Lon Kruger

VIDEO: Oklahoma’s Kruger, Hield discuss loss to Villanova

Leave a comment

No. 2 Oklahoma was on the wrong side of history Saturday night, as they lost 95-51 to No. 2 Villanova in what now stands as the biggest blowout in the history of the Final Four. After a solid start to the game nothing seemed to work for the West Region champions, with guard Buddy Hield shooting 1-for-8 from three and the team shooting just over 31 percent from the field.

By comparison Villanova shot 71.4 percent from the field, a number that’s second in Final Four history behind the 78.6 percent the 1985 Villanova team shot in its win over Georgetown. And it should be noted that Jay Wright’s team shot as well as they did with the three-point shot, which wasn’t a part of the college game in 1985.

Both Hield and Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger were highly complimentary of the Wildcats, with Hield stating that he believes Villanova has what it takes to win Monday night.

Oklahoma to lose two assistants to head coaching jobs

Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger answers questions at a news conference for the NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament Thursday, March 31, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Leave a comment

With success comes opportunity, and for assistant coaches that usually means the opportunity to run their own program.

Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger will have to account for the loss of two assistant coaches at season’s end, as it was learned Thursday that Lew Hill and Steve Henson have both been hired for head coaching jobs. Hill has been named the new head coach at UT Rio Grande Valley, and he’s been a member of Kruger’s coaching staff since 2004 when both were at UNLV.

As for Henson, he’s expected to be hired as the new head coach at UTSA where he’ll replace Brooks Thompson with this news being first reported by The Oklahoman. Like Hill, Henson began working on Kruger’s staff at UNLV in 2004. Since then the two assistants have been a part of eight trips to the NCAA tournament, three Sweet 16 appearances and this year’s trip to the Final Four.

These expected moves leave Chris Crutchfield as the lone remaining assistant on Kruger’s staff heading into the offseason.

Final Four Previews: Ranking the head coaches

Leave a comment

With the Final Four just two days away we’ll be taking a look at different aspects of the match-ups, one of which being a ranking for the four head coaches. With two Hall of Famers who have won national titles in one game, and two coaches who have never reached the title game in the other, that makes for interesting subplots in Saturday’s games. Without further ado, here’s the ranking of the four Final Four head coaches.

1. Roy Williams, North Carolina
Overall Record: 782-208
NCAA tournament record: 66-23; seven Final Four appearances, two national titles (2005, 2009)

Williams is one of two members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame who will coach in this weekend’s Final Four, with the other being his semifinal opponent in Jim Boeheim. Williams has led two of the sport’s most storied programs and enjoyed a great deal of success at both, winning 80.5 percent of his games and making three Final Four appearances at Kansas before returning to his alma mater in 2003.

At North Carolina, Williams’ teams have won 77.3 percent of their games, and he led the Tar Heels to national titles in 2005 and 2009. Williams has now led North Carolina to four Final Four appearances, with this year’s trip being the first for the program since 2009. In both 2005 and 2009 the Tar Heels were the favorites at the Final Four, and that will be the case this weekend as well. Can this group win it all? That remains to be seen.

2. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
Overall record: 989-346 (not accounting for games vacated by the NCAA)
NCAA tournament record: 53-30; five Final Four appearances, one national title (2003)

Boeheim and Williams, his opponent in the semifinals, have met in a Final Four before. That came back in 2003, when a Hakim Warrick blocked shot preserved the win for Syracuse over Kansas and gave the Orange their first (and only) national title. Boeheim’s led his alma mater to five Final Four appearances, and he’s reached the title game in three of the previous four trips.

Syracuse dropped a heartbreaker to Indiana in the 1987 title game, and nine years later they fell to a Kentucky team that would reach the title game in three straight years (winning in 1996 and 1998). Of the four prior teams Boeheim’s led to the Final Four none had been seeded lower than a four, so this group is a definite outlier given their status as a No. 10 seed.

3. Lon Kruger, Oklahoma
Overall record: 590-360
NCAA tournament record: 20-16; two Final Four appearances

It’s been 22 years since Kruger last led a team to the Final Four, doing so at Florida with a team that included Andrew DeClerq and Dametri Hill. Kruger’s the lone head coach to lead five different teams to the NCAA tournament, with Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV being the other four. After losing in the round of 64 in each of his first two appearances at Oklahoma, Kruger’s Sooners reached the Sweet 16 last season where the lost to Michigan State.

In addition to taking the five aforementioned schools to the NCAA tournament, Kruger’s managed to take each one to at least the Sweet 16. With guards Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard leading the way, Kruger will look to make his first-ever appearance in the national title game.

