Villanova and Oklahoma faced off twice in the 2015-16 season but both programs have gone through a complete overhaul since. Both teams lost legendary coaches - Villanova’s Jay Wright and Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger. Oklahoma hired former Loyola-Chicago coach and NCAA Tournament Cinderella, Porter Moser, while Villanova hired long-time assistant, Kyle Neptune.
Villanova and Oklahoma faced off in the 2015-16 season in another early-December matchup. Although Oklahoma defeated Villanova by 23 points on December 7th, 2015, Villanova played 40 great minutes of Villanova basketball - it just ran into a buzzsaw in Oklahoma who was drilling shots from the logo all night.
The second Villanova-Oklahoma matchup of the 2015-16 season is when things came full-circle for a Villanova team who took pride in improving everyday. April 2nd, 2016 was a frenzy for Villanova fans — Villanova dominated Oklahoma 95-51 in the Final Four en route to the 2016 championship.
This will be their first meeting since then.
This year’s Villanova team has a lot of work to do if they plan on achieving the same success later this season. On the other hand, Oklahoma has looked solid this season after an opening-night blemish to Sam Houston State. Oklahoma enters this matchup after redeeming themselves by winning the ESPN Events Invitational defeating Nebraska, Seton Hall and Ole Miss along the way.
Villanova (2-5) and Oklahoma (6-1) will face off Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET. The Wildcats welcome the Sooners to the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia as part of the Big 12-Big East Battle. If you can’t make it there in-person, the game will be on CBS.
Ahead of the matchup, let’s highlight what Oklahoma has done right during their six game winning streak and what the Wildcats must improve heading into December.
Teams on Different Ends of the Spectrum
Oklahoma and Villanova come into this matchup with two polar opposite emotions — Oklahoma is riding the high of winning three games in four days, while Villanova is looking to turn things around after losing three games in four days.
“It’s the excitement on their face to win a championship,” Moser said of his players, after winning the tournament. “These guys locked in for these last four days, and I was happy for them to have this moment.”
Oklahoma has experienced early-season success due to their balanced offensive attack and stifling defense.
”When you win a championship that’s three games in four days... you need a lot of contributions,” head coach Porter Moser said. “And that’s what happened, which really excites us over these last four days. We got a lot of contributions from different guys.”
Oklahoma is led by Senior Grant Sherfield, averaging 15.6 points and 5.0 assists per game, while shooting 46% from three. Along with Sherfield, the Groves brothers, Tanner and Jacob, transferred to Oklahoma from Eastern Washington last season to play for Moser.
Tanner, who dropped 35 points against Kansas in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, is averaging 10.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, while Jacob is averaging 8.6 points per game and shooting 40.9% from three.
Oklahoma’s top defender, Jalen Hill, shoots 52.8% from two-point range and averaged 10 points per game during the ESPN Events Invitational. Bijan Cortes, who missed time with a concussion, had a breakout game in the championship game scoring the teams’ final seven points.
Oklahoma has allowed more than 60 points in a game only once this season and rank 22nd in KenPom’s defensive rankings. The Wildcats will certainly have their hands full on both ends of the court on Saturday.
Villanova Has Major Holes to Fill
In order for Villanova to turn things around this season, they need two things to happen: they need Cam Whitmore and Justin Moore to get healthy and they need the underclassmen to step up ahead of schedule.
Projected top 10 NBA pick, Cam Whitmore, should be ready to go any week now, according to initial projections from undergoing thumb surgery in early October. It is even possible for Whitmore to suit up for the Oklahoma game, which will be a much-needed boost for the Wildcats.
On the other hand, Moore is still recovering from a torn Achilles suffered last year in the Elite Eight game against Houston. There is no firm timetable on Moore’s return and it would not be a surprise if he missed the entire season.
Although Brandon Slater and Caleb Daniels did not play their best ball in the PK85, the veteran guards are key to Villanova’s success this season.
A typical Villanova team always makes the extra pass for an open shot. Due to Justin Moore’s injury, Villanova has not had a guard consistently capable of creating these open looks. Chris Arcidiacono never seems to make mistakes mentally, but he plays too slowly to put the pressure Villanova needs on opposing defenses.
Even in the La Salle game where Villanova looked great, there was not a lot of ball movement or penetration — Villanova finished the game with only 13 assists. Mark Armstrong looked comfortable in the Oregon game, while Angelo Brizzi saw a decrease in minutes with freshman Brendan Hausen breaking out, scoring a season-high 15 points.
In order for Villanova to have any hopes of making a postseason run, Armstrong, Brizzi and Hausen are going to need to grow up quickly and become true Villanova guards.
Villanova Must Improve on the Glass
Oklahoma is a team that has a ton of size with three rotation players measuring 6-foot-8 or taller. Meanwhile, Brandon Slater and Eric Dixon are the two tallest rotation players for Villanova — both 6-8 forwards.
Villanova’s 6-foot-9 forward Trey Patterson has seen his minutes diminish over the past few games and did not play in the loss against Oregon.
Villanova has struggled mightily on the glass this season getting out-rebounded in all but two games this season. The two games the Wildcats were not outrebounded, they narrowly edged La Salle by one rebound and tied Portland on the glass, but lost to the Pilots. The Wildcats had their worst performance on the glass in their last game against a wounded Oregon team, allowing 16 offensive rebounds and 42 total rebounds.
“We don’t worry about the size, we pride ourselves on being able to rebound with anyone and play with anyone,” Neptune said after the Oregon loss.
It is a shame that this needs to be said, but in order for Villanova to turn things around this season, they must improve all the areas a Villanova basketball player takes pride in: rebounding, team defense, guard-play and three-point shooting. Saturday’s battle against Oklahoma is Villanova’s last opportunity this season to pick up a strong non-conference win.