The Oklahoma Sooners (7-3) are set to take on the Ohio Bobcats (8-4) Saturday at 7 PM CST at the Lloyd Noble Center. Though the Bobcats, from the MAC, may appear a typical cupcake at first glance on the Sooners schedule, if the Sooners learned anything from their loss to Stephen F. Austin, it’s that no opponent should go overlooked.
That in mind, the Bobcats are no slouches. Fresh off of a trip to the Sweet Sixteen last season, and returning every major piece from that run, Ohio has the experience, as well as the talent, to challenge Oklahoma. A veteran-lad team accustomed to late game situations, Ohio is exactly the kind of team that spells trouble for the Sooners.
Oklahoma’s games have been excruciatingly close, seven out of 10 being decided by seven or less points. Of their seven wins, five of them fall under this category. It’s not by any means a pretty brand of basketball, but the Sooners have, for the most part they have showed up in crunch time.
They will look to do the same here, taking advantage of a Bobcats team that has been on a bit of a skid lately. After starting the season 6-0, Ohio, in coach Jim Christian’s inaugural year, has gone 2-4 in its last six games. They are also 0-3 in road games so far this season. Ohio has been outscored by an average of four points in the final five minutes of all of their losses.
On the whole, it will look to be a fairly even matchup. Both teams enter the game with struggles of their own, and a win here could be a big morale booster. Here are four factors for a Sooner victory:
Work it Inside: Ohio is an extremely guard-heavy team. Outside of Ivo Baltic, they start a fairly small lineup, their next tallest player being 6-foot-6. They make visits to the free throw line frequent for their opponent, sending them to the line an average of 23.4 times per contest. Romero Osby, the Sooners main threat inside, is shooting the ball more efficiently than any Sooner so far this season (49%). Amath M’Baye, Andrew Fitzgerald, and Cameron Clark, in his newly implemented inside role, join Osby to form a solid post quartet. This group will need to attack the paint early and often, using their size, and in some cases athleticism to their advantage. As of now, it is unclear what Oklahoma’s method of attack is on offense. Though the Sooners have thrived in transition, their half-court offense has lacked an identity. They will need to give it one this game. Oklahoma should draw fouls, and make the defense commit to the inside. In turn, it will open up things elsewhere, such as windows for Steven Pledger on the perimeter and a wider array of offensive attacks.
Ball Control/Sam Grooms: In Oklahoma’s most recent loss to Stephen F. Austin, the Sooners were without their primary ball handler, Sam Grooms, who was suffering from a concussion. Grooms leads the Sooners in assists, but he has been most important in late-game situations, where his veteran leadership has helped steady the Sooner offense. With Grooms out, Oklahoma was left only two options at point guard, both freshmen. Jelon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins had been solid all season, but had never felt the bulk of the pressure to carry the offense late in the second half, in Grooms’ absence, they were thrust into the spotlight. Amidst the pressure, the two combined for four turnovers. Grooms will be back for this contest, and look for the Sooners to lean on him late in the game. Having a reliable ballhandler in the back court will be a huge difference maker for the Sooners, especially against a stingy Ohio defense that is fourth in the nation in turnovers forced, with 19.8 per game.
Buddy Hield & Company: Fun fact: Buddy Hield shoots 43% in Sooner wins compared to just 32% in losses. Hield also averages 10 points in Sooner victory compared to just six in Oklahoma losses. The freshman has only reached double digits three times this season, and on each of those occasions, the Sooners won. It’s not too difficult to make the connection here; when Buddy Hield is playing well, so is Oklahoma. The same thing can be said on a broader scale: when Oklahoma’s bench is performing well the Sooners are too. With the amount of depth this team possesses, bench play is a key factor because in some cases, reserve players may log more minutes than starters. When you have your bench taking up that big of a chunk of game time, there is an even greater importance put on the performance of your role players. For the majority of Oklahoma’s wins, their bench has been there. If they expect to win Saturday, that will again need to be the case.
Free Throws: It seems like a given, but you’ve got to hit your freebies. The Sooners have been very mediocre at the line so far this season, except for a 95% effort from the stripe in a win over Texas A&M. Aside from that anomaly, Oklahoma has shot 68.9% from the line this year. In each of their three losses this season they have shot 73% or less. It was already mentioned Ohio is one of the worst teams in the nation in terms of sending team to the foul line, so the opportunities will be there for Oklahoma. What they need to do, is sink their shots.
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