Prior to the first leg of March Madness being played, you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone who thought the Oklahoma Sooners had a legitimate shot at making it to the Final Four. However, after defeating VCU en route to the Sweet Sixteen, people started to look at Oklahoma differently. When seeded in the West Anaheim bracket, with the top-seeded Oregon Ducks, most assumed that Oklahoma’s trail might end there, or even sooner. Vegas had them going off at 20:1 or worse for even the Elite Eight, not to mention the Final Four. Though after beating Texas A&M in the Sweet Sixteen, Oklahoma absolutely crushed the top-seeded Ducks 80-68 en route to the Final Four. And it wasn’t anywhere near as close as the score suggests. Led by Buddy Hield, Oklahoma is starting to look like the best team in the nation.
Hield wasn’t exactly an underrated player or anything. He was considered one of the top-five players in the NCAA this year, behind players like LSU’s Ben Simmons, who is considered a shoo-in for the #1 pick in the NBA Draft. However, after Buddy dropped 37 points on Oregon, a team with a good defense, many are starting to rethink their assessment of Hield, and certainly of the Sooners.
Buddy Hield opened up the game against Oregon on fire, and he never stopped his domination. He hit eight 3-point shots, which is Steph Curry-level greatness in a big game, and ended up dominating at the guard position for both halves. Another top-five player in the nation, Oregon’s Elgin Cook did everything he could to keep the game in reach, scoring 24 points. The Ducks had an 11-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s Elite Eight match-up, and they were the favorites to win. Vegas had them by 3 points, but by the time the first half was over, it was clear that Oklahoma was the better team. They led 48-30 at the half, and the Ducks simply couldn’t answer Hield’s relentless play. Apart from the points he scored, Buddy also rebounded well, grabbed loose balls, avoided making costly turnovers, and played tenacious defense.
Hield is an anomaly in college basketball today. He’s actually a senior, and he came back with the express purpose of leaving college as a National Champion. While the majority of top players in college leave after their freshman season, Hield stuck it out in Sooner Land, despite being a two-time Big 12 Player of the Year winner, deciding to finish what he started. And thanks to Hield’s impressive performance, Oklahoma is now in the Final Four and await the winner of the Kansas Jayhawks and Villanova Wildcats match-up.
The moral of the story here is that the bookmakers don’t always have it correct as illustrated by the Vegas odds on the NCAA tournament prior to the elite 8. In fact, nobody gets it correct. There has never been a perfect bracket, and likely never will be. And especially in a down year like this where there’s no runaway favorite, the hottest teams get all the recognition as the best teams. Oregon was a hot team, winning 11 in a row. But, as was decided on the court of play, the Oklahoma Sooners were the better team, and Buddy Hield is the primary reason.