Five questions entering the OU-Nova game

Pat+Forde+of+Yahoo%21+Sports+and+head+coach+for+the+Oklahoma+Sooners+Lon+Kruger+speak+on+behalf+of+Buddy+Heild.+

Adrian Broaddus

Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports and head coach for the Oklahoma Sooners Lon Kruger speak on behalf of Buddy Heild.

Adrian Broaddus, Sports Editor

HOUSTON—Tipping off the day in the final four round of the NCAA Tournament will be the second matchup between Lon Kruger’s Oklahoma Sooners (27-7) and Jay Wright’s Villanova Wildcats (35-5) on Saturday, April 2  in the NRG Stadium.

During the last meeting at Hickam Air Force Base/Joint Base Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 2015, the Sooners rolled over the Wildcats 78-55. A lot has changed since the loss, including the Wildcats catching fire in their respective conference and becoming a powerful threat.

Here are the top five questions that will be important in this matchup:

5. Who wins: Villanova defensive zone or Oklahoma shooters?

Wright has instilled a strong zone defense that has prevented teams from scoring heavily in the tournament. They faced a very similar team to OU when they played Miami in the sweet sixteen round. Miami, like Oklahoma, had four or more key scorers on the team; but, the Wildcats locked in defensively and overpowered the Hurricanes on the offensive side of the ball to win the game.

“I started to find ways we could still remain aggressive in [the zone defense],” Wright said. “That’s why we’re using it now. It’s taken me a while to learn how we can be aggressive. The range that they (Oklahoma) can shoot the ball with, you got to go out and guard them, and it makes you play man-to-man. They just spread you out so much.”

The spread offense that Wright is describing is credited to the four scoring threats on the Sooners’ end. Buddy Heild, Isaiah Cousins, Ryan Spangler and Jordan Woodard combine for nearly 62 points per game.

“They know each other very well,” Kruger said. “They know where the ball needs to be. They do that day after day after day. We never have to talk about enthusiasm. We never have to talk about energy. We never have to talk about getting up extra shots. It makes coaching a lot easier when you have a group like this.

4. Is the fifth time the charm for coach Lon Kruger?

Kruger of the Sooners, along with Tubby Smith, is one of two coaches in division one men’s basketball to take five different teams to the NCAA Tournament (Oklahoma, UNLV, Illinois, Florida, Kansas State), and is the only coach to win a tournament game with five different teams. However, Kruger has never been to the title game, nor won a championship in his 22-years as a head coach. Saturday’s game marks the second time Kruger has led his team to the Men’s Final Four (Florida, 1994).

This time, according to Kadeem Lattin, Kruger did not come to Houston to lose.

“Coach Kruger, he’s calm and even-keeled, but he’s a competitor and a fierce competitor,” Lattin said. “He hates losing as much as we do.”

3. Are the Wildcats still sour from the disappointing OU loss in December?

Since the loss against Oklahoma in Dec., the Wildcats have been nothing short of flashy. They are 28-1 this season when holding teams to less than 70 points in scoring and 15-0 when holding teams below 60. Last game against OU, the Sooners dropped 78 on the Wildcats, so this game Villanova wants to keep the scoring low.

“We’re ready to play,” guard Ryan Arcidiacono said. “We just are eager we get another shot at Oklahoma because we know what kind of a team they are and how much better we have gotten.”
Wright agrees with Arcidiacono’s statement and believes they are not the same team since December.

“We’ve always used that game and the respect for Oklahoma to keep trying to improve,” Wright said. “I think we have gotten better. I think this game is going to be about how much better have they gotten, how much better have we gotten, how close are we now.”

2. How much of a factor will Ryan Arcidiacono be?

While forward Daniel Ochefu and guard Josh Hart both have major contribution to the Wildcat’s offense, it will be the expertise of Arcidiacono that could decide the fate for Villanova. The second team All-Big East standout is the first player in program history to record 1,500 points or more (1,573) and 500 or more assists (530). Arcidiacono can control games; in the last 11 games, he has 62 assists with only nine turnovers.

“We always have confidence going out on the floor,” Arcidiacono said. “Coach does a great job preparing us. We aren’t just a 3-point team, we can dump the ball off to Daniel [Ochefu] too.”

1. Has the pressure gotten to Buddy Heild?

Heild has been racking in numerous post-season awards throughout the week, and the most recent being the Oscar Robertson Trophy for the National Player of the Year. Heild assures that none of the media, extended attention or stardom of the Final Four has gotten to its head, but the pressure for him to excel in this game is very high.

“One thing that coach always told me is never get involved with the media, and to focus on the game and focus on your team,” Heild said. “I don’t want to disappoint them (his family in the Bahamas). You can never do enough to satisfy people in the Bahamas.”

Heild is averaging 29.3 points per game in the tournament. He only needs three points to become the Sooners’ all-time leading scorer. Even Wildcat’s guard Arcidiacono claims that it will be tough to guard Heild and said “he will definitely score points.”

“Buddy’s done a good job,” Kruger said. “Buddy doesn’t force many shots. He is a high-percentage shooter. Some of them may be a little bit guarded, but they’re still shots Buddy can make. I can probably count in 37 games, whatever we’ve played, you know, he just hasn’t taken many bad shots.”

Adrian Broaddus may be reached at [email protected]