Ahead of our game against Oklahoma on Friday night, we questioned our sister site, Crimson and Cream Machine, about the Sooners. Rich DeCray was nice enough to deal with my #mathketball questions; give him a follow @RichDeCray
The Only Colors: Oklahoma appears to be a defense-first team, ranking in the top 6 in the nation in defensive efficiency. However, both Albany and Dayton were able to get to 1 point per possession against the Sooners. What does Oklahoma do well defensively, and how were those teams able to have some success?
Crimson and Cream Machine: Over the course of the season, Lon Kruger successfully coached the perimeter players into switching on every screen. Any space generally created for opposing offenses disappears as the guards communicate while anticipating movement. However, Iowa St. exposed a flaw in the regular season as Fred Hoiberg stretched the floor. The tactic forced Oklahoma into one-on-one situations all too often while top notch players like Georges Niang took advantage driving the lane.
Albany and Dayton certainly took note of this defensive weakness as two undersized teams. Of course, I tend the think Dayton had an advantage playing in their backyard but such is the nature of the NCAA Tournament. The Flyers found space connecting on 50%+ of their 3-point attempts to help keep things close but neither Dayton nor Albany possess the caliber of athlete of Michigan State.
TOC: None of Oklahoma's top three guys in terms of usage rate have assist rates above 15%, and nobody on the Sooner's team averages more than 3.9 assists per game. How much does the Oklahoma offense rely upon individuals to create for themselves?
CACM: Quite a bit actually. Under the direction of Coach Kruger, the Sooners have progressed into an inside-out type squad. Constantly feeding TaShawn Thomas plays into the lack of assists as he often goes to work off the bounce. The 6-8 senior has been known to go coast to coast after securing the rebound. Secondarily, point guard, Jordan Woodard often looks to draw the foul off the bounce instead of the open shooter. The kid is a terrific free throw shooter and protects the ball fairly well but misses a few open players around the perimeter when trying to get to the rim. Lastly, OU boasts a single pure shooter in Frank Booker, a bench contributor, for the kick out...not ideal for a high number of assists.
TOC: MSU has had some issue this year with bigs who have some range. Is there anyone like that on this Sooners team we should look out for?
CACM: Throughout the summer, Ryan Spangler sensed a position change coming. Holding down the five spot previously, the junior forward made a permanent move to the four. Working on extending his range and improving his jumper, Spangler knocked down attempt after attempt from range. Unfortunately for Oklahoma fans, the willingness to shoot 3-pointers completely disappeared in the latter half of the season. So, to answer your question, there are no bigs willing to step outside that MSU fans need to worry about at the moment in my humble opinion.
TOC: Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins both appear to be terrific scorers from the wing. Are there any specific types of defenders who give those guys trouble?
CACM: If you watch Cousins closely, you'll notice an unorthodox style of dribbling. It reminds me a little of James Harden's style of play. For that sole reason, lengthy defenders trouble Cousins forcing him into ill-advised decisions and/or shots. As far as Hield is concerned, a physical defender consistently bumping him seems to knock him out of sync. Of course, it takes an athlete with an undying motor to keep it up for 40 minutes of play.
TOC: MSU and Oklahoma last faced off in the Barclay's Center in the non-conference schedule in the 2013-14 season (an 87-76 win, I might add). How has this Oklahoma team changed since last year?
CACM: The most noticeable change may be depth and production from the post.
A year ago, the program relied on Cam Clark and Ryan Spangler to fill those roles with walk-ons holding the role of backups. Now, a transfer from Houston in Thomas and scholarship players like Khadeem Lattin provide much needed depth while allowing Spangler to slide into a more natural position.
To reiterate what I said earlier, those additions take the pressure off the guards to carry the load as Oklahoma slowly moved to an inside-out game making the squad much more difficult to defend.
TOC: Score prediction?
CACM: I'm expecting a track meet and subsequently a high scoring affair. Understanding that the Spartans are playing at an extremely high level and have Sweet 16 experience on their side, I'm still taking the Sooners in this one 87-81.
Thanks to Rich and Crimson and Cream Machine for answering our questions!