If You Ask Around, Oklahoma Has Already Lost to North Dakota State

Posted by Nate Kotisso on March 20th, 2014

The brackets were released late Sunday afternoon with #5 Oklahoma pitted against #12 North Dakota State in the West Region. Almost immediately, the near consensus was that the Sooners will get upset by the Bison. The Dallas Morning News compiled this list of predictions from various ESPN and CBS Sports personalities on Oklahoma’s NCAA Tournament forecast. That pessimism isn’t just relegated to the analysts; social media followed suit as well. It’s the classic #5/#12 game that most filling out a bracket anoint as a mark-it-down upset (they’re doing it with Cincinnati-Harvard too). But not all upset options are created equally.

Lon Kruger is the only coach in NCAA history to take five different teams to the tournament. (Young Kwak/Associated Press)

Lon Kruger is the only coach to take five different schools to the NCAA tournament. But he still gets no respect, no respect at all. (Young Kwak/Associated Press)

Does it make sense to pick against Oklahoma? Absolutely. The Sooners are constructed to be unappealing on purpose. There aren’t any superstar freshmen, All-American talent or a big-name head coach. And despite all this, it was Lon Kruger’s team that finished second in the best conference in college basketball. He came into 2013-14 without five of his top eight scorers from last season, but that didn’t matter — this year’s guard-oriented offense is averaging a surprising 82 points per game. Yeah, a Lon Kruger coached team is doing this. The four-guard (Cameron Clark, Jordan Woodard, Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins), one forward (Ryan Spangler) lineup that Kruger went with to start the season was risky because it appeared it would get outmuscled against bigger opponents. But interestingly enough, the Sooners were able to pull off season sweeps against Baylor and Texas, two teams with long and skilled frontcourts.

Unlike typical Kruger teams, however, these Sooners have struggled on the defensive end. No matter which numbers you’re looking at, the Sooners are subpar defensively (allowing nearly 76 points per game, the second-highest total among the remaining 64 teams in the field). According to Kenpom, their 100.4 adjusted defensive efficiency is only better than 23 tournament teams. Is it bad? Not really, but the Sooners won’t win any Tournament games because of it.

That’s where the Bison come in. North Dakota State is led by Summit League Player of the Year Taylor Braun, a 6’7″ wing who had a Shabazz Napier-like season, leading his team in scoring (18.2 PPG), rebounding (5.5 RPG) and assists (3.9 APG). They, like Oklahoma, don’t have a lot of size on their roster. Aside from Braun, the Bison have three other players who average double figures including senior forward TrayVonn Wright (11.1 PPG) and junior guard Lawrence Alexander (10.8 PPG), who shoos at a 39.6 percent clip from beyond the arc. The Bison have unflattering defensive numbers as well. Their adjusted defensive efficiency is weaker than the Sooners (103.1) and their three-point percentage defense ranks 309th in college basketball (37.5 percent). Truth be told, Oklahoma and North Dakota State share more similarities than differences.

What does this mean? POINTS FOR DAYS. We could be looking at a close game in the high 70s or 80s today (!!!). A key statistic to look out for will be fast break points. Because both teams don’t use many big guys in their rotation, whichever club is able to get out and beat their opponent on the break will likely hold an important edge in the game’s outcome.

Game time is set for 6:27 PM CT on truTV. Sorry guys, it’s the best CBS/Turner could do.

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