Back by popular demand, we went Behind Enemy Lines to talk about Villanova vs. Oklahoma with SB Nation's superb Oklahoma blog Crimson and Cream Machine. Rich DeCray was nice enough to talk to us about the Sooners journey, how stupid it is to play basketball in a football stadium, and how Villanova can pull off the victory in Houston.
Make sure y'all go over and check out CCM - they've had some great Final Four content up this week as well.
Congrats on making the Final Four! How's the ride been thus far for Sooner fans? Is it Natty or bust now?
At the beginning of the season, Oklahoma fans leaned on the experience of the starting five, placing expectations accordingly. Rising to the top of the rankings, it appeared as though the Sooners peaked too early as multiple losses were handed out during the second half of conference play. Worried about a lack of depth and the wear and tear of the season, much of the fan base began to talk of an early exit from the NCAA Tournament. However, this group proved Sooner Nation wrong by stringing together a Final Four run becoming the only Big 12 remaining in the tournament. To say the ride has been a roller coaster may be a bit of understatement.
To answer the second half of the question, no conference team since the inception of the Big 12 has won a Final Four game other than the Kansas Jayhawks. For me, it's not a national championship or bust but I do like Oklahoma's chances.
Last time we talked we both expected a close game - that did not happen. Will we get that on Saturday?
Both teams have drastically changed since meeting in Hawaii. Sure, other outlets like to mention the trip but there's a reason the Wildcats have racked up 33 wins to only five losses and now a trip to the Final Four. I most definitely think this game pans out to be much tighter than was round one produced.
Villanova actually did a fair job on Buddy Hield in the first matchup at the expense of letting everyone else tear them apart. Is it better to just let Buddy do his thing, or is stopping him a key part of beating Oklahoma?
The first step to beating Oklahoma always rests on the ability of the opposing defense to force the ball out of Hield's hands. West Virginia laid the blueprint by running an extra defender at the guard in the half court and Texas cemented the idea. The second step is to force jump shooters off the three point line. Oklahoma becomes extremely dangerous when the trio of Hield, Isaiah Cousins, and Jordan Woodard are allowed the freely move the ball around the perimeter to find open shots as well when they push the ball in transition. If two of the three get a bit of offense rhythm and confidence going from beyond the arc, watch out!
Any concerns on NRG Stadium's weird sightlines and it affecting the Sooners shooting? When they struggle with the jumpers, they've been beatable.
Nearly half of all shots taken this season have come from behind the arc. I don't expect that to change at anytime especially this late in the season, so yes it is a concern. We'll see how things go during shoot around as well as early in the game, but my fingers are crossed as all teams are playing in the same arena on the same court.
In the first matchup the Sooners' bench played a big part in the win - who's the X-Factor to look out for there now?
Off the bench, people need to be familiar with the name Christian James. Producing a break out type performance showcasing his talents, James added 13 points against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the conference tournament. Nearly single-handedly, the freshman set up the game winning shot for Buddy Hield. Unfortunately it was waved off as OU found themselves eliminated. James followed up the performance with a solid outing against the Texas A&M Aggies in the Sweet Sixteen. Now, he'll be a homecoming appearance in Houston. It could be the one factor James needs to take his game to new heights.
In December you said the Sooners could be beaten from long range. Mission failed by Villanova. Is that still the weak spot in the defense or are there other areas to exploit?
Again these two teams are not the same teams we saw in December. Playing tight man-to-man defense and switching at every screen, Oklahoma proved me wrong in thinking the weak spot remained in perimeter defense. Inside scoring from Khadeem Lattin and Ryan Spangler has been extremely spotty. If an opponent can force the Sooners to throw the ball inside, their chances of success greatly increase.
On another note, OU struggles when losing the rebounding margin as the group fails to get out in transition and grab second chance points. I'd look toward the stat as a potential game decider.
Buddy aside, what's the biggest matchup you're looking for on Saturday night?
It's how Lon Kruger decides to handle a team with unmatched patience on the court. Villanova plays a disciplined style of defense that allows the Wildcats to set to the pace while each player on the floor contributes offensively. Thanks to the direction of Jay Wright, there are no glaring weakspots as the group simply forces opponents into mistake after mistake. It may be something that isn't often talked about, but I believe the in-game coaching changes could have the biggest impact on this game.
Last thing - we know you've got the Sooners on Saturday, but let's hear the reasoning behind it and what's the final score?
These two teams are very similar in the fact that neither are particularly deep nor does one possess a dominant force in paint. With that said, it comes down to guard play and I think the speed Oklahoma possesses presents a threat to a very good Wildcats team while pushing the tempo consistently. I'm hoping the pace of the game can disrupt the defensive prowess of Nova by putting a player or two in foul trouble. Give me the Sooners 76-72.