Saturday night news broke that forward TaShawn Thomas was granted immediate eligibility at Oklahoma, a development that both improves the Sooners’ front court depth and gives them a proven interior scorer alongside Ryan Spangler. There’s no doubt that Thomas will be a key addition for Lon Kruger, but there’s also no doubt as to who will lead an Oklahoma team that has hopes of winning the Big 12 and going deep into the NCAA tournament.
That player is junior guard Buddy Hield, who more than doubled his scoring average from his freshman to sophomore season (16.5 ppg in 2013-14) and shot 44.5% from the field and 38.6% from three. And in No. 19 Oklahoma’s 78-53 win over Southeastern Louisiana, the All-Big 12 candidate made the most of his 28 minutes on the floor.
Hield made nine of his sixteen field goal attempts (7-for-7 3PT), finishing with a game-high 25 points along with seven rebounds and two assists (one turnover). Hield was one of three Sooners to finish the game in double figures, with guard Isaiah Cousins adding 14 points and Spangler scoring 11 to go along with his 11 rebounds.
Hield is one of the best shooting guards in the country, and his junior season comes on the heels of some very good performances on the summer camp circuit (including the LeBron James Skills Academy). Oklahoma has depth and skill at multiple positions, but Hield’s progression in the “feature” role will be the biggest factor when it comes to how much this team can accomplish.
As for Thomas, he made the start but accounted for just four points and three rebounds in 23 minutes of action. Even with Thomas having practiced with the starters in the weeks leading up to Sunday’s opener, that line is understandable given the circumstances. It’s one thing to work with the starters with the hope of being cleared to play, and another to do so knowing that you’re good to go. He’ll get more comfortable, as will his new teammates.