Oklahoma vs. West Virginia Preview: Can Buddy Hield Be Contained?

Buddy Hield and Oklahoma host West Virginia in what could be the weekend's best college basketball game.

While unfortunately it's bound to get overshadowed by the NFL playoffs, Saturday’s Oklahoma-West Virginia college hoops contest should be a ton of fun.

The game pits the host Sooners, ranked third in our nERD power ratings, and the Mountaineers, who are fourth.

nERD would expect Oklahoma (14-1) to beat an average team by about 18.9 on neutral court, while West Virginia (15-1) would be expected to do so by about 18.1. Assuming about a three-point homefield advantage, we should expect Oklahoma to win by about four points, without factoring anything else.

While have both been very successful this season, the two clubs have been nearly polar opposites.

Oklahoma looks to push the tempo on offense, and can outshoot almost any team in the country. West Virginia is considerably slower when they has the ball, and while they have an efficient offense, their strengths are offensive rebounding and getting to the free-throw line rather than jump shooting.

The Mountaineers’ calling card is a frenetic, aggressive defense, that is both first in the nation is turnover rate and last in free throw attempt rate. Oklahoma is more passive, ranking near the bottom in turnover rate, while allowing the fourth fewest free throw attemps per field goal attempt.

When Oklahoma Has the Ball

When talking about Oklahoma’s offense, it would be impossible not to begin with Buddy Hield, one of the nation’s premier perimeter players and one of the frontrunners for National Player of the Year.

His 26.6 points per game is second in the country (to Howard’s James Daniel), while his 69.0% true shooting percentage leads the Big 12.

Hield is shooting 52.4% from the field, 51.8% from beyond the arc, and 90.1% from the free-throw line, maintaining this efficiency despite a 31.1% usage rate.

He hasn't done it alone, though, as he's joined by dynamic guards Jordan Woodard (15.3 points per game, 63.6% true-shooting percentage) and Isaiah Cousins (4.7 assists per game).

Thanks to their contributions, the Sooners are tied for 13th in our offensive efficiency ratings, and rank 18th in effective field goal percentage (56.2%). Their turnover rate is a more pedestrian 17.6%, which while above the national average of 18.5%, could still be trouble against West Virginia.

The Mountaineers are tied for third in our defensive efficiency ratings, with a 26.0% turnover rate that ranks first in the nation.

As mentioned, the pressure-based defense naturally leads to a lot of fouls, but it's a tradeoff Bob Huggins’ squad has seemed more than willing to make.

West Virginia has also been good at denying second chance opportunities, as they're is tied for second in the country in defensive rebounding rate (79.4%; Oklahoma is tied for 129th in offensive rebounding rate).

In addition to the obvious need for the Sooners to avoid turnovers, the matchup could hinge on the three-point line, where Oklahoma leads the nation in three-point shooting percentage (46.1%), while West Virginia has allowed the sixth-lowest three-point percentage (27.3%).

Three-point shooting is inherently volatile in its own right, but we should be especially cautious about reading too much into that final number. Ken Pomeroy has written that three-point percentage allowed is very unpredictable, and the best way to stop three-pointers is to prevent three-point attempts in the first place.

This is not really something that West Virginia has excelled at, given that they rank 158th in three-point attempts per field goal attempt (34.8, compared to the national average of 35.1, per KenPom), so the opportunities should be their for Hield and co. to do damage from deep.

When West Virginia Has The Ball

Don’t let their high “pace” ranking fool you: West Virginia is slow on offense.

Yes, we have them ranked in the 83rd percentile in terms of pace, but that is almost solely due to a defense that forces most possessions to end in a quick foul or turnover.

Per KenPom, the Mountaineers’ average defensive possession only lasts 15.1 seconds, which is quickest on the country, while their average offensive possession lasts 17.6, which ranks 237th.

West Virginia is led offensively by Devin Williams (14.7 points per game, 59.1% TS%), a force on the inside and Jaysean Paige (13.4, 61.6%), one of the team’s only reliable outside shooters; overall, the Mountaineers’ 51.8% effective field goal percentage is tied for 99th in the country (49.6 is the national average).

The mediocre performance from the field is more than compensated by the nation’s best offensive rebounding rate (43.9%), and fifth-best free throw attempt per field goal rate (.496). Despite an offense that struggles with turnovers, the Mountaineers rank 24th in our offensive efficiency ratings.

Oklahoma, for its part, has been solid on defense itself, ranking in the 89th percentile in defensive efficiency. The Sooners are 14th in eFG% defense (43.1%) and tied for fourth in free throw attempt rate (.245). They are, however, 13th from the bottom in turnover rate (13.0%), so something will have to give against a WVU that tends to give the ball away.

All things considered, this should be a good one, and if the NFL isn’t your cup of tea, I know what you should do on Saturday.

Even if it is, strongly consider going to a split screen once the Patriots-Chiefs game kicks off.