‘Buddy Plan’ in Sooner Basketball is About More Than Buddy Hield


Buddy Hield was the Big 12 Player of the Year last season, and the league coaches have projected the Oklahoma star as the preseason choice to retain that title in the 2015-16 season.

Hield is the best player on the Sooners’ men’s basketball squad, but what makes OU one of the best team’s in the Big 12 and in the country this season is the supporting cast around him that complements his star presence on the court and is fully capable of stepping up for him when his game is a bit off.

Even the best players in the land can fall victim to an occasional off-night shooting the ball or good defense. It is when those times happen that the true strength and character of a team is revealed.

Nov 29, 2015; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners guard Buddy Hield (24) drives to the basket in front of Wisconsin Badgers guard Bronson Koenig (24) during the second half at Lloyd Noble Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, Oklahoma faced a Wisconsin team that is struggling this season after going 36-4 a year ago and advancing all the way to the NCAA national championship game before losing to Duke. A year ago, this would have been a matchup of two nationally ranked teams. Only the Sooners are ranked this season, at No. 7 coming into the contest with the Badgers.

Oklahoma was a solid favorite in the game, and the Sooners did win rather handily, 65-48, but they didn’t look extra sharp in doing so. Both teams missed quite a few open looks at the basket. Fortunately for OU. the Badgers missed quite a few more than the Sooners.

Sunday was not a particularly good day for Oklahoma’s star player and sharpshooter Hield, but you certainly wouldn’t know that by the 17-point-margin final outcome. Hield scored better than 20 points in each of the Sooners first three games of the 2015-16 season, including 30 in the season-opening win over Memphis. Before Sunday’s game with Wisconsin, he had a cumulative point total of 76 points in 80 minutes of action. That is an average of nearly a point a minute.

Contributing to that offensive efficiency, Hield shot 56 percent from the field (25 for 44) and made 57 percent of his three-point shots (11 of 19) in the first three games this season.

In Game 4 however, Hield had trouble getting his shot to fall. He shot 16 times, with only five falling, and his was 0 for 2 behind the three-point line. You’d have to go well back in his Sooner career to find a game in which Hield attempted just two treys in a game. And it wasn’t like he didn’t see much playing time against Wisconsin. He was off the court for just eight of the full 40 minutes.

It was just one of those occasional off nights for the Sooner All-American.

With three returning starters back this season in addition to Hield, though, the Sooners have the offensive weapons and experience and are built to withstand a rare sub-standard shooting performance from the Big 12’s leading scorer last season.

“It’s huge anytime you have different options on the floor.” —Lon Kruger, OU head coach

Ryan Spangler, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard have played alongside Hield for so long as Sooner starters they probably can easily complete each other’s sentences by now. All four have started every Oklahoma basketball game the past three seasons. That is 72 consecutive starts.

When they are on the court, they play for one another and have each other’s back. No where was that more evident that on Sunday. Against Wisconsin, the 6-8 Spangler, whose best game is on the offensive and defensive glass and near the rim, showed he can get in the act from long range, as well. Spangler drained consecutive three-pointers early in the game and a third shot from just inside the arc to ignite a mini OU run and create some separation that the Sooners quickly expanded to double digits and put the Badgers in a hole they were never able to climb out of.

Seven minutes into the game on Sunday, Spangler had 10 of the Sooners’ 15 points. He finished with 20 points, just one shy of his career high, connecting on 7 of 9 shots and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line to go along with 14 rebounds.

Cousins also had a good game against Wisconsin, contributing 14 points, one under his season high.

Sooner head coach Lon Kruger likes a complete team effort and having multiple offensive weapons on the floor, and he was especially pleased with Spangler’s scoring contribution in the win over Wisconsin.

"“It’s huge anytime you have different weapons on the floor,” Kruger said in his postgame press briefing. “Ryan’s worked hard on this part of his game, and that’s just going to complement and set up everything else he does. He had a terrific game, got off to a good start and rebounded the ball like crazy.”"

Having someone as talented and experienced as Hield on the floor is going to win you a lot of games over the course of a long season, but it’s probably not going to be enough to win championships. Basketball is a team game. The best teams operate as such.

That’s why having Buddy is one thing very much in the Sooners’ favor this season, but the buddy system is what the team will count on to take it where it wants to go – and that is a Big 12 title and far into the NCAA Tournament.