Decades ago the biggest head-to-head matchups in college basketball received catchy headlines and plenty of reporter-driven hype leading into big games. In 2016 players only need to open their Twitter feed to feel the buzz 140 characters at a time when the stars align to give us a game like Saturday’s game pitting Oklahoma vs. LSU which will give us the Sooners’ Buddy Hield going against Tigers freshman Ben Simmons.
“That’s all I’ve been seeing in my Twitter mentions — ‘I can’t wait for the Buddy Hield-Ben Simmons matchup,'” Hield said, via the Tulsa World, after the Sooners dismantled Texas Tech earlier this week. “It’s a good game for college basketball, a lot of hype to it. Two of the best players in college are playing.
“Of course, the media is gonna blow it up. It should be fun.”
Damn right the media is going to blow it up. Hield is the frontrunner for national player of the year. Simmons has been one of the most outstanding individual players in college basketball (and leads our Freshman of the Year Watch), but Oklahoma’s success has strengthened Hield’s argument for player of the year when put up against the 19-year old Australian.
Another reason for Hield’s advantage has been his absurd shooting numbers and where they place him in history. As it stands now, Hield is on pace to become the first major conference player since Arizona’s Salim Stoudamire (2004-05) to make at least 50 percent of his 2s, 50 percent of his 3s and 90 percent of his free throws. That kind of production and efficiency, combined with the Sooners’ place in the pecking order of college hoops makes the senior Bahamian an easy choice for most award voters.
Plenty can change at 5 p.m. Saturday when the entire country tunes in to see both players on the floor in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
It won’t be the first time they’ve seen each other, since the two players have gone head-to-head already, on the camp circuit. “We’ve competed against each other,” Hield said. “We’ve talked trash. It’s fun. Ben is a cool dude. I like him.”
At Adidas Nation in Long Beach, colleague Sam Vecenie said Simmons got the better of Hield thanks in part to his height advantage, but when Oklahoma and LSU face off on Saturday we won’t likely get many opportunities to see the two player of the year candidates go one-on-one.
“We got to see Buddy Hield match up directly on Ben Simmons [at the Adidas camp],” Vecenie said. “Simmons got the better of it because he’s six inches taller. In this one I wouldn’t expect that too much, I would expect Simmons’ primary matchup to be Ryan Spangler. As far as Hield, I think LSU is going to go with Tim Quarterman.”
|Hield vs. Simmons: Tale of the Tape|
Coverage of Simmons has been polarizing for some, and it’s understandable. Individually, he has been fantastic at times but the LSU’s inability to make itself a contender in this year’s SEC is disappointing. No national player of the year has ever missed the NCAA tournament since the field expanded to 64 in 1985, so if Simmons is going to have a chance to make a run at the award LSU could help his case with an upset win against No. 1 in Baton Rouge.
The good news for LSU is that’s not a crazy idea to entertain. Simmons is diverse enough offensively to cause some problems for Spangler and his proven ability as a distributor should result in easy opportunities for others if Oklahoma over-commits to stopping the star freshman. LSU has a lot of ground to make up to climb back in the projected bracket, but a win against the top-ranked Sooners provides both a signature win for this team and a little bit of confidence with as many as five huge SEC games left on the schedule (at South Carolina, vs. Texas A&M, vs. Florida, at Arkansas, at Kentucky).
Oklahoma can rebound from a loss and still win the Big 12 to join the conversation for a No. 1 seed, just like Buddy Hield could have an off game against Simmons and win national player of the year. But if Simmons is going to have a shot at the game’s biggest individual awards LSU is going to have to be a tournament team and that is going to be a lot harder without a win against Oklahoma on Saturday.