Sooners season ends in 1st round

The Sooners played hard and played pretty well overall but lost 83-78 in overtime to Rhode Island in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This isn’t going to be a season-in-review post but I do just want to look back on yesterday’s loss and see to what degree the Sooners were able to do the things they needed to do in order to win.

The first thing we said here that the Sooners needed to do to win was to push the tempo. They were more successful all season long when they played more possessions, averaging 78 possessions in their victories and 74 in their losses. Against the Rams yesterday, they played 77 possessions but that was in a 45-minute, overtime game. The Sooners had success when pushing the tempo, getting several baskets in transition by beating the Rams down the court, but they weren’t able to do that for extended lengths. The 77-possession pace for 45 minutes equates to about 68 in a 40 minute game, which is considerably slower than the Sooners needed. As an example, the Sooners played 84 possession in their OT win against TCU earlier in the season. Grade: C+

The Rams are very good at turning teams over and we said it was important that OU take care of the ball as the Sooners tend to be turnover-prone. The Sooners only had 14 turnovers for the game — pretty good considering we played the extra 5 minutes.  Grade: B.

We said the Sooners needed to get to the free throw line more often and the Sooners were able to shoot 24 free throws. Young did this especially well which is important since he was the team’s best free throw shooter but the Sooners were also hurt a little by the fact that the team’s 2 worst free throw shooting regulars (Odomes and McNeace) shot nearly half of the team’s 24 free throws (making just 4).  In wins, the team had averaged 27 free throws and, for a 45 minute game, 24 isn’t quite enough but it’s better than the 17 the team averaged in losses. Grade: C+.

We needed to shoot the ball well and we just didn’t, shooting 42% overall and 20% from three. The fact that the team made just 4 of 20 3 point attempts is really the biggest reason the team lost. James, McGusty, Manek, and Odomes combined to shoot 1 for 11 from behind the arc and that’s just not going to get it done. Based on how they’d performed throughout the season, they should have made about 4 of those attempts. Trae Young shot it best but even he just made 3 of his 9 attempts. If the team makes 6 or 7 of those 20 3-pointers, the team probably wins in regulation. Grade: D.

Finally, the team needed to defend well enough to prevent the Rams from shooting well. In that regard, the team did ok. The Sooners defended better than they did for much of the season, holding the Rams to 39% shooting overall and 39% from behind the arc. The fact that the Rams knocked down nearly 40% of their 3’s isn’t great but it’s better than the Sooners did in many of their games. Grade: B-.

The Sooners did a lot of the things they needed to do in order to win the game but, ultimately, the game is about putting the ball in the basket and the Sooners just didn’t do it often enough. The game boiled down to the fact that the Rams shot 11-28 (39%) from 3 point land and the Sooners just shot 4-20 (20%). Those 7 additional 3’s made a huge difference since, if the Sooners had just knocked down a couple more, they probably wouldn’t have had to play overtime at all.

Just put the ball in the basket. It’s simple, but not easy.

Thanks for reading.

Playing to OUr strengths

I’ve been thinking for a while that the Sooners’ tempo on offense has really slowed down as the season has gone along. I didn’t have really any evidence to support it — if you check out their number of possessions per game on KenPom, it’s down a little from the non-conference schedule, but not a lot — but it just seems like the offense really moves more slowly than when the team is winning. Maybe the tempo numbers are a little skewed by the fact that Trae Young takes 4-5 really quick 3’s. I just don’t know.

The defense against Young has been different, to be sure. Teams are picking him quickly as he crosses halfcourt and slowing the team down but it still seems like Young is walking the ball up the court much more often than he was early in the season. That doesn’t seem like who the team was at the beginning of the season when, coincidentally or not, the team was really rolling and made it up to #4 in the country.

I was watching one of those NCAA tournament preview shows and 1-by-1 many of those talking heads were ranting about the Sooners making it into the tournament and Tom Crean chimed in to defend the Sooners. He said that he’s called 3 OU games during the year, including the win at Wichita St. and he was going on and on about how tremendous they looked against the Shockers. He was talking about how quickly the Sooners were getting the ball down the court and scoring and he said of the Shockers, “10 minutes into the game, they were gassed.”

