The Moore American

March 19, 2014

Oklahoma prepares for the unknown in first round

By John Shinn
The Moore American

MOORE — One of the explanations for why March becomes madness is the NCAA tournament’s condensed format. Early Sunday evening the bracket is announced, leaving only three or four days to prepare for an opponent, and most teams will spend at least several hours traveling on one of those days.

That’s not a lot of time to get ready for a game that will end or extend the season. Win that opening game, and there are 48 hours — give or take — to prepare for the next one.

The internet age has removed a lot of the mystery coaches once faced. A season’s worth of opponent’s games can be downloaded within minutes of the bracket’s debut.

Still when cramped for time, most coaching staffs study the season statistics and start building a game plan from what the sheet says.

Most of the time, cramming identifies go-to scorers and how they are able to put the ball in the basket.

That is a problem No. 21 Oklahoma (23-9) presents for North Dakota State (25-6) when they meet at 6:27 p.m. on Thursday in the NCAA tournament’s West Region at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

The norm is to disect the last 10 games of an upcoming NCAA tournament opponent and go from there. An analysis of OU shows four different players — Jordan Woodard, Cameron Clark, Isaiah Cousins and Buddy Hield — have scored at least 19 points in one of those last 10 games.

“They’ll come away thinking they have to stop Buddy. Watch two more tapes and they’ll think they have to stop Cam. Then, they’ll start thinking Isaiah,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “It’s different guys that have been the reason we’ve won.”

That’s what makes OU a vastly different team than it was during its last two NCAA tournament appearances. Last season, there was no doubt who was getting the ball when OU had to have a basket. Romero Osby was a clearly defined No. 1 scoring option.

In 2009, the emphasis was even greater. Blake Griffin was that season’s player of the year because he could score against anyone.

“We’d like to have Blake — no questions asked,” Kruger joked.

No doubt. NBA lottery picks are usually a given that can dominate under any circumstance. The Sooners lack that unique talent. But they aren’t weighed down by that predictability because they can put up to five legitimate scoring threats on the floor at any given time. Even Ryan Spangler, who is the only starter averaging less than double figures at 9.9 points a game, has three 20-point game this season.

“It’s great,” said OU guard Buddy Hield, who is averaging a team-leading 16.8 points a game. “This whole team is capable of knocking down shots. You can’t leave anybody open. On any given night anyone can get hot.”

The Sooners need that to continue Thursday. The scoring ability makes them a tough matchup.

It wasn’t an overnight development. OU showed offensive diversity from the season’s opening tip.

OU won games almost strictly because of it early in the season. In February, defensive improvements finally arrived.

But the first thing North Dakota State and any future opponents will notice is the Sooners have thrived because they don’t rely on a definitive scorer.

“We’ve had good success with the balance we’ve had this year, with it being different guys on different nights,” Kruger said. “Obviously, Cam and Buddy have been it the majority of the time. But Isaiah has done it at times and so has Jordan. It’s been different guys at different times and it’s worked well.”