1. Buddy Hield – Outside of the flash-in-the-pan performance against West Virginia, Hield has been playing just the way Oklahoma needs him to play in March. Hield has a NCAA-leading 63 points in the tournament and is averaging more than 25 points per game this month, even with his six-point total against West Virginia.
Hield is the best player remaining in the tournament, although that could have been the case on Selection Sunday. With Hield in the lineup, Oklahoma has a chance to beat any team left in the field.
2. Oklahoma lost last year’s Sweet 16 – And it left a sting. The Sooners are more prepared now than they were last year, having isolated the specific plays that caused their downfall against Michigan State, and are a year older than they were last year too. The desire to win is there. The desire to be better fueled the Sooners over the summer. Now is when it has a chance to prove to be fruitful.
3. The supporting cast has developed its niche – Oklahoma had a nice supporting cast around Hield last year, but it wasn’t good enough – and Hield was hardly good enough to have a supporting cast. Hield has improved, but Oklahoma’s sidekicks have found their niche. Isaiah Cousins has control of the offense at point guard, and Jordan Woodard has developed into an actual offensive threat. Ryan Spangler has diversified his game, and the Sooners actually have a defensive presence at the rim with Khadeem Lattin.
If everyone plays their role, Oklahoma should be bound for the Elite 8 for the first time since 2009.
And here are three reasons why the Sooners lose:
1. Team play – Oklahoma has balance, but so does Texas A&M. The Aggies are in the top-20 in the nation in assists per game led by Alex Caruso, who is sixth nationally in active D-I career assists. Caruso set the program record in career assists as well (644). He’s also the active NCAA steals leader.
Texas A&M has seven players averaging at least six points per game. Oklahoma has just four. The balanced scoring attack could be tough for the Sooners to corral.
2. Mismatch on the inside – At some point, Danuel House will wind up on Woodard. House, a 6-foot-7 wing, will likely revel at the opportunity to match-up on the undersized Woodard. But Woodard is looking forward to it also.
At just about every position, Texas A&M holds a big size advantage. The Sooners have quickness, though. It might not be enough if Texas A&M can control the offensive glass as well as get points in the paint.
3. Texas A&M is a team of destiny – After already posting a program record for wins, the Aggies pulled off a miracle against Northern Iowa. With a coach who is battling Parkinson’s Disease and a line-up field with senior transfers, the Aggies write a pretty nice story.
Is luck still on their side Thursday?