I went to ESPN.com to look up the play-by-play info for that game — possibly the Sooners most impressive win this season. The table below shows what I found (“WSU’s possession indicates how Wichita St.’s preceding possession ended):

Possession # Time of Poss (seconds) Result WSU’s possession
1 13 Young missed 3 make
2 16 Lattin turnover make
3 7 Manek missed 3 miss
4 9 Young 2 turnover
5 12 Manek 2 miss
6 18 Manek 3 make
7 8 Young 3 miss
8 15 Manek missed 3 make
9 5 Young missed 3 timeout
10 14 Young missed 2 make
11 13 McNeace made 2 turnover
12 5 Young layup & FT steal
13 15 McNeace FT’s turnover
14 10 Young 3 make
15 12 Freeman missed 3 make
16 15 Young 3 make
17 22 McGusty 3 miss
18 22 Young 2 make
19 8 Young missed 2 make
20 11 Lazenby TO make
21 6 McGusty 2 make
22 13 McGusty missed 3 make
23 7 Manek 2 block
24 17 Manek 3 turnover
25 13 McNeace missed 2 miss
26 13 McNeace missed 2 miss
27 15 Manek 3 make
28 11 Manek miss make
29 6 James missed 3 block
30 18 Manek 3 make
31 18 Shepherd missed 3 miss
32 7 Young miss block/td>
33 16 Young 3 foul
34 18 McNeace miss miss
35 5 James missed 2 make
36 8 Young FT’s miss
37 8 James missed 2 miss
38 6 James 2 miss
39 25 McGusty 3 miss
40 9 McGusty 2 make
41 19 Manek missed 3 miss
42 0 James 2 off. reb.
43 21 James missed 3 make

So, here are the relevant numbers. The Sooners had 43 offensive possessions in the 1st half alone and averaged 12.6 seconds per possession. The Sooners scored 54 points in the first half and had a 54-39 lead over the Shockers IN Wichita. OU had only 4 possessions where they took more than 20 seconds to get off a shot and one of those was their last possession of the half where they were aiming to take the last shot.

Notice that the Sooners were getting the ball down the court quickly off of Shocker misses and makes. Even when the Shockers made buckets, the Sooners got the ball out of the basket, pushed it up the court, and got quick buckets before the Shockers could set up their defense. Three times the Sooners were able to score within 10 seconds of a Wichita St. MADE basket.

It shouldn’t go unnoticed either that there are a number of Wichita St. turnovers and OU blocks that led to Sooner possessions. Clearly the team played very good defense in the 1st half. If OU had 43 possessions, so did Wichita St and they only had 39 points in the half so a team that averaged 1.22 points per possession during the season (5th in the nation) averaged less than 1 PPP in the 1st half against OU.

Clearly a lot went right during that first half against the Shockers. The Sooners were able to block a few shots that helped them get the ball down the court and they were also able to turn the Shockers over several times so they clearly played good defense. More importantly, the Sooners shot the ball well in that 1st half (57% overall and 10-23 from 3) but not out-of-this-world. The team scored 54 points and had a 15 point lead because they were efficient (only 2 turnovers) and got the ball down the court quickly. It’s probably also fair to say that one of the reasons the team did shoot the ball pretty well is because they were able to take a number of shots before the Shockers’ defense could set up. I think we can all agree that the Sooners just didn’t move the ball down the court this quickly very often during Big 12 conference play.

Maybe this is the key to the Sooners’ success in the tournament. They need to get back to doing what it is that they do best.

Thanks for reading.

A Closer Look at the Rhode Island Rams

Feb 18, 2015; Kingston, RI, USA; Rhode Island Rams guard Jared Terrell (32) drives to the basket for a dunk against the UMass Minutemen at the Thomas M. Ryan Center. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Friday (photobyfriday.com)

By now everyone’s aware that the Sooners made it in the tournament. The Sooners will be the number 10 seed in the Midwest bracket, facing Rhode Island in the first round on Thursday. It’s somewhat surprising that the Sooners managed to avoid a First 4 matchup in Dayton. Based on that fact, it’s clear that the Sooners weren’t even one of the last 4 at-large teams in the tournament. Needless to say, the team was excited to see their name pop up on TBS’s board at shortly after 5 p.m. Norman time.

The question now becomes “can the team do anything with their second life?” This is a team that so many have panned for the last several weeks and, leading up to the selection and after the selection was announced, many have been critical of the Sooners’ inclusion in the tournament.

In some ways, the selection committee may have given the Sooners a little bit of a break with their bracket. For one, they’re not playing Tuesday in one of the First 4 games. For another, the Rams seem to be limping a little coming in to the tournament as well, having lost 4 of their last 8 games. Of course, maybe only Arizona St. is limping into the tournament the way the Sooners are but it’s not like OU is catching the Rams on a hot streak. For another, instead of drawing Texas A&M (ranked #30 by KenPom) the Rams are #49 in the KenPom rankings — 2 rankings below the Sooners. So while the Sooners should be playing a (theoretically) better team in the first round by virtue of being a lower seed, they’re playing a team that’s essentially equal to the Sooners. The matchup definitely could’ve been worse.