4. Jay Wright, Villanova
Overall record: 474-242
NCAA tournament record: 18-12; two Final Four appearances

After missing the NCAA tournament in each of his first three seasons at the helm at Villanova, Wright’s led the Wildcats to the Big Dance in 11 of the last 12 seasons. Add in two NCAA tournament appearances while the head coach at Hofstra (2000 and 2001), and Wright has a total of 13 trips to the tournament to his credit. From 2005-2009 Villanova reached at least the second weekend of the NCAA tournament in four of the five seasons, which included a trip to the Final Four in 2009.

After that run Villanova hit a bit of a cold stretch, not getting out of the first weekend in any of their five appearances from 2010 to 2015 and missing the tournament completely in 2012. Wright and the Wildcats got over the hump this year, and Las Vegas odds have them second in line behind North Carolina when it comes to their chances of winning the national title.

Buddy Hield leads No. 2 Oklahoma’s demolition of No. 1 Oregon

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield celebrates after scoring during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oregon in the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 26, 2016, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

With No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 Oklahoma being the top two seeds in the West Region, it was fair to assume that the matchup would be a close one. Lon Kruger’s Sooners, most especially national Player of the Year favorite Buddy Hield, had other ideas however. Hield scored 37 points to lead Oklahoma to their first Final Four appearance since 2002, as they soundly defeated the Ducks by the final score of 80-68.

Hield scored his 37 points on 13-for-20 shooting from the field, making eight of his 13 attempts from beyond the arc. The two-time Big 12 Player of the Year did finish with six turnovers, and if not for those miscues one has to wonder just how many points Hield could have scored. Dana Altman tried a variety of looks defensively, including a matchup zone and man-to-man, but to no avail.

Essentially, Oregon experienced a feeling that many teams faced with the task of slowing down Hield have felt this season: powerlessness.

But to boil this game down to “they had Buddy and Oregon didn’t” would be far too simplistic an approach to take. In addition to being one of the nation’s best offensive teams, Oklahoma’s also ranked 14th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers.

They don’t do it with pressure defense, but the Sooners do a good job of keeping opponents out of the lane and forcing them to make tough shots. That’s what happened to Oregon, which shot 38.9 percent from the field and 4-for-21 from beyond the arc. Oregon had turnover issues early, and that combined with Hield’s 17-point first half resulted in an 18-point halftime hole that was too much for the Pac-12 champions to climb out of.

Elgin Cook finished with 24 points to lead three Oregon players in double figures, but far too often the Ducks lacked the fluidity on offense that was a trademark of many of their 31 wins on the season.

Lon Kruger’s team has shown throughout the season that, while Hield is certainly their feature option, this is no one-man operation. On nights when Hield wasn’t as efficient with his shooting others stepped forward, such as Jordan Woodard in Thursday’s win over Texas A&M (his most recent act) and Isaiah Cousins on multiple occasions as well. That wasn’t the case Saturday as tose two combined to shoot just 7-for-20 from the field, scoring 24 points, but Cousins dished out a game-high seven assists and freshman guard Christian James chipped in with ten rebounds off the bench as well.

Five of James’ rebounds came on the offensive end, and those second-chance opportunities (OU finished with an offensive rebounding percentage of 43.8 percent) proved costly in the first half. Those contributions, along with the front court tandem of Ryan Spangler and Khadeem Lattin, are why Oklahoma can win two more games once in Houston.

That all being said, Saturday night was all about the latest virtuoso performance from a player whose hard work in Norman has paid off. As a freshman Hield was thought to be more valuable as a perimeter defender, as he averaged 7.8 points per game and shot just 38.8 percent from the field and 23.8 percent from three with a shooting stroke that needed a lot of work. Going from that to a junior season in which he won Big 12 Player of the Year for the first time, it made sense that Hield would entertain thoughts of turning pro.

But the combination of a second-round grade from NBA execs and the “unfinished business” of wanting to get to a Final Four led to Hield deciding to return from his senior season. Hield will step onto the Final Four stage next weekend, and he’ll be joined by a cast of teammates who themselves have shown the ability to step forward when needed.

No. 2 Oklahoma shuts down Texas A&M, rolls into Elite Eight

Oklahoma guard Isaiah Cousins (11) and guard Jordan Woodard celebrate as Texas A&M guard T.J. Distefano, left, wipes his face during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Given the offensive weapons at Lon Kruger’s disposal, led by national Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield, West No. 2 Oklahoma’s ability to put the ball in the basket is what’s garnered most of the attention this season. While understandable, people should not overlook the fact that the Sooners are a solid defensive team as well. Thursday night Oklahoma shut down No. 3 Texas A&M, holding the Aggies to 34.4 percent shooting in their 77-63 victory in Anaheim.

