The Sooners were a Sweet 16 team last year, and with Hield’s return, they will once again have a chance for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. For the second year in a row, Oklahoma has four returning starters. It brings back at least 74 percent of their rebounding, scoring and assists from last season.
Oklahoma, which will play Villanova in what will likely be an early-season top-15 matchup, loses just one primary rotation player while likely adding at least three.
The potential made Hield even a little eager.
“I feel like the best is yet to come with this team,” Hield said. “My main goal is to go to the Final Four. Why not go there? It’s my last year.”
That is the likely goal for the entire team, even with the departure of transfer senior TaShawn Thomas, who was a stabilizing force on offense.
With Hield dedicated to creating his own shot as well as opportunities for other players and three players likely joining the rotation, there’s a chance that the Sooners could be even better on the wing.
Frank Booker’s transfer weakens the Sooners’ biggest strength a little bit, but with Dante Buford, who could have played a major role for Oklahoma this season, coming off a redshirt and two freshmen – Rashard Odomes and Christian James – looking like immediate contributors, the Sooners could go up to seven deep in the backcourt.
Hield will be even better, looking to set himself even further away from his competitors as the best player in the Big 12 Conference.
“You’ve gotta project too that Buddy has made so much progress every year,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said of his player who is trying to become the first player to win back-to-back PoY titles since 1998. “He’ll do that again because he works so hard. He’s in the gym. . . . That has so much value. The impact they have on the young players coming in, Buddy’s leadership, having a guy that can score like he can: His leadership ability has gone up each year. It’s had a big impact on the program.”
Hield won’t be able to completely disguise Oklahoma’s questions on offense in the post, but a well-developed Hield will make life easier for the Sooners’ interior attack.
Ryan Spangler will take up much of that responsibility with Khadeem Lattin and Jamuni McNeace still developing. Incoming JuCo transfer Akolda Manyang will be a big wild card. He will arrive on campus in good academic standing after missing much of his final season at Indian Hills Community College because of a personal leave of absence.
He’ll just have to slow down his offensive game, having played in the most up-tempo or up-tempo attacks at IHCC.
The difficulty of leaving his teammates was a big part of Hield’s decision, but his return gives Oklahoma a chance at its best season since 2002-03 when it won the outright Big 12 Championship and reached the Elite 8.
“It was hard for me to leave these guys,” Hield said. “I love being around Ryan, Isaiah, Jordan and those guys. They’re coming back with Khadeem, Jamuni and Dante, and with AK coming in and the two freshmen coming in, it’s going to be fun. I just can’t wait to see what coach Kruger has in mind for next year.
“I know we’re going to be a really good team.”