The Rams are an interesting team. Their offense is ranked #66 in the country by KenPom and their defense is ranked #38. So they’re clearly a very good defensive team — but not an elite defensive team — and an average (for a tournament team) offensive team. In a lot of ways, their offensive and defensive ability makes them look like Kansas State (#60 on offense; #41 on defense). They play faster than KSU, however, who is one of the slowest teams in the country. The Rams’ tempo is pretty close to TCU’s.

When you sort through the Rams’ characteristics, it’s clear that one of their strengths is turning over the other team on defense and avoiding turnovers on offense. Obviously, this should be a concern for the OU coaching staff in preparing for the Rams because the Sooners have a tendency to be turnover prone. The Rams are very good at defending the 3, which could again be a problem for the Sooners, but very bad at keeping opposing teams from getting to the free throw line. Many of the Sooners are good at penetrating and getting into the lane and drawing fouls so this could be an area the team can take advantage of.

The Rams start 4 guards and don’t have a real rim protector inside along the lines of a lot of the guys the Sooners have had to face in conference. The Rams will clearly get in the faces of OU’s perimeter shooters. The Sooners then have to put the ball on the court and get into the lane and score or get fouled inside.

On offense, the Rams don’t do anything especially well or especially badly. They shoot it OK from 3, shoot it OK from 2, but aren’t very good at getting to the line and making free throws. Six foot, 3 inch guard Jared Terrell is the Rams’ leading scorer — averaging about 17.5 points per game — and shoots more than 41% from 3. Two other guards, Jeff Dowtin and Jarvis Garrett, also shoot about 40% from 3 point land but they also average less than 1 made 3 per game so that’s not a major part of the team’s arsenal.

The Rams start 4 guards but Terrell is the one the Sooners are really going to have to lock down. If they can force him to at least be inefficient then it’s going to put pressure on their other guys who aren’t really designed to get buckets at crunch time. Their big inside guy, Andre Berry, is just that…big. He’s just 6’8″ but he’s a load at 275 pounds. He’s also a fantastic rebounder (as you can probably imagine) on both ends of the floor. McNeace and Lattin  will have their hands full keeping him off the boards — it’s possible there could even be a Hannes Polla sighting — but he’s not really a focal point of the offense. Defensively, OU’s not going to have to worry about Lattin or McNeace getting caught in switches on one of their guards because they should not be switching off of Berry because he’s not really a threat on the perimeter.

After Terrell, EC Matthews averages 12.8 PPG and then 3 guys, including Berry, average between 9 and 10 PPG. It’s a pretty balanced team but clearly Terrell is their offensive leader. It’s critical that the Sooners force other guys to score.

The Rams have lost 7 times this season, all but one to NCAA tournament teams (though if they had beaten Davidson today, Davidson wouldn’t have made the tournament so their other loss to Davidson would make a 2nd loss to a non-tournament team). Their non-tournament loss was a 30 point shellacking to St. Joseph’s at home. That’s probably an aberration. Like Oklahoma, Rhode Island lost to Alabama on the road.

In their loss to Nevada, they let the Wolfpack shoot 44 free throws. That’s clearly why they lost that one. Every team that beat the Rams except for Davidson shot more than 20 free throws and shot many more free throws than the Rams did. This has to be a big part of the Sooners’ game plan. Against St. Joseph’s, the Rams shot 3-29 from 3 point land. It would be great if that became part of the Sooners’ game plan also but certainly making the team inefficient on offense would go a long way toward getting OU a date with Duke next Saturday.

This is certainly a winnable game for the Sooners. The Rams are good, balanced, and tough defensively. They’re going to put a lot of pressure on the ball and try to force turnovers that they can turn into easy baskets. The Sooners, therefore, must:

  1. Take care of the ball. This has often been a problem for OU this season not just because it makes them inefficient offensively and ends their possessions, but those turnovers also often end up being live-ball turnovers 25 feet from the basket that end up as easy baskets or free throws on the other end of the floor. If OU takes care of the ball, they can force Rhode Island to score points in their halfcourt offense where the Sooners match up with them quite well.
  2. Rebound the basketball. The Sooners must, as a team, keep Rhode Island off the offensive glass. The last time the Sooners took the court, they were outrebounded 53-27 by Oklahoma St. They cannot allow the Rams to get easy putbacks after forcing missed shots.
  3. Use penetration to get to the rim and the foul line on offense. The Rams are going to pressure our guys on the perimeter and they probably won’t come off of OU’s outside shooters when we get inside. We must look to score once we get inside. Obviously, this means Trae Young but James, McGusty, Odomes, and Doolittle also need to look to get to the rim or the foul line when they get the ball. The 3-pointer should not be a focal point of the offense in order to beat the Rams.

It’s been a tough slog over the last 6 or 8 weeks for the Sooners but the tournament committee gave them new life. This matchup gives them a chance to take advantage of it. Hopefully, OU will get to play at least 1 more game.

Thanks for reading.