Sooners and Badgers Clash on Thanksgiving
THURSDAY'S GAME BASICS
After opening the Battle 4 Atlantis with its first win over a major-conference foe this season, Oklahoma (4-0, 0-0 Big 12) now faces its first ranked opponent of the year in No. 25/RV Wisconsin (4-0, 0-0 Big Ten). OU is 6-9 against ranked non-conference opponents during the Lon Kruger era. The Badgers will be a tough defensive test for the Sooners, as UW has held opponents to 59.0 points and a .368 shooting percentage in its first four games. Oklahoma is 3-1 when playing on Thanksgiving Day during Kruger’s tenure.
ON THE AIR
Thursday’s matchup will air on the Sooner Radio Network (KRXO 107.7 FM “The Franchise” in Oklahoma City; KTBZ 1430 AM in Tulsa; Tune In Radio App) with Tom Dore and Kevin Henry announcing. Jon Sciambi and Dan Dakich will call the action on ESPN. Fans with proper cable verification can also stream the game on the Watch ESPN App.
OU AT BATTLE 4 ATLANTIS
• The Sooners are making their second appearance in Battle 4 Atlantis, previously finishing in second place in 2014. Oklahoma claimed wins over UCLA and Butler in the opening two rounds before falling to Wisconsin in the title game.
• With Wednesday's win over Florida, Oklahoma is now 3-1 all-time in Battle 4 Atlantis. The Sooners' lone loss came to Thursday's opponent – Wiconsin – in the 2014 championship game.
• Oklahoma’s previous trip to the Bahamas was especially meaningful for 2016 National Player of the Year and Freeport, Bahamas native Buddy Hield. A junior at the time, Hield was able to play in his home country with his college team.
• OU is 17-6 during in-season tournament games under Lon Kruger, having won at least two games in all seven previous in-season tournaments in the Kruger era.
Rashard Odomes recorded a season-high 11 points in Wednesday's win.
RECAPPING OU'S OPENING-ROUND WIN
• Oklahoma (4-0, 0-0 Big 12) opened its time in the Bahamas on Wednesday with a 65-60 win over Florida (2-2, 0-0 SEC) in the first round of Battle 4 Atlantis. The win gave Oklahoma its first 4-0 start since the 2015-16 season.
• Although the Sooners had their worst shooting night of the young season (25-of-64, .391), Oklahoma was able to grind out the win through its defense and size. The Sooners totaled eight blocked shots and six steals while holding the Gators to 23-of-59 (.390) shooting.
• Oklahoma outrebounded Florida, 48-34, and outscored the Gators in the paint, 38-17. The rebounding margin (14) was OU’s largest over its last 29 games (17 vs. UTSA on Dec. 4, 2017).
• The Sooners led 52-50 with 6:44 remaining before separating themselves from UF with a 11-4 run. Oklahoma went ahead 63-54 on a Brady Manek dunk with 3:38 to play, which would be its final field goal of the night. The Sooners went 0-of-3 the rest of the night but was able to hold on to the win by forcing Florida to miss its final three shots.
• Senior guard Christian James led OU’s scoring efforts with 18 points and seven rebounds. James has scored at least 15 points in all four games this season.
• OU’s offense was aided by season-high nights from seniors Jamuni McNeace and Rashard Odomes with 11 points each. McNeace added four blocks on the defensive end.
• The win was OU’s first ever victory over Florida. The Sooners are now 1-2 all-time against the Gators.
SERIES HISTORY: WISCONSIN
• The Sooners and Badgers have faced off nine previous times with Wisconsin holding a 5-4 edge. The Badgers are 2-0 when facing the Sooners on neutral sites while the Sooners are 4-3 when playing on either campus.
• Thursday’s matchup will be the fourth meeting with Wisconsin in the past five seasons, all during the Lon Kruger era. Oklahoma has only faced Northwestern State (five times) more in non-conference play during Kruger’s tenure (hired in 2011).
• Oklahoma is 1-2 against UW during the Kruger era. Wisconsin defeated OU in the championship game of the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis followed by a home-and-home series where the home club won on both occasions (OU in 2015, UW in 2016).
• During the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis championship game, the Badgers were led by Frank Kaminsky with 17 points and eight rebounds while OU’s star, Buddy Hield, was held to nine points. Wisconsin went on to advance to the 2015 Final Four later that season, while Oklahoma made its run to the 2016 Final Four the following year. Additionally, Kaminsky was named college basketball’s player of the year for the 2014-15 season and Hield won the honor the following campaign.
• In the Sooners’ loss at Wisconsin in 2017, Rashard Odomes posted 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting and Christian James added 11 points with four boards.
• The Sooners are 2-4 against Big Ten teams during the Kruger era.
TOURNAMENT QUICK HITS
• A win would give Oklahoma just its second 5-0 start in the past 10 years. The 2015-16 squad opened the year 12-0.
