Final Four: Are the Oklahoma Sooners really the Golden State Warriors of college basketball?
It’s been popular to suggest this season that the Oklahoma Sooners are the Golden State Warriors of college basketball. Often times, such comparisons are deemed 'lazy.' Maybe so. But that doesn’t make them inherently wrong.
Let’s get a few things out of the way: backward as it may sound, it’s easier to be the Warriors in college basketball than it is to be the Warriors in the NBA, simply due to proximity. The 3-point line is closer in college basketball than it is in the pros.
Secondly, this Oklahoma team would not be able to do what it is doing if it played in the NBA. Duh. The Sooners are an outstanding college team with some future pros, but to project any of them as the next Steph Curry or Klay Thompson is unfair.
So just take the statement at face value: the Oklahoma Sooners are the Golden State Warriors of college basketball.
The numbers suggest that the comparison is dead on.
Steph Curry and Buddy Hield are transcendent basketball players. Supporting casts matter, but these two are capable of winning games by themselves on any given night.
“Just like Steph Curry, they can’t guard him. They can’t guard Buddy either,” NBA Hall-of-Famer Oscar Robertson said on Friday.
|30.0 PPG||25.4 PPG|
|50.5 FG %||50.4 FG %|
|45.4 3FG %||46.5 3FG %|
|11.1 3PA||8.7 3PA|
|67.0 TS %||67.0 TS %|
Both players thrive in chaos and have a massive effect on the game without even being in the vicinity of the basket. Buddy doesn’t have the filthy handles that Steph does, but he’s a master at finding ways to get open despite garnering plenty of defensive attention. It’s easy to key on Hield or Curry when they have the ball; the trick is to stay with them throughout the duration of the shot clock once they give the ball up.
As Villanova head coach Jay Wright noted on Friday, that’s easier said than done.
"A lot of times the great college players have the ball in their hands all the time,” he said. “[Hield] is so good not just coming off screens without the ball, but he gets himself spaced away from the ball and he lulls you to sleep.”
The Oklahoma-Golden St. comparison starts with Hield and Curry, but it certainly doesn’t stop there. The Sooners are a historically great 3-point shooting team – they are canning 42.8 percent of their long balls this season, which ranks second in the country.
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A whopping 41 percent of Oklahoma’s shot attempts come from behind the arc, and no team in recent memory has quite matched the Sooners’ combination of high volume and efficiency.
In the past 15 years, only one Division I team has had a higher 3-point percentage than 2015-16 Oklahoma while also attempting at least 40 percent of their shots from deep: that would be 2004-05 Samford.
The Warriors lead the NBA in 3-point percentage (41.5) and 3-point attempts per game (31.3), but about 36 percent of their field goal tries come from deep. That’s mainly a function of space; there is more room to operate in the NBA than in college because the 3-point line is further away, so there are more layups and dunks to be had.
Oklahoma has three starters – Hield, Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins – that shoot at least 42 percent from distance. Curry and Thompson are both north of 43 percent from 3, but Golden State’s next closest regular that cracks 40 percent is Brandon Rush, who plays 15 minutes per game.
This is all relative, of course. But to characterize both of these groups as historically great at shooting would be a fair statement, given their respective leagues.
Exhilarating offense is one thing, but what makes each of these teams stand out is their defensive competence. The Warriors rank fifth out of 30 NBA teams in defensive efficiency; the Sooners are 13th out of 351 Division I schools.
Both teams are secure in their respective schemes, and for as much love as they get for shooting the ball at a high level, their defense is absolutely pivotal. Oklahoma was able to neuter Villanova’s driving attack in December, forcing the Wildcats to hoist 32 3’s. It will look to do the same on Saturday night.
The final ingredient that makes Oklahoma and Golden St. similar – and special – is their unselfishness. The Warriors lead the NBA in assists per game, while the Sooners are the only Final Four team that has four starters above two dimes per contest.
For Oklahoma, that selfless attitude extends far beyond the metrics. It may not be on the cusp of setting an all-time record for wins like the Warriors, but a national title on Monday would put them in college basketball lore forever.
Curry went 3-for-11 from 3-point range in Golden State’s NBA Finals-clinching win in 2015. It was Andre Iguodala that shined. These teams don’t care who the star is – winning trumps everything.
“The game against Texas A&M in Anaheim last weekend, I thought it showed as much security out of a big-time scorer as I've ever seen,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said of Hield. “A&M face guarded him, got up into him. Because of that, Buddy was able to keep his defensive guy out of the rotation defensively, get some lobs to the bucket. Buddy was able to set some screens, get 10 rebounds.”
Your typical alpha dog might scoff at scoring eight points below his season average. But not Buddy Hield.
“He was the happiest guy in the arena,” Kruger said.