Sooners Illustrated will present three things to watch before every men’s basketball game during the 2015-16 season.
No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners (8-0)
TV/Radio: ESPNU/107.7 FM
Series: Oklahoma, 1-0.
Instead of giving three points about the third-ranked Sooners upcoming game against the Washington State Cougars, Sooners Illustrated will quickly break down every team. Here it goes.
Washington State (7-2) – The Cougars returned three starters from last year roster but lost their leading scorer. Josh Hawkinson leads the Cougars in both rebounding and scoring. He’s one of only 29 players averaging double-digit rebounds (10 per game) and joins Ryan Spangler on an even more elite list of the only players averaging double-figure points and rebounds. Washington State, which has lost its last eight games against ranked opponents, has played just one game away from home this season – a 78-74 loss to Idaho.
Hawaii (7-1) – Excluding the Sooners, the Rainbow Warriors start the tournament with the best record in the field. They are clearly the home team as well. Hawaii has the size to matchup with the Sooners on the perimeter with its top two scorers standing 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-3. It also has Stefan Jankovic, a 6-foot-11 forward who is averaging 15.4 points and 7.6 rebounds to game.
Northern Iowa (7-3) – Coming off a recent upset victory of then-No. 5 Iowa State, the Panthers have also beaten then-No. 1 North Carolina. Although, they lost to New Mexico less than a week ago. It’s clear that the Panthers are the biggest threat to the Sooners – possibly New Mexico as well. With two wins against top-five teams already on their resume, the Panthers will be searching for another one to bolster their chances at the NCAA Tournament. In the last nine years, Northern Iowa has averaged 20.8 victories per season. The Panthers returned just two starters from last year’s team but have four players averaging in double figures.
Auburn (5-3) – The Tigers haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2003, and in the second season under new coach Bruce Pearl, they aren’t making huge strides toward breaking that streak in the early season. Still a very young team with five freshmen on the roster, Auburn has lost two of its last three games. It’s best victory to date is a win at home against Mercer. The Tigers have four players averaging double figures, led by guard Kareem Canty, who is one of only 32 players in the country scoring at least 20 points per game.
BYU (7-3) – With nine-straight seasons of at least 20 wins and seven trips to the NCAA Tournament in that time, the Cougars are poised to make another run. But the Cougars are replacing their leading scorer and last year’s WCC Player of the Year and rotation player Jake Toolson will reportedly miss the tournament because of a leave of absence. Three players average more than 14 points for BYU, which is perfect at home but has lost three games on the road.
Harvard (3-6) – For a while, Harvard was considered the class of the Ivy League, but with six losses in its last eight games and victories against just MIT, Boston and Bryant, the Crimson come to Hawaii with something to prove as the only team with a losing record in the field. Harvard has just two players averaging double figures and just one play averaging more than 10 points. It will have to win with defense.
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New Mexico (7-3) – Along with BYU, the Lobos are the team most likely to challenge Oklahoma in the championship game, should the Sooners make the final game. Two of New Mexico’s three losses this season are to major conference teams – USC and then-No. 11 Purdue, which has lost just one game. 6-foot-4 guard Elijah Brown can score with the best in the nation (19.1 points per game) but also averages 3.5 assists per game.