As I watched the most enjoyable show in college hoops hit the road in Waco and torch a really good Baylor team this weekend, I couldn’t get two thoughts out of my head:
The Oklahoma Sooners are the Golden State Warriors of college basketball.
And at a time when college hoops is trying to keep its national relevance by making the game more free-flowing and offense-centered, the Oklahoma Sooners are exactly what college hoops needs to cure what ails it.
The old guard has always said that jump-shooting teams can’t win championships. Remember Phil Jackson’s ill-timed tweet during last year’s NBA playoffs, when he criticized 3-point-oriented teams?
Well, the Warriors have spent the last two seasons tearing up that old way of thinking in the NBA, and Buddy Hield’s traveling circus is doing the same in the college game this season.
That’s just one reason why voters in the AP poll ought to keep Oklahoma at the top come Monday, even though Oklahoma lost a thrilling game on Monday night at No. 19 Iowa State just hours after the Sooners were ranked No. 1 for the first time since 1990, and even with teams like North Carolina and Villanova nipping at their heels.
The analogy to Golden State isn’t perfect, but it sure is fun to lay the two teams next to each other and compare them. Just like the Warriors threw the old NBA way of thinking out the window — that 3-pointers are fool’s gold — Oklahoma is doing the same in a stacked Big 12. As a team, the Sooners are leading college hoops in 3-point percentage. The Sooners are shooting 46.4 percent, which would be the highest in Division I hoops since Green Bay shot 46.7 percent from three in 1991-92. Nearly 40 percent of their offense comes from threes, which ranks 13th nationally. They have Golden State’s incredible chemistry, which comes from the Sooners’ core four — Hield, Ryan Spangler, Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins — having played together for the past three years, a rarity in today’s college hoops.
And just like Golden State, which leads the NBA in assists, Oklahoma moves the ball exceptionally well. Perhaps the most astounding statistic from its trouncing of Baylor was that 29 of the Sooners’ 31 field goals came off an assist.
As for the individuals? Hield is college basketball’s Steph Curry. Curry is leading the NBA in scoring; Hield is second in college hoops. Curry is the best 3-point shooter in NBA history. At Oklahoma, Hield is shooting an absurd 51.5 percent from three; it’s not all that far off from the all-time record among power conference schools (Warriors coach Steve Kerr shot 57.3 percent for Arizona in 1987-88).
And like Curry, Hield is insanely likable, the type of player even opposing fans can’t boo. (Like at Allen Fieldhouse a few weeks back, when Kansas fans gave Hield a standing ovation after his incredible 46-point performance that was his Naismith Award moment.) He’s the most marketable personality in the sport, with a smile that matches his nickname, "Buddy Love."
And Oklahoma’s supporting cast? Woodard, the junior point guard who somehow has an even higher 3-point percentage than Hield, is Klay Thompson, the Robin who perfectly complements Batman. Cousins is Harrison Barnes: a solid, versatile, occasionally spectacular player who can be the best player on the court any given night. Spangler is Draymond Green, kind of: a big guy who can play inside and out. (Green is the most unique player in the NBA, so let’s not split hairs here.)
Baylor’s bewildered head coach, Scott Drew, made the Golden State comparison after Saturday’s game. And after that shelling, it made perfect sense: The Sooners had just made 16 threes days after making a school-record 17 threes against Iowa State. But that wasn’t just the shell shock speaking. The comparison is real, a break-the-mold type of team that absolutely could win it all this year.
Hell, they have an outside shot at setting the college hoops record for 3-point percentage on a season (Princeton made 49.2 percent of its threes in 1987-88).
A fellow national college basketball reporter told me she takes her son to NBA games only when the Warriors are in town. That’s the only team her son cares about, because Curry is an absolute dynamo and the Warriors may play the most beautiful basketball in NBA history.
And that’s how we should all feel about this season’s Oklahoma Sooners: not just that they should keep their No. 1 ranking despite this week’s Iowa State loss (and they absolutely should), but that they also have become must-see television, the most beautiful team in college basketball, a team that certainly can win the whole damn thing.
And in so doing, they just might save college hoops.