The Bruins passed the test against the early season Division II, low-major and mid-major opponents, but can they beat an Oklahoma team that was 23-10 last year, has made it to the Tournament two years in a row (but lost twice in the second round), picked to finish third in the Big 12 this year (they may always be behind Kansas, but this time Texas had a stellar recruiting class), brings back a lot of experience including three starters and adds Houston transfer forward TaShawn Thomas (ESPN's Oklahoma page)? Oklahoma fans think they're a national sleeper, but...
The stats say yes. Looking at my homemade table and chart, the Four Factors are in our favor. The odd thing about the TO% is that it is turnovers per possession and UCLA, due to pace, has a lot more possessions. Turnovers have actual been an Achilles heel for Oklahoma, and the lack of them a relative strength for UCLA.
Kenpom has the Bruins (#17) ahead of the Sooners (#28) too! The loss to Creighton has every one, including the pollsters, re-evaluating Oklahoma. They were up by 18 early in the second half but lost 65-63 when Creighton got hot and the Sooners fell victim to their TO's. Post-game analysis suggested that they let their nerves get the best of them in front of 17,000 at Creighton despite all the returning experience.
At this writing, Oklahoma is a 3.5 point favorite.
Stats aren't everything, and the eye test would suggest this will be a tough match. Sure Oklahoma lost on the road, but the Bruins haven't been out of Pauley yet and we know Looney and Hamilton are still dealing with their nerves. Further, the Sooners go nine deep with their sixth and seventh men battling to crack the starting lineup while the bench has emerged as the number one weakness for the Bruins.
Here are the keys to the game:
- In man, Norman Powell will surely cover their all-world shooting guard, 6'4" junior Buddy Hield. He's averaging 20.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 3.0 apg. If Norman keeps Hield under control, the Sooners production drops after sharply after that. The downside here is that Norman will expend a lot of energy on defense, and that will likely curtain his offense.
- Oklahoma's 6'0" sophomore Jordan Woodard is turnover prone (4.0 ppg) and is only averaging 26% from the field. This shouldn't be a tough assignment for Bryce Alford.
- If Norman is going to be tied up on defense, and their bigs are tough on the glass (ranked ninth nationally in rpg), Isaac Hamilton will have to step up offensively along with Bryce.
- The bigs have to avoid foul trouble and both Looney and Parker have to play big minutes.
Despite losing two of their best three-point shooters from last year, Oklahoma is still very good from the three - 41%. Their team FT% is 70%, but their starters are 88%, 83%, 75%, 72% and 40% (Thomas).
Besides Hield, Thomas and Woodard, the other starters are 6'4" junior guard Isaiah Cousins and 6'8" junior forward Ryan Spangler.
If Powell controls Hield and the Bruins don't get rattled early, then I think the game is decided on the bigs. If Parker or Looney gets into foul trouble against the most athletic and most accomplished rebounding bigs they've faced, the Bruins lose. On the other hand, if Looney can hit his FT's, Parker stays on the floor, and Bryce and Isaac score big, the Bruins win.
If the Bruins keep it close in the first four to eight minutes, I call this a close win for the Bruins.