Oklahoma isn’t a one-man team. But stopping one man would go a long way toward beating the Sooners.
Stopping Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield may be impossible. Nobody has even been able to contain him during the NCAA Tournament. After averaging 25 points during the regular season, Hield is averaging 29.3 points during the NCAA Tournament.
Not so coincidentally, nobody has been able to contain the Sooners (29-7), either. They have scored between 77 and 85 points during the tournament and, other than an 85-81 victory over VCU, all of Oklahoma’s tournament victories have been by 12 or 14 points.
Villanova (33-5) will do its best to contain Hield and the Sooners on Saturday (6:09 p.m.) in the opening game of the Final Four in Houston.
The Wildcats have not allowed more than 69 points in any of their four NCAA Tournament games. That does not, however, mean they’ve been slowing down the pace. Villanova scored between 86 and 92 points in each of its first three tournament games. That streak ended with the Wildcats’ 64-59 triumph over Kansas in the South Regional final, but holding the top-seeded Jayhawks to 59 points was impressive.
Lost in the Wildcats’ outstanding shooting was their excellent defense. Many transition baskets and open 3-pointers on the break were created by terrific defense. But the defense stepped out from the shadows against Kansas, limiting star forward Perry Ellis to four points.
Unlike Ellis, who looks for the ball inside, Hield, the runner-up to Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine in player of the year balloting, gets the ball on the perimeter. It’s much more difficult to deny him the ball.
Once he gets the ball, Hield can drive or shoot 3-pointers. Villanova head coach Jay Wright would likely be satisfied if the Wildcats could hold Hield to fewer than 20 points.
Expect Villanova to run multiple defenders at Hield. Josh Hart should see time guarding Hield, with Mikal Bridges, coming off of a five-steal game against Kansas, providing relief.
The Wildcats know that although Hield is the key, he isn’t the Sooners’ only offensive threat. Isaiah Cousins led Oklahoma in scoring when it thrashed Villanova, 78-55, on Dec. 7 in the Pearl Harbor Invitational. Cousins scored 19 points against the Wildcats. Hield added 18 points. Guard Jordan Woodard and forward Ryan Spangler are both double-digit scorers.
Villanova isn’t a one-man team, either. In fact, the Wildcats appear to be better balanced than the Sooners. Kris Jenkins and Ryan Arcidiacono can bury 3-pointers. Hart can drill 3-pointers, but excels in transition, and Daniel Ochefu patrols the paint at both ends.
A victory over the Sooners would propel Villanova into the national championship game for the first time since 1985, when the Wildcats shocked Georgetown to win the national title. The opponent Monday would be the winner of Saturday’s game (8:49 p.m.) between North Carolina, the top seed in the East, and Syracuse, the 10th seed in the Midwest.
But the Wildcats won’t get caught looking ahead to Monday night.
With Buddy Hield to deal with on Saturday, nobody will be looking past the Sooners.