Final Four: Can Villanova Stop Hield and the Sooners




Villanova’s Josh Hart (right) and Oklahoma’s Isaiah Cousins will see a lot of each other in Saturday’s National Semifinal at NRG Stadium in Houston.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Even if Villanova doesn’t end up cutting down the nets as the NCAA National Champions Monday night in Houston, you can’t say that it’s been another disappointing year for the Wildcats.


Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Villanova’s Kris Jenkins will square off in Saturday’s National Semifinal. Photo courtesy

After a couple of years of early exits as a high seed, the Wildcats dominated most of their tournament opponents and ground out a tough win over Kansas in the South Regional Final and now they’re two games from winning their first national championship since 1985.

Standing in their way is the University of Oklahoma’s all-everything senior point-guard Buddy Hield and his ability to score from just about everywhere. In the Sooners regional final win over Oregon, he was virtually unstoppable, scoring 37 points and shooting 8-of-13 from three-point range.

Earlier in the season, the two teams played each other in Hawaii with the Sooners coming away with a 78-55 win.

In that game, Hield wasn’t the problem, Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. The Sooners had four players in double figures with Hield ( 18 points) and Isiah Cousins (19 points) leading the way.

“We did a decent job on Hield in the first game, and [Isaiah] Cousins killed us,” he said. “So we know it’s going to be more than a basic plan. I think that’s how it’s going to go. We aren’t going to just do one thing because those guys are too smart and too good for that.”

“Hopefully, we can shut them all down,” Villanova point guard Ryan Arcidiacono said. “We know it’s going to be tough. We know they are going to score their points and make their shots, so we just have to make sure they are tough contested shots.”

While Wright concedes that his team will be a facing an Oklahoma squad that’s only gotten better with time, the same could be said about his squad, he said.

For example, the Sooners are going to have to figure out how to stop Villanova’s three-headed monster of Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Arcidiacono, all of whom average in double figures in scoring. If those three get going for the Wildcats, expect lots of flying basketballs.

“Oklahoma has obviously gotten better but we have gotten a lot better in my mind,” Wright said. “I think we had a lot more room to improve than they did. When we played Oklahoma earlier this season, Jalen (Brunson) was starting for the first time. Kris and Josh were starting for the first time. We were an inexperienced team and it really showed, so I think we are a much more experienced team now.”

In that early-season game against the Sooners, , the Wildcats had problems scoring from three-point range, hitting 4-of-32 shots from behind the arc. To counteract the Sooners, they’re going to have hit their long-range shots, but they’re also going to have to go into the low post, something they did to beat Kansas in the regional final.

“We want our guys to come in and be really confident and aggressive at the start,” Wright said. “We realize when we do that we’re going to look bad sometimes, and then over a season, we want to go from aggressive to intelligent, without losing that aggressiveness.”

But in the end, how the team performs on the court is all that counts, said Brunson, a freshman who averages 9.8 points and shoots 38 percent from three-point range.

“We’ve come very far, we play better team defense and we’ve done a lot of things good offensively,” said Brunson, whose father Rick played for John Chaney at Temple in the 1990s. “As a whole, everyone’s been getting a lot better, but also, Oklahoma has gotten better…We’ll have to get out there and see.”





Eagles Selection Of Johnson a Good Choice

Eagles No. 1 draft pick Lane Johnson hopes to fit in with head coach Chip Kelly's offense.

Eagles No. 1 draft pick Lane Johnson hopes to fit in with head coach Chip Kelly’s offense.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report/Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—We all figured the Eagles would go with an offensive lineman with the fourth pick in the draft because they certainly have a need for depth at that position.

And so with Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher (Kansas City Chiefs) and Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel (Jacksonville Jaguars) off the board with the first two picks and the Miami Dolphins taking Oregon linebacker Dion Jordan after a trade with the Oakland Raiders , the Eagles went with Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson (6-foot-6, 303 pounds) as their No. 1 pick.

Considering the beating that both quarterbacks Michael Vick and Nick Foles took last season and Chip Kelly’s emphasis on creating a faster, more up-tempo offense, Johnson, who ran a 4.75 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combines, is definitely a logical choice for this team.

“I think they like effort and guys that can move,” Johnson said in a conference call with the Philadelphia media. “I don’t know what type of offense they’re going to do, but I know at Oregon they ran a very fast-paced offense that was very similar to Oklahoma and I think I fit in with what they need.”

If anything, Kelly feels a lot happier about the depth he has along the offensive than he was when he first came in, especially with Jason Peters, Todd Herremans and Jason Kelce recovering from injuries.

“It’s ongoing process, but do I feel better? Yes,” Kelly said. “Will we continue to look at guys in this draft? Yes.”

Even more remarkable for Johnson to be picked as high as he was by the Eagles is that he just started playing on the offensive line during his junior year where he played right tackle after playing on the defensive line and tight  end.  Johnson was a high school quarterback when he came to Oklahoma.

“I think you see a guy who’s 6-foot-6, 300 pounds, he has 35-inch arms. He has an unbelievable athletic background to him,” Kelly said. “He just has such an upside that’s the thing that excites us. Football’s about winning the game up front and when you get a guy like that and to add the guys we have. It’s a great pick up for us.”

The common theme when it comes to Johnson is that he’s raw because of his inexperience at playing  on the offensive line.  But then again, the word “raw” was used a couple of years ago when the Eagles drafted Danny Watkins, who hasn’t amounted to much since he’s been with the Birds.

When people give players the raw tag that usually means he’s going to be a project who may not get a chance to play anytime soon.  That’s a notion Kelly vehemently disagrees with when it comes to Johnson.

“He’ll determine that when he gets on the field,” Kelly said. “I’ve said since whenever I’ve coached. We don’t set the depth chart, you do. We don’t run a dictatorship, we don’t run a democracy, we run a meritocracy. If you merit playing time, then show us in practice that you merit it, show us in preseason games you merit it, we’ll put you on the field. He’ll get an opportunity to show what he can do.”

Coming into his junior year, Johnson , who was weighing about 280 pounds, was defensive end, but with injuries along the Sooners offensive line,  Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops persuaded Johnson to bulk up a few pounds and play on the line.

“From D-end to tackle, it was easy for him,” Stoops said. “He’s a great athlete, a big guy. We could tell within a couple of practices, this is going to fit him perfectly.  I said to him right then, I said right then, ‘You’re going to be a first or second round pick within the first week or so.”

Stoops proved to be prophetic, but what Eagles fans want to know if Johnson can make that transition to the pro game as quick as he did at Oklahoma.  Johnson believes that he will be a starter by the time the Eagles kickoff the regular season against the Washington Redskins.

“I think I am, yes sir,” Johnson said when asked if he thought he was ready to be a starter.