Wisconsin got the stiff test it needed on Thursday afternoon from Georgetown, so what does Black Friday have in store?
Oklahoma (4-1) clamped down on surprise semifinalist Butler to advance to the Battle 4 Atlantis finals to meet the Badgers (6-0). The Sooners, ranked No. 19 in the AP preseason poll, recovered from an early-season loss to Creighton under the guidance of fourth-year head coach Lon Kruger, a close friend of Bo Ryan. Kruger's bunch likes to play uptempo and shoot plenty of threes, but will make life tough on Wisconsin defensively as well.
To get the skinny on Oklahoma, Matt Hofeld from Crimson and Cream Machine agreed to answer a few questions for us.
B5Q: Buddy Hield is originally from the Bahamas and has plenty of family at the tournament. Can you tell what kind of "home court" advantage that has given Oklahoma?
Crimson & Cream Machine (Matt): The Prime Minister of the Bahamas stopped by to take a photo with Buddy on Thursday and then a member of the Atlantis staff told the Oklahoma SID that all of the Bahamas would be pulling for them. The crowd has been pretty vocal, in favor of the Sooners, during the first two games, but after watching the Badgers on Thursday afternoon it seems like there’s a pretty strong following for Wisconsin as well. It doesn’t really matter who the people on the Island are cheering for. What matters is the people in the arena and I think it’ll be a little slanted towards OU but not by a whole lot.
B5Q: Coming into the year, Oklahoma was a darkhorse Final Four pick by some based on the immediate availability of 6'8" Houston transfer Tra Thomas. Has he lived up to the hype? Does Thomas bring anything different to the Sooners that junior forward Ryan Spangler cannot?
CCM: Thomas is coming on and getting better with each game. He and Spangler are different players with Ryan being a terrific rebounder as well as a guy who can score from outside. TaShawn Thomas is more of an under the basket guy. He’s a solid rebounder and can make you adjust your shot with his defense but he still seems to be trying to find his offensive game.
B5Q: Defense appears to be Oklahoma's calling card early in the year. How will the Sooners try to match up with Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes inside?
CCM: This will be the biggest inside test that the Sooners have faced this season. I suspect that they’ll try to body those guys up and mix in a little zone as well. Ryan Spangler plays bigger than his size and can make other bigs pay for trying to dribble around him because he has quick hands. One guy to note in this matchup will be senior forward DJ Bennett who is a shot blocker and defensive specialists. This is the match-up that should concern Oklahoma fans the most and if the Sooners get into foul trouble the it could easily get away from them.
B5Q: The Creighton loss is looking more and more like an anomaly. What went wrong or gave the Sooners problems during that game?
CCM: That game was lost in the second half when Creighton went insane from the three-point line. The Sooners had an 11-point lead at the break but as they went cold in the second half, Creighton caught fire and went on a 24-4 run. It was the most shell shocked I can remember seeing an OU basketball team being in a long while.
B5Q: Led by Hield, the Oklahoma backcourt is probably the strength of the team. Led by Hield, Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins, and reserve Frank Booker, the group likes to launch a lot of three-pointers. Do any of these players have the ability to break down the defense and get the Badgers into foul trouble on the perimeter?
CCM: Absolutely! They’ve had a good amount of success at working their way to the charity stripe in this tournament. Buddy, Jordan and Isaiah have been able to make plays both inside and outside of the paint and draw a good number of fouls. Booker has been at the line in both games after being fouled on a three-point shot. All of Oklahoma’s guards are quick and can -- for the most part -- create their shot off the dribble which also allows them to draw fouls.
B5Q: For all the success Lon Kruger has brought to Norman, the Sooners have been one-and-done in the Big 12 and NCAA tournament all three years. Is it starting to wear on Sooner fans or just something you're confident will even out.
CCM: I think that if it happens again this year then fans will start to become uneasy about the postseason play. I think you really have to understand how far this program had fallen though before Kruger arrived. Last season was the first time they’ve made the NCAA Tournament since he took over the program and while fans were upset about the first-round loss they also understood the progress the program is making under Coach Kruger. Now that he has his guys running his system the fan support is a good as it has been since Blake Griffin was jumping out of the gym in 2008. With a stronger fanbase comes stronger expectations and a one-and-done post season will start some grumbling.
B5Q: Care to make a prediction about the final Battle 4 Atlantis game versus Wisconsin?
CCM: I honestly thought there was a chance that the Sooners could have gone 1-2 in this tournament so just to have them in the championship game is a bonus. I think that OU has legitimately shown themselves to be a Top 25 team this week and now we’ll see if they’re Top 5 worthy. My gut tells me that the Badgers get on a run in the second half to put this game out of reach but then again this entire tournament has seemed to favor the underdog. Should be a fun game.
Thanks for the time Matt! For more Oklahoma coverage follow @CCMachine on Twitter.
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For more Wisconsin basketball coverage, follow Phil on Twitter @hoopsmarinara.