The Villanova Wildcats and Oklahoma Sooners certainly looks like the better game of the Final Four in Houston, but you wouldn't have expected that considering what happened when these teams met in Hawai'i in December. The Sooners shellacked the Wildcats by 23 points then, but both of these teams have come a long way since then.
Regular Season: 29-7, 12-6 in Big 12, 3rd place in Big 12
Best Win: Villanova (#4 RPI)
Worst Loss: Kansas State (#92 RPI)
Coach: Lon Kruger isn't a name you immediately think of when the discussion of elite coaches comes up, but that is mostly because he's bounced around a bit and you don't auto-associate him with a brand. He's now taken two schools to a Final Four (Florida in 1993 being the other) and he's taken two other schools to a Sweet 16. He's quite underrated.
By The Numbers:
KenPom: #13 Offense, #13 Defense, #5 Overall
Four Factors on Offense: 54.8% eFG% (17th), 18% TO% (176th), 30.8% OR% (131th), 33.4% FTRate (262nd)
You'll remember it well from December, but the Sooners love to shoot the long ball. They take over 40% of their attempts from beyond the arc (60th), but they make 42.8% of them (2nd). That's lethal. Villanova found that out the hard way when the Sooners went 16-28 and blitzed them in Hawai'i.
Much like Villanova, they have a guard-heavy offense led by Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard. All three players are very good shot-makers. The issue for Oklahoma is what happens when the shots aren't falling. They don't have a great plan B - Ryan Spangler is more comfortable on the perimeter and Khadeem Lattin is at his best on defense.
Like the Wildcats, the Sooners didn't have any bad losses - but when they did lose it was frequently because they couldn't find the net from deep.
Four Factors on Defense: 46.4% eFG%, (31st), 17.7% TO% (202nd), 30.4% OR% (208th), 28.1% FTRate (28th)
Oklahoma does two things really well - their opponents shoot a low percentage from the field, and they don't foul. Sounds a lot like Villanova! The guards and the versatility of Spangler allow the Sooners to force opponents in to tougher shots, and much like Villanova's Daniel Ochefu, Lattin is an elite rim protector at the backend.
Players To Watch:
Senior G Buddy Hield (6'4" 215 lbs.) - 25.4 ppg | 5.7 rpg | 2.0 apg
Senior G Isaiah Cousins (6'4" 200 lbs.) - 12.8 ppg | 4.6 rpg | 4.6 apg
It's all about Buddy. He's almost guaranteed the NPOY at this point, which he deserves, and he's playing his best heading in to the final weekend of his career. He's oozing confidence from anywhere on the floor, and he backs it up. While his best asset is his shooting, he's very good at taking advantage of an over-aggressive defense and taking it to the tin as well.
Funny thing is Villanova did a pretty good job of limiting Hield in December (6-17 FG, 18 points). They'd likely sign up for that again. The problem was what Cousins and company did to them. Cousins is as athletic as they come and loves to take defenders off the bounce and score or dish to an open shooter. Villanova needs to be wary that 2s are better than 3s against this team.
Style of Play:
Guards, guards, guards. 3s, 3s, 3s. The Sooner guards love to take them, and they're quite good at making them. They'll run lots of ball-screen action for Hield, Cousins and Woodard and try to create mismatches for their stars. Spangler can knock down the outside shot as well in pick and pop situations. Lattin is a glass cleaner and finisher off drives.
On defense, the Sooners won't pressure to create turnovers, but they will extend and try to force bad shots from opposing teams. Like the Wildcats, they'll switch on defense given their flexibility, and Lattin is a pretty good last line of defense if they do break down.
The general public and media will likely take a lot more away from the December meeting than they should. Oklahoma was very impressive, and given how well they shot the ball and how poorly Villanova did, it's rather amazing they only won by 23. Villanova is the Vegas favorite (opened -2) but the line has already moved to -1 with a ton of money coming in on the Wildcats early. Both teams are at their best right now, and this looks to be a game that should come right down to the final few possessions.