Will the shots fall?
Never before has Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger entered the NCAA Tournament with a team poised for a deep run yet so dependent on the 3-point shot. He’s the only coach in NCAA history to take four teams to the Sweet 16, so he has a bit of experience with long tournament runs.
The 3-point shot has evolved over the last 30 years, since Kruger got into coaching – from practically ignored to occasionally over-utilized. Oklahoma was one of the more frequent 3-point shooting teams in the nation this season and averages more 3-point attempts than any other team in the NCAA Tournament. It should come as no surprise that Oklahoma has also made the most 3-pointers of any team in the tournament.
But Oklahoma is the team that is slipping. The Sooners shot better than 46 percent from behind the arc early in the year, but they finished the year 42.6 percent from deep. That’s caused a lot people to doubt Oklahoma’s ability to make a deep run in the tournament.
That’s something Kruger fully understands. He just doesn’t think about it all that much.
“It’s just a matter of if we’re in a stretch where we’re shooting it with confidence, I don’t think it’s a concern,” Kruger said. “If we’ve got a couple guys that aren’t shooting it with confidence, then certainly it is a concern.
“Right now, we’re kind of in that in between area.”
Jordan Woodard has shot the ball better recently while Isaiah Cousins and Buddy Hield have come back down from their stratospheric percentages. All three still finished in the top-5 in the Big 12 in 3-point shooting. Hield hit more 3-pointers than anyone else in the nation.
Kruger has always talked about wanting to throw the ball inside, saying as recently as Monday that the Sooners would still want to do it. After every game, Kruger still tells the coaching staff that they want to throw it inside more. But when Hield, Woodard, Cousins and even Ryan Spangler knock down a few 3-pointers or something goes wrong on the inside that belief goes out the window.
In order to make a deep run, Oklahoma still needs to knock down shots. That starts with better ball movement and better play on the offensive end without the ball. If Oklahoma can find the confidence to knock down shots, it can change everything. If they miss, they won’t be missing for long.
“We’re shooting the ball with pretty decent confidence from three,” Kruger said.