• Should the Sooners advance against Wisconsin, Oklahoma would become just the second school to reach the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game multiple times over the tournament’s eight year history. Villanova reached the championship game in both 2013 and 2017.
• Christian James continued his strong start on Wednesday with a game-high 18 points. James has reached at least 15 points in all four games this season (previous career-best streak was three games) and is second in the Big 12 in scoring with 21.5 points per game.
• Brady Manek reached double-digit rebounds for the fourth straight game on Wednesday, pulling down 10 boards. The 6-9 forward averaged 5.2 rebounds during his freshman season (fourth most among Big 12 frosh), but after putting on roughly 20 pounds during the offseason he is showing more physicality on the glass. Manek is averaging 11.5 points and 11.0 rebounds through four games and is the only Big 12 player averaging a double-doubke. He entered the season with zero career double-doubles, but has recorded a double-double in three of his first four games this season. He is the first Sooner since Blake Griffin to open a season with three consecutive double-doubles.
• The Sooners have gotten out to aggressive starts on the defensive end in their past three contests. In a road win at UTSA (Nov. 12), the Sooners held UTSA scoreless until the 12:09 mark as the Roadrunners missed their first 16 shots of the game. Oklahoma also saw a strong defensive start at home against Wofford (Nov. 18), as the Terriers missed their first six shots before getting on the board at the 15:48 mark. Against Florida (Nov. 21), the Gators went without a field goal until the 15:39 mark.
• Graduate guard Miles Reynolds has started his season a perfect 14-of-14 from the foul line. He owns the fourth-most made foul shots without a miss in the country, behind leader Josh McSwiggan of Portland who is 20-of-20. Reynolds, a graduate transfer from Pacific, led the West Coast Conference in foul shots last season (158), shooting his free throws at an 80.2 percent clip.
• Head coach Lon Kruger has emphasized that this year’s Sooner squad will feature different scorers stepping up each game. Through four games, seven different Sooners have scored in double figures in at least one game.
• Last season’s Sooner squad was one of the youngest teams in both the Big 12 and the country. With nine freshmen and sophomores and only one senior, Oklahoma was the second least-experienced team in the conference, according to KenPom.com. The analytics website’s formula, based on age and collegiate playing experience, ranked the Sooners 304 out of 351 Division I teams in experience. It will be a different story for Oklahoma this season, as its roster now features eight seniors or graduate students and only one scholarship freshman. Using the same KenPom experience metric, Oklahoma is No. 23 in experience this season and No. 1 among teams from major conferences.
• Through the combination of time and targeting experienced transfers in recruiting, the Sooners now boast the most seniors and graduates of any team in the Big 12. With seven more seniors/graduates than 2017-18, Oklahoma owns the largest-known increase of seniors in NCAA Division I this season. The Sooners’ average age on opening night in 2017 was 19.9. On the day of OU’s 2018 season opener (Nov. 9), the Oklahoma roster was an average age of 21.1 and the oldest in the Big 12.
• Christian James, Rashard Odomes and Jamuni McNeace form the core group of OU seniors, as all three have spent at least three years in the Sooners’ program. The trio combines for 278 games of collegiate experience and 113 starts. Both James and Odomes have been consistent members of OU’s starting lineup over the past two seasons, while McNeace continued to see his role expanded as the 2017-18 season progressed. James’ 11.9 points per game last season are the most among returning players while McNeace led Sooner returners in rebounds (5.4) and blocked shots (1.4). With a 7-foot-4 wingspan and one of the most athletic builds on the team, McNeace is gearing towards having a breakout senior season as the Sooners’ starting center.
• Oklahoma also installed significant experience and leadership into its roster through the addition of two graduate transfer guards: Aaron Calixte and Miles Reynolds. An experienced point guard from the University of Maine, Calixte brings career averages of 11.6 points and 3.0 assists. With 1,125 career points to his name, Calixte averaged 16.9 points per game and shot 61-of-158 (.386) from 3-point range in 2017-18. Calixte faces the challenge of filling OU’s point guard role, left open by Trae Young’s top-five selection in the 2018 NBA Draft, but will rely on his own experience at the position along with veteran players surrounding him.
• Reynolds joins the Sooners after two seasons at Pacific, where he scored 13.3 points a game last season. The guard has experience at both the point guard position and playing off the ball and aims to lend a veteran voice to the court and locker room. In the team’s annual player poll, Reynolds’ teammates voted him the best vocal leader and one of OU’s best leaders by example.
UP NEXT: DAYTON OR NO. 4 VIRGINIA
• Should the Sooners defeat the Badgers, OU will advance to the championship game and face the winner of the Dayton-Virginia game. The tournament championship is slated for Friday at 1 p.m. CT on ESPN. If OU falls to the Badgers, the Sooners will compete in Friday's third-place game at 10:30 a.m. CT on ESPN or ESPN2.