Wisconsin (6-0) will face off against Oklahoma (4-1) for the right to leave the Bahamas as tournament champion. The Badgers earned a place in the title game after a cutthroat 68-65 win over Georgetown. Oklahoma had a much easier time in its semifinal game, leading Butler by double digits for all but 20 seconds after the 10-minute mark in the first half.
Oklahoma entered the year with high expectations after returning four starters from last year's team that went 23-10 and earned a 5-seed in the NCAA tournament. Entering the year ranked No. 19 in the country, Oklahoma was bounced from the polls after a two-point loss at Creighton last week.
The Sooners responded by pulling away from UCLA late in a competitive quarterfinal game before its dismantling of Butler. Oklahoma, one of the fastest paced teams over the last couple years, responded impressively to Butler's methodical pace and forced the Bulldogs to shoot under 24 percent from the field.
What to look for from Oklahoma:
1. One of the better starting lineups in the country
It's experienced, successful, talented and each of its pieces fit perfectly. The team is led by Buddy Hield, a 6'4" wing that can light it up with a jump shot that has unusually little elevation for a player his size. Hield, who is from the Bahamas, is averaging over 18 points per game on the season despite being held to just five against Butler. Hield is joined on the perimeter by Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins. Woodard is a promising sophomore point guard that is respectable across the board and excels at getting to the rim. Cousins is the glue piece of the trio, scoring when asked, while hitting the glass and getting dirty on the defensive end.
Rounding out the starting lineup are big men Ryan Spangler and TaShawn Thomas. Spangler, who started his career at Gonzaga, is a walking double-double that hits the glass with as much ferocity as anyone you'll see this year. Thomas is the more gifted of the two, but is still finding his place in the hierarchy after transferring from Houston and not hearing until the night before the first game of the season that he is immediately eligible. What's even scarier is that Thomas is the only senior.
2. Not much after that
Oklahoma runs a very tight rotation; every member of its starting lineup averaged over 27 minutes per game last year and the same thing is happening again this year. The entire starting lineup played over 30 minutes against Butler despite the game never really being in question. If Wisconsin can manage to get any of the starting unit , especially the forwards, in foul trouble, there will be a noticeable drop-off between that player and his replacement. This is something Wisconsin did reasonably well against the Hoyas, forcing its big men to battle fouls for much of the game.
3. Hield could channel his inner D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera
The good news for Wisconsin is that Hield is typically far more effective in transition than in the half court, which explains his struggles against Butler. It's no secret that Wisconsin does a great job of slowing teams down and limiting those opportunities in open court. That said, Hield is a talented scorer that has the ability to fill it up on anyone if he gets hot. Unlike Smith-Rivera, Hield won't create many shots for himself. This makes it imperative for Traevon Jackson and Bronson Koenig to keep Woodard in front of them and avoid kick outs.
4. A competitive game
Oklahoma is headed by Lon Kruger, the former UNLV coach that knocked the second-seeded Badgers out of the 2007 NCAA tournament in the second round thanks to his son being the first athlete to take advantage of the graduate-transfer rule. Feelings about that rule (thanks, Russell) have now changed, and I have to give Kruger credit. He's a good coach and the Sooners have played pretty good defense considering the pace they play at. Oklahoma's worst loss last year was an 11-point defeat to Michigan State at a neutral site. I wouldn't expect any better than that unless Wisconsin is firing on all cylinders.
Opposed to Georgetown, which was able to match Wisconsin's height pretty much across the board, Oklahoma won't be able to do the same. I'm looking for both Jackson and Frank Kaminsky to have big comeback games after struggling against the Hoyas. Kaminsky will have four inches on who ever is guarding him and Jackson will have the opportunity to take advantage of the much smaller Woodard. Sam Dekker will also have a significant size advantage over his defender and needs to maintain the aggressiveness he started and ended the Georgetown game with.
If those things happen, Wisconsin should return to the mainland with a spotless record.