Season Finale. On the road. Missing two key players. The conference title already wrapped up. I don't think the Jayhawks are going to have enough motivation to make this a good game. But since I've been wrong on my predictions so often, I spoke with Rich DeCray over at Crimson And Cream Machine, the SB Nation site covering the Oklahoma Sooners. He was kind enough to answer a few more questions for us this time around.
RCT: Hield is likely the favorite to win Big 12 POY this year. With Perry Ellis out from what looked to be the deciding game for that award, do you think there is anyone that can catch him for the honor this year?
C&CM: There's no doubt that the Big XII is littered with talent across the board. Players like Juwan Staten or Georges Niang could have easily taken home the Player of the Year award before the year began. However, with each week of the regular season, the pretenders and contenders were revealed until we were left with two, Buddy Hield and Perry Ellis. With one last chance to gain swing votes, the two were slotted to appear on the same floor as voters took a hard look at each player one final time. Now, with Ellis out, there's no other option outside of Hield.
RCT: Unfortunately for most people outside the state of Oklahoma, Hield and Spangler are the only players that really get any publicity. Who else has been crucial in this run to the top of the conference for the Sooners?
C&CM: Isaiah Cousins may be the best defender on the team even with the improved play from Hield. A lock down defender, Cousins also leads the league in 3-point shooting by knocking down 44.7% of his attempts to average 12 points per contest. With the ability to take over a game while teammates struggle, the junior guard remains irreplaceable. Over the course of three years, Cousins has quietly become one of the nation's better players with the potential to land himself a spot in the NBA Draft. This kid fails to receive the recognition due him in my opinion.
RCT: As we look toward the postseason, it's about time to start setting expectations. What do you see as the ceiling for this Sooner team in the NCAA tournament? Any chance that they become the first non-Kansas team to make the Final Four in forever?
C&CM: Legitimately, the Sooners possess the talent (I'd like to say experience but Oklahoma has never won a post-season game under Lon Kruger) to make a run into the Sweet 16. Therefore, I'd put their high ceiling as a surprise program in the Elite 8 as I do not believe this team belongs to the elite class this year. At the same time, this group could find themselves making a disappointing and early exit as well. Twice this year (at Creighton and at Iowa State), Oklahoma built a 20+ point lead only to squander the opportunity before finally dropping the game. If that team makes an appearance in the first or second round, it could spell doom.
RCT: Turning to the game, with Cliff Alexander out and Ellis injured, do you expect Oklahoma to pound the ball inside?
C&CM: Something many fans may not pick on is the fact that Oklahoma has undoubtedly moved toward an inside out style of play with TaShawn Thomas entering the fold. Taking over as an undersized center, the transfer from Houston allowed Ryan Spangler to move into a more natural power forward position where the junior continues to excel. Although Spangler and Thomas average 21.3 points combined and rank one (59%) and two (51.8%) respectively in field goal percentage in the Big XII, I don't see the Sooners continuously pounding it inside. Remember, the guards are the true strength of this squad and will continue to dictate the outcome of the game.
RCT: Prediction for the game? Even though the Jayhawks are shorthanded, do you still expect this one to be close at the end?
C&CM: The Jayhawks have won 1,285 consecutive conference titles (okay that may be a slight exaggeration) and clinched another this year for a reason. A talented squad with leadership and experience, Kansas proved more than capable of pulling out crucial road wins in the toughest league around. I expect this match-up to remain close but have the Sooners winning it 72-68.
RCT: Star Wars or Star Trek?
C&CM: "These aren't the droids you are looking for..."
So Star Wars has ripped out my heart by thoroughly dominating Star Trek, 8-1. I thought there would be at least of few other people who could resist the force and let their inner Trekkie show.
A big thanks to Rich for taking the time to help us out today. Don't forget to check out the questions I answered for him too.