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Scouting the Contenders: Oklahoma Sooners

Buddy Hield
As March Madness slowly inches closer and closer, "Scouting the Contenders" takes a look at some of the nation's best teams in a chaotic race, and scouts their strengths and weaknesses and just how far they could go in the NCAA Tournament. We continue with a team that could very well win the Big 12 and earn a No. 1 seed, the Oklahoma Sooners: 

Track Record: 

  • 20-3 record, 8-3 conference (1st in Big 12)
  • Notable Wins: 78-55 over Villanova, 87-83 over Iowa State, 70-68 over West Virginia
  • Notable Losses: 82-77 to Iowa State, 109-106 to Kansas, 80-69 to Kansas State
  • Held No. 1 overall ranking in polls for two weeks
Scouting Report: He isn't the dominant freshmen that have dominated college basketball over the past few years. He isn't wildly athletic, or the greatest NBA prospect since LeBron James. But, Buddy Hield is the nation's best player in 2015-2016, and I don't think it is very close. Hield always had the size and strength to be an effective shooting guard, but he lacked explosiveness and pure shooting touch, which he worked hard on over the summer. The result: an absolutely terrifying three-point shooting ability that has Hield averaging 25.7 points per game, while shooting 50 percent from deep. Hield still isn't super athletic or explosive but he makes up for it with a quick release that he can get off against the best in the land. You can contain Buddy Hield, but you can't completely stop him, that is what makes him so scary. Isaiah Cousins is a great complement to Hield; he takes dumb shots at times and has struggled with turnovers, but nobody should deny Cousins' skills. He is quick and a great ball-handler and leaves it all out on the court. Teams who overly defend Hield (as they probably should) will have to deal with Cousins and the sneaky Jordan Woodard, both who can take over games in their own right. Woodard is a better shooter than Cousins but lacks the ball-handling or quickness to the rim. The backcourt isn't incredibly deep but Hield, Cousins and Woodard all can play big time minutes and still have their legs under them, which is a huge testament to Oklahoma's conditioning. Ryan Spangler isn't the traditional dominant big man either, just like how Buddy Hield (a Bahamian with a thick accent, by the way) isn't your traditional superstar. The former Gonzaga forward isn't overly physical in the paint but isn't shy either. He is a great worker and can do a lot of different things. He can rebound, play defense and shoot effectively from anywhere. His floor spacing abilities really help Hield, Cousins and Woodard when they choose to drive. Khadeem Lattin is just scratching the surface of what he can be as a big man. He doesn't always make smart decisions and is a liability at the free throw line (although his 53% is slowly improving). With that being said, he has great strength and can clear space underneath effectively. While Spangler does damage on the outside and away from the hoop, Lattin can punish down low. Unfortunately though, he is pretty limited when compared to other true big men throughout the country, and it will be interesting to see how he fares in the NCAA Tournament. Lon Kruger's teams are always poised and play unselfish. This team is no different, which should suit them very well come late March. Even against some of the nation's best teams, Oklahoma has stayed cool and collected, and that isn't something you will see from every team. Their depth isn't overwhelming, but there are a number of guys that can come off the bench and contribute. 

Verdict: In what has been a crazy season, Oklahoma has actually been a pretty constant contender, sticking high in the rankings throughout the year. A big reason for that is Hield and their backcourt, which is about as talented as you can get. But, it also goes beyond just pure talent. The Sooners are a strong-willed, well-coached basketball team. Kruger has done an amazing job at OU ever since taking over for the fired Jeff Capel. He has constructed a poised and well-operated basketball team that doesn't appear as though it will fold in the tourney when the bright lights come on. With how crazy this year has been no team is a lock to go deep. But, Oklahoma has Final Four talent, and I'm penciling them in there. 

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