The big day is finally here - the out-of-conference Top 10 matchup fans have been dreaming of will tip-off tonight at 7pm ET between the Villanova Wildcats and Oklahoma Sooners. It's been a big week already for Oklahoma with the football team making the college football playoff, and now their basketball team will have a chance to make a big statement win as well.
We caught up with the good folks at Crimson And Cream Machine, SB Nation's excellent Sooners blog, for an inside look at what to expect Monday night. Enjoy!
The Villanova fanbase is pretty jacked up for this game given how good Oklahoma looks to be and the special circumstances around the site - how is the game registering for the Sooner fanbase?
The timing couldn't be more perfect for Oklahoma fans. With OU having a break in football until New Year's Eve, this will be the first time that basketball gets full attention and it's going to be against a great opponent. After Oklahoma's run to the Sweet 16 last spring there are a lot of expectations for the Sooners this season and Villanova is the first opponent OU has faced this season that is the caliber of a team they may see late in March. There will be a lot of eyes tuning in to see how the Sooners stack up.
Both teams are anchored by Top 5 defenses. Where's the weakness for Villanova to exploit?
It would be on the perimeter, I would think. Oklahoma does a solid job at clogging the lane and crashing the boards but they are susceptible to perimeter shooting. If Villanova can get hot from outside, mid-range even, then they could give the Sooners some trouble because they can get some open looks with adequate ball rotation.
Other than Ryan Spangler, is there a viable offensive option in the frontcourt?
Spangler is certainly Oklahoma's primary option in the frontcourt, and he's also the most well-rounded big man that the Sooners have to offer. He's a guy who is strong under the basket and frustrates opponents with his aggressiveness but he also a guy who can score both inside and outside. So far on the season he's 50% from three-point range.
Behind Spangler, the Sooners are getting decent minutes from sophomore Khadeem Lattin, who is also a starter but more of a defensive role player, and freshman Jamuni McNeace who has a ton of potential but is still getting his legs under him. OU also has a project player in seven-footer Akolda Manyang who is a rim protector but is trying to develop his offensive game. Manyang is only averaging a little more than nine minutes per game but leads the team with an average of 1.8 blocked shots per game.
A deep and explosive backcourt for the Sooners obviously reminds us of the Wildcats' backcourt - walk us through each of the key pieces.
Everything with Oklahoma's backcourt starts with Buddy Hield who is the team's leading scorer with an average of 21.4 points per game. He returned for his senior season to work on ball handling...and to try to make a deep run in the tournament. Isaiah Cousins came to Oklahoma in the same class as Hield and has progressed immensely since his freshman year. He'll rotate between the shooting guard and the point guard positions depending on what the Sooners want to do with their rotations. He actually plays more minutes per game than Buddy and is a key factor on both ends of the floor. The third part of the backcourt is junior Jordan Woodard who is an quick point guard who also has a knack for getting to the free throw line.
The biggest difference between this season and seasons past is that Lon Kruger has depth on the bench at the guard position. Freshmen Christian James and Rashard Odomes are next in line to be Oklahoma's duo at the guard position and while they are paying their dues behind Hield and Cousins, they are also getting a good amount of playing time as reserves right now. Senior Dinjiyl Walker is good at what he does, which is come off the bench and keep the offense flowing.
What would constitute a successful season for the Sooners? Is the program ultimately judged on the regular season/conference titles (i.e. dethroning Kansas), or success in March?
I think it starts with winning the conference. While it won't kill you to finish below the top spot, like it does in football, it's still a good marker of the progress of the program. Kansas is King of the Big 12 in basketball and I believe that OU will be right in the mix, along with Iowa State as well, for the conference championship.
Beyond that, the Sooners need to make that deep run in the NCAA Tournament. This is the most depth and talent they've had since 2008 and if they can't get beyond the Sweet 16 with this crew then it may be a while before they do so.
Prediction time. Who ya got on Monday night?
This is a tough call because both teams are so talented and it's still early in the season. I'm going to pick OU with a very narrow 72-70 win.