As a result Oklahoma will make its first Elite Eight appearance since 2009, playing against either No. 1 Oregon or No. 4 Duke Saturday afternoon.

Texas A&M’s front court tandem of Jalen Jones and Tyler Davis has been a handful for opponents all season long, and with Oklahoma not being the deepest team in the post it appeared as if this was where the Aggies would be able to gain an advantage. However things didn’t work out that way, with Texas A&M not making the effort needed to work the ball inside in the first half and Oklahoma doing a good job of taking away passing lanes into the post.

That’s when the Sooners built their edge, as they led by 19 at the half and managed to hold off an early second half rally by Texas A&M. The Oklahoma approach defensively varied, as they fronted the post at times and in other instances had the guards dig down once the ball got there. And with the Oklahoma guards also shutting down driving lanes from the perimeter, Texas A&M resorted to throwing up perimeter shots far too often.

Offensively the Sooners were far more than just Hield, with Jordan Woodard scoring a game-high 22 points to lead five Oklahoma players in double figures. Hield added 17 points and ten rebounds for his first double-double of the season, but the problem for Texas A&M was the fact that so many other players were able to find looks for Oklahoma. The Sooners hit 11 three-pointers, shot 48.4 percent from the field and assisted on 23 of their 31 made field goals.

With their spacing and ball movement Oklahoma was too much for Texas A&M, despite the efforts of an excellent defender in senior guard Alex Caruso.

Oklahoma has the offense to score with any team in the country, as they’ve shown on many occasions this season. But this group isn’t too bad on the defensive end either, an understated reason why they’re one win away from their first Final Four since 2002.

Buddy Hield scores 39 as No. 6 Oklahoma holds off No. 21 Iowa State

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield, left, calls his team over after receiving the Big 12 Player of the Year trophy from commissioner Bob Bowlsby before the team's NCAA college basketball game against Iowa State in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Conference men's tournament in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday, March 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
Leave a comment

Oklahoma senior guard Buddy Hield and Iowa State senior forward Georges Niang, two of America’s best players, were on display in the final quarterfinal of the Big 12 tournament Thursday night. And both lived up to the praise that’s been heaped upon them this season, with Hield scoring an efficient 39 points and Niang countering with 31 after dealing with first-half foul trouble.

But in the end Oklahoma was able to do enough to hang on for the 79-76 win, doing so despite an off night from beyond the arc.

The Sooners shot just 4-for-21 from three on the night, and for a team so reliant on the three that would normally spell doom. In each of Oklahoma’s last four losses they shot no better than 35.7 percent from three (at Texas), so what would shooting below 20 percent against a team with the offensive weapons that Iowa State lead to? Not a loss, thanks to the masterful performance produced by Hield.

Hield, who shot 2-for-6 from three, made 12 of his 15 two-point attempts and shot 9-for-9 from the foul line. Matt Thomas, Iowa State’s best perimeter defender, did his best to keep up with the national Player of the Year candidate and force him to make tough shots. But that’s a task easier said than done, and Hield still managed to make the offensive plays the Sooners needed him to make. Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler scored ten points apiece, and at a combined 7-for-19 from the field (Jordan Woodard scored four points on 1-for-8 shooting) they weren’t all that efficient against the Cyclones.

Subpar nights like those put more pressure on Hield to score, but as he has on many occasions this season the senior guard rose to the challenge. This isn’t a formula Oklahoma will look to rely upon as the games get even bigger, as players such as Cousins, Spangler and Woodard are better than they showed Thursday night. But in Hield they have a talent that few teams can match, and even fewer can manage to slow down.

Iowa State made its charge in the second half, but the combination of Hield and a high turnover count proved to be too much to overcome. Iowa State committed 18 turnovers, with the Sooners converting those into 17 points on the night. They won’t run into many players the caliber of Hield in the NCAA tournament, and one would think that the Cyclones won’t turn the ball over as often either. But if there’s a concern for Steve Prohm it’s the health of his point guard, as Monté Morris looked nothing like himself as he played with a right shoulder injury.

Morris had just one of those 18 turnovers, but he scored five points on 1-for-9 shooting. Iowa State needs Morris to be at his best, or close to it, if they’re to beat the nation’s best teams and wasn’t Thursday night. Losing in the quarterfinals is a disappointing result, but it gets Morris some additional rest ahead of the NCAA tournament. Niang nearly pushed Iowa State to the win, but some issues on their end and the presence of Hield resulted in the Cyclones coming up short.