Full-court press: Baylor

Sooners opens Big 12 Conference play against Bears

SoonersIllustrated.com will present three things to watch before every men’s basketball game during the 2014-15 season.

No. 22 Baylor (11-1) at No. 18 Oklahoma (9-3)

When: 3:05 p.m. CST

TV/Radio: ESPBU/107.7 FM(OKC); 1430 AM (Tulsa); Sirius 84; XM 84

Series: Oklahoma, 41-11

Through the Big 12 for a second time

Oklahoma begins league play today with four starters who have already been through the process. While TaShawn Thomas openly admitted that the Big 12 will be much tougher than Conference USA, where he played when he was at Houston, Thomas had been a starter with the Cougars for three years.

Nothing will catch Oklahoma off guard this season.

“We’ve got a lot of experience coming back, we’ve got a lot of guys that played Big 12 minutes, and we’ve got a lot of older guys on this team,” Oklahoma point guard Jordan Woodard said. “I feel like that’s gonna help us in the long run. Coach has been preparing us to play every game like it’s our last, because in the Big 12 things can change so fast. We’re gonna be prepared every game.”

This is the time of year when veterans come to the forefront. Oklahoma will play two games per week, sometimes three, with at least one currently ranked team per week. The Big 12 has seven teams ranked in the top 26 and is the only conference with a winning percentage higher than 80. Nine of the ten teams in the league have been ranked at some point this season. “We’d much prefer to not having it,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said of Big 12 experience. “These guys have all been through it. They know how tough it is. They know how good Baylor is in this case. They won’t be surprised in that way.”

A battle of defenses

Baylor brings one of the best defenses in the Big 12 to Norman on Saturday. Oklahoma is one of those teams that can also contend for that title.

The Bears have the top 3-point defense (26.8 percent) and rank second in scoring defense (53.2 points). The Sooners are right behind Baylor with a 27.6-percent defensive 3-point rate.

“Last year, we won some games by shooting good, but we also lost some games because we shot bad, “Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler said. “I think this year if we do have a bad shooting game our defense will be there to help us out. We’ve won a couple games already like that this year.”

Both teams also rank in the top half of the conference in field goal percentage defense and steals.

Where Oklahoma leans on a switching man-to-man defense, Baylor’s zone has given teams trouble.

“It’s a very good one,” Kruger said. “They know how to help each other and are very comfortable in it.”

Hield not shaken by lack of production.

High-scoring guard Buddy Hield was named a third team All-American before the season after 16.5 points per game and 17.5 during Big 12 play.

However, he has seen a little bit of a dip in production this season with just 15.7 points per game through the non-conference season despite playing in a season that some thought would be his last at Oklahoma.

The Sooners’ balanced offense, featuring a pair of forwards who can score inside, has taken the pressure and the points off of Hield.

His teammates don’t think it has affected Hield much.

“He’s fine,” Spangler said. “He stays in the gym shooting. He knows he needs to hit a couple more shots for us a game. He’s put in the work to do that. He’ll start knocking them down more.”

Hield shot 38.6 percent from the field this season and averaged seven shots per game. This year, he is shooting 37.8 percent but is averaging more than 13 shots per game.

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