhawks? In a 55-minute game, five-star freshmen Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg combined to play eight minutes. Diallo especially should improve as the season wears on, which means Kansas may not even have hit its stride yet. Mark your calendars for the rematch between Kansas and Oklahoma on Feb. 13 in Norman.