The talent-rich and deep Villanova Wildcats (33-5) enter the Final Four as two-point favorites over the nation’s second-leading scorer Buddy Hield and the Oklahoma Sooners (29-7) for Saturday’s matchup at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Marching to the program’s first Final Four since 2009 and fourth overall, head coach Jay Wright’s Wildcats are fresh off a stunning 64-59 upset over tournament-favorite Kansas, which only serves as reason to believe leading scorers Josh Hart, Kris Kenkins, and Ryan Arcidiacono can advance to the title game.
The Sooners and head coach Lon Kruger are also headed to their fourth Final Four, though they snapped a much longer drought. Hield’s 37 points overmatched Oregon in the regional finals and pushed Oklahoma to the national semifinal for the first time in 14 years.
Guards Jordan Woodward and Isaiah Cousins help balance the Sooners offense beside Hield, with all three pouring in better than 42 percent of their three-point attempts. But it’s Wooden Award contender Hield that’s driven the Sooners this far. The senior finished the regular season as the nation’s No. 2 scorer with 25.4 points per game and he’s improved his shooting to 50.4 percent for the field, both career marks.
Yet Wright does have a few more weapons to throw at a Sooners defense that’s surrendered 70 points a contest during the tournament. Hart, Jenkins, and Arcidiacono, who hit clutch free throws against Kansas, join big man Daniel Ochefu as four starters who all average double-digit scoring, with Hart and Ochefur pulling down a combined 14.3 rebounds per game.
Still, that doesn’t mean Wright wants to engage in a shootout with Hield and the Sooners. As a team Oklahoma’s shoots an astounding 42.8 percent from long range and when given easy chances at the line it knocks down 72.3 percent of its attempts, both obvious but clear-cut indicators that Oklahoma can pull the game out late if things get tight.
The two programs have met just once before in the tournament. Oklahoma prevailed 78-59 in the regional final way back in 1988 and wound up in the national championship before falling to rival Kansas.
Betting Odds: Villanova -2
Over/Under: 145.5 points
Prediction: Oklahoma over Villanova, 73-69