The Oklahoma Sooners capped off their pre-NCAA Tournament season with a disappointing loss to the Baylor Bears. Because of this, they dropped a seed (had they won a couple of games in the conference tournament I think they could have potentially been seeded as a four) and drew the North Dakota State Bison.
It has become a tradition amongst those who fill out brackets for March Madness. Everyone wants to find Cinderella, the team that will outperform its seed. A common place to look for the bracket buster is the 5 vs. 12 matchup. It seems every year, a 12 upends its higher-seeded counterpart at least once, and in the days preceding the tournament, there is a scramble to find out which five seed will fall. This year, the Sooners are a hot pick amongst the mavens of the college basketball world to do just that. Which is why when the Sooners take the floor Thursday, they must beware of the Bison.
Previewing North Dakota State
If the media is enamored with North Dakota State, it is for good reason. The Bison went 25-6 on the season and 12-2 in their conference on their way to the league title. They are one of the most efficient teams in the country, ranking number one with a 50.3% field goal percentage. Their effective field goal percentage of 55.0% ranks eleventh, while they are sixth in total shooting efficiency according to teamrankings.com. This efficiency is reflected in their low turnover rate of 13.6%. Simply put: the Bison are not one to make unforced errors.
This is not in the least bit surprising from a veteran-laden team. Led by Summit League Player of the Year Taylor Braun, the Bison start three seniors, as well as one junior, all of who average double figures. Braun is a point guard who could create some matchup problems for the Sooners. At 6-foot-7, Braun is bigger than any guard on the Sooners’ roster. Certainly Cameron Clark could handle him, but that would leave post awfully roomy for TrayVonn Wright and Marshall Bjorklund. The two combine for 24.9 points and 9.5 rebounds a game and should not be taken lightly. Still, Braun is the major threat. Not only does he lead the team in scoring with 18.2 PPG, but he also leads in assists (3.9) and rebounds (5.5). He shoots with high proficiency already (61.7 TS%), and, with the height advantage, will certainly have ample opportunity to let it fly. Mike Felt also deserves some recognition. The senior sixth man has proven a lethal weapon in North Dakota State’s arsenal, shooting 39.3% from deep this season. When he comes into the game, Oklahoma will need to lock down the perimeter to ensure he doesn’t catch fire. Guard Lawrence Alexander must also be watched as he has also shown a tendency to fill it up, and has only gotten better later in the season.
Defensively, the Bison have oscillated. They hold opponents to 67.5 points per contest, but, considering their SOS of 131, that number is hardly telling. They have slipped up, allowing 95 to North Dakota, 85 to Santa Clara, 82 to Towson and IPFW, and 79 to Ohio State. Still, they have shown improvement of late, holding opponents at or under 60 in seven of their last ten games.
The Bison’s rebounding numbers are quite deceiving. They rank 278th in the country in offensive rebounding, which may lead one to believe they are mediocre rebounders. However, it is more than likely that they shoot at such a high percentage that there are little offensive rebounds to be had. On the defensive side of the ball, there is drastic improvement; the Bison rank 16th in defensive rebounding percentage. The Bison don’t allow for other teams to grab many boards either; they are number one in the country in that category, holding opponents to 28.6 boards a game.
Keys to a Sooner Victory
The Sooners will need to play their style of basketball. It sounds trite, but it’s true. The Sooners’ run-n-gun, high-scoring, high-possession brand of basketball is the antithesis of what North Dakota State does. The Bison’s gameplan is a basketball purist’s dream. It is slow and prosaic, but effective. Much of their scoring is done by methodically working the ball in half-court sets. They are patient and don’t force much, as evidenced by their high shooting percentages. In order to win, the Sooners need to get the Bison unsettled and stampeding.
Secondly, Ryan Spangler will have to work his tail off. The Bison may prove formidable in the post, but Spangler is energetic enough to combat the Bison bigs. The 6-foot-8 forward led the Big 12 in rebounding for a reason. He went through a stretch during conference play where it seemed a forgone conclusion that he would grab double digits rebounds every game. He has since cooled off, grabbing double digit boards in just two of the last ten games. For the Sooners to stand a chance, Spangler will need to reignite the fire. Bold prediction: if Spangler gets a double-double, the Sooners will assuredly win. If not, the Bison’s size may get the best of them.
Jordan Woodard will also be key for the Sooners. All season long, Woodard showed an adroitness, maneuvering past defenders to get to the basket. He received a high reward for this, in the form of foul shots. Still, like Spangler, Woodard has seemed to hit a wall as of late. It may just be his inexperience catching up with him, but the Sooners need Woodard to show the drive he did earlier in the year, now more than ever.
Lastly, the Sooners should not be afraid to let it fly. I don’t think this will be much of a problem, the Sooners have been pretty trigger-happy all season. Still, on a big stage, there may be some hesitancy. But three pointers are this team’s forte. The Sooners need to work the ball around like they have all season, and find the open shot from deep.
The Sooners should be wary. North Dakota State is a popular upset pick for a reason. They are efficient and can score in a variety of ways. Not to mention the matchup problems they present. Still, it’s not like Oklahoma hasn’t seen and beaten teams of better caliber this season. Playing in what is widely considered the deepest conference in the nation, the Sooners were prepped for this type of challenge. If it plays its game, Oklahoma should win.
Tip-off for the game is set for 6:27 PM CST at Spokane Arena in Spokane, WA. It will be televised on truTV.
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