We’ll see about staying power, but right now this is OU’s best-looking basketball team since Buddy Hield peaked with Lon Kruger in 2016.
TULSA – The crowd was terrific.
Arkansas had two-thirds of the fans inside the BOK Center Saturday, but Oklahoma backers cranked up the noise, too.
“An NCAA regional atmosphere,” Porter Moser called it.
A rare December day where college basketball pulled us from college football. Good for the sport.
Good for Moser, whose Sooners were even better than the crowd.
And these Sooners can really play.
This is the best-looking OU basketball team since Buddy Hield’s bunch went to the 2016 Final Four. Trae Young showed up in 2017 and stamped his individual brilliance. Austin Reaves emerged around 2020. Young and Reaves got the Sooners to the NCAA Tournament on the strength of their playmaking.
These Sooners are NCAA Tournament-worthy on the strength of the team, something that becomes more obvious every time they play.
“They’re really well coached. They play really hard. They understand their roles,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said after falling 79-70 Saturday. “I’m not in their locker room, but it looks like they accept their roles. They look connected. They play really good defense. They’re very physical on the backboards.”
They can get to the rim. They can knock down the 3. They can create offense, whether for themselves or each other.
Sam Godwin scored the game’s first points Saturday finishing a pick-and-roll, a signal that OU was better prepared than Arkansas. The Razorbacks are talented and athletic, but too often play a game of “pull up and fire when the mood strikes and hope the shot goes on.”
The Sooners opened a 37-25 halftime lead when two of their three lead guards asserted themselves. Javian McCollum drilled a corner 3 off crisp, unselfish ball movement and finished a drive with his left hand. Otega Oweh beat the shot clock with a Euro step finish, stuck in a missed shot and scored when he dove to the basket off Le’Tre Darthard’s attack and accepted Darthard’s dish.
Musselman lost his mind and got tossed early in the second half, prompting an emotional response from his team and his fans. Arkansas spurted predictably.
And then OU locked down the game with a flourish sparked by Milos Uzan, lead guard No. 3. Uzan’s extra pass freed Darthard for a corner 3. His drive set up his lefty layup.
When Oweh sank a guarded 3 with 12:32 remaining, OU led 57-38. Folks in Hog Hats started trickling into downtown Tulsa streets.
Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard made consistent plays for each other seven years ago. Hield and Cousins played four years together. They played three with Woodard. Their confidence and skill blossomed with their connectedness, Hield’s confidence and skill most clearly. They were a joy to watch by that Final Four season.
College basketball isn’t so organic anymore.
Moser added McCollum from Siena last April. McCollum’s presence has helped unlock 2022-23 freshmen Oweh and Uzan.
Moser added Darthard from Utah Valley, Rivaldo Soares from Oregon and John Hugley from Pitt right when he brought in McCollum. He added Godwin from Wofford in April of ‘22.
The puzzle fits differently at OU, and everywhere else in college basketball, than it did in 2016. The pieces can still come together.
Moser’s pieces have come together during OU’s 9-0 start.
“We’re trying to play more up-tempo, score more points… But we don’t want to do it at the expense of our defense,” Moser said Saturday. “We’ve got some pieces that can guard.”
Lon Kruger spoke similarly as he discovered what he had cooking with Hield, Cousins, Woodard and Ryan Spangler. They sustained their rare blend all the way to that Final Four.
Moser doesn’t even have these Sooners playing Big 12 games. We’ll see about their sustainability in January, let alone March.
But gosh do they look good right now. Gosh does Moser have some pieces unfamiliar to OU basketball since Kruger’s peak.