After pulling off one of the most remarkable comebacks in college basketball history last weekend, Texas A&M will attempt to create some more NCAA tournament history Thursday night against the Oklahoma Sooners. The Aggies will attempt to reach the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.
To do so, they will have to get past an old Big 12 foe. The Sooners, led by National Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield, possess one of the most potent offenses in college basketball..
With tip-off looming, here’s everything you need to know about this Sweet 16 battle:
No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners (27-7, 6th in RPI) vs. No. 3 Texas A&M Aggies (28-8, 18th in RPI)
Tip-off: Thursday, 7:37 p.m. ET
Location: Honda Center, Anaheim, Calif.
Listen: TAMU Sports Network, Westwood One Sports
Three things to know about tonight’s matchup:
1. Hey, Buddy
The best formula for beating Oklahoma is limiting Hield. There’s no such thing as stopping him — Hield scored less than 10 points in just one game this season — but forcing him into tougher shots has paid big dividends for the teams that have knocked off the Sooners.
Hield is going to score sheerly by volume alone — he averages 16 shots per game. His output doesn’t vary drastically between wins and losses either, as he’s averaged 25 points per game in Oklahoma’s seven defeats this season. The more telling statistic is his shooting percentage in those seven games.
Hield’s shooting percentage dropped below his season average (50 percent) in five of Oklahoma’s seven losses. He also missed at least 10 shots in five of Oklahoma’s seven defeats.
The key to containing Hield is forcing him inside the 3-point arc and preventing the 46.3-percent 3-point shooter from taking over the game from deep.
Senior guard Alex Caruso will likely take on the burden of defending Hield and he should be up to the task. Caruso is one of the best defensive players in the SEC, and ranks 29th with an average of 2.03 steals per game. Hield is going to put the ball in the basket regardless, but the Aggies still have to make it hard on him.
2. Bombs away
The Sooners can stroke it from 3-point land and can change the game from behind the arc. Oklahoma is tied for second in the country in 3-point shooting and make 42.6 percent of their attempts. The Sooners aren’t shy about it either, having taken 784 3-point attempts this season, the 34th most in the country.
Hield isn’t the only player capable of hitting shots from distance either. Junior guard Jordan Woodard has made more than 44 percent of his 3s, while senior guard Isaiah Cousins has made 43 percent of his triples.
Even big man Ryan Spangler isn’t afraid to let it fly from downtown and occasionally makes them, too. The 6-foot-8 senior forward has made 32 3-pointers this season.
Oklahoma has a tendency to live and die by the 3-point shot. Texas A&M ranks 93rd in the country in 3-point defense, allowing opponents to hit 33 percent of their attempts. The Aggies must keep the Sooners around 30 percent from 3-point range to advance.
3. Beat them with bigs
One knock against the Sooners is they aren’t overly deep outside of their starting five. That thin bench is even more limited in the frontcourt. Seven Sooners average at least 12 minutes per game, but only two of those players are taller than 6-foot-8 (Spangler and sophomore Khadeem Lattin).
The Aggies aren’t only deeper (nine players averaging at least 11 minutes per game), they’re also bigger. Freshman Tyler Davis and sophomore Tonny Trocha-Morelos are each 6-foot-10 and freshman DJ Hogg is 6-foot-8.
Still, both of these teams put up nearly identical numbers on the glass as both average 38.8 rebounds per game. Texas A&M will need to emphasize defensive rebounding against the under-sized Sooners in order to limit extra possessions off of missed shots.