Final Four Preview: Can Villanova Stop Buddy Hield?

Villanova faced Oklahoma earlier in the year and lost big. Will things be different this time around?

The first of two Final Four matchups on Saturday features the Oklahoma Sooners and the Villanova Wildcats, a rematch of a December 7th game in Hawaii. In that game, the Sooners won 78-55. 

Oklahoma is led by potential Naismith Player of the Year, Buddy Hield, who's averaging 29 points per game and shooting 48 percent from three in the tournament. The Sooners have also gotten valuable contributions from guard Jordan Woodard, who led the team in scoring in their Sweet 16 win over Texas A&M, while forwards Ryan Spangler and Khadeem Lattin complement each other nicely, as Lattin is a great rim protector and Spangler is effective on the perimeter.

While Villanova doesn't have a player at the level of Hield, they boast a system that allows any of their players to be the star of any game. Junior forward Josh Hart is Villanova's most consistent offensive player, but on any given night, Kris Jenkins, Ryan Arcidiacono, or Daniel Ochefu can be the main cog in the offense.  

Of their eight rotation players, the Wildcats have had seven different ones lead the team in scoring in a single game, while the only player not on that list, redshirt Freshman Mikal Bridges, has been efficient offensively and is a true defensive spark plug coming off the bench with the ability to cover every position on the floor.

Let's dig in and look at how both of these teams can win and move onto the finals.

Oklahoma Keys to Victory

Oklahoma's offensive prowess revolves three-point line, taking 41 percent of their field goal attempts from behind the arc and shooting 43 percent on those attempts, which is second in the country. 

Three of the five starters for the Sooners -- Hield, Woodard, and Isaiah Cousins -- all shoot over 42 percent from three, while Spangler knocks down 36 percent. The number of shooters Oklahoma has will be important in being able to exploit Villanova's swarming defense, which relies on heavily on switching. If Oklahoma can recognize the holes in the Wildcats' defensive switches to find the open man and improve upon their assist-to-field-goal ratio (53 percent) by making the extra pass, they can find high percent open looks from three. 

While Hield is the go-to player offensively for the Sooners, it was actually Cousins who led the team with 19 points in the first matchup against Nova, making all four of his threes. Oklahoma is one of only four teams to shoot over 50 percent from behind the arc against Villanova this year, and one of two to win while doing so.  

On the other side of the ball, the Sooners matchup well with Villanova, boasting the physical guards and the strong interior presence of Lattin, which can slow down the Wildcats' inside-outside approach. It will be important for Oklahoma to keep Villanova off the free throw line, where they shoot 78 percent as a team (second in the country), including 85 percent in the tournament.

Villanova Keys to Victory

Villanova is a team known to live and die by the three, but it's actually their 11th-ranked defense (per our numbers) that has made them so effective this year.  

Their task Saturday will be to stop, or at least disrupt, Buddy Hield. The Wildcats will have to learn from Texas A&M's efforts to shut down Buddy, who then allowed Jordan Woodard and Christian James to shoot 9-for-12 from three.  

Nova was able to do this against Kansas, freezing out Perry Ellis while mostly keeping everyone else in check. According to an ESPN article by Dana O'Neil, Villanova's defensive philosophy is more predicated on limiting shot attempts than getting the team to shoot a lower percentage. The Wildcats will use a combination of Hart, Jenkins, and Bridges to deny Hield the ball and make it tough to get open looks once he does.  

They'll also try to use the Sooners' fast pace against them by turning them over, a place where Villanova excels and Oklahoma has issues. If the defense struggles to stop Oklahoma's high-powered offense, then look no further than the Sweet 16 game against Miami, where the Wildcats posted the most efficient offensive performance of any team this season (1.56 points per possession) while shooting 61 percent from the field and 67 percent from three.  

Their third-ranked two-point shooting percentage and ability to get to the free throw line (17 attempts per game in the tournament) can help open up the perimeter against an Oklahoma defense that ranks 44th according to our numbers.

The start-of-game numberFire Live projection gives Villanova a win probability of 56 percent.