Rushed Reactions: #4 San Diego State 63, #12 North Dakota State 44

Posted by Kenny Ocker on March 22nd, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregionKenny Ocker is an RTC columnist and correspondent. He is covering the Spokane pods of the East and West regionals this week. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Xavier Thames Was Unstoppable on Saturday

Xavier Thames Was Unstoppable on Saturday

  1. Xavier Thames is a true X-factor. The San Diego State senior guard is the only thing that separates the Aztecs from mediocrity, but his abilities as a shooter and distributor were too much for North Dakota State to handle tonight. The former Washington State guard lit up Spokane for 30 points while also dishing out six assists. Notwithstanding the ridiculous play of Adreian Payne, this was the performance of the subregional so far. He was unstoppable on pick-and-rolls and hit three-pointers when the Bison defense sagged. When double-teams came, he found open teammates.
  2. Taylor Braun’s legs were gone. The Bison’s best player left Thursday’s win over Oklahoma looking as beaten up as a prize-fighter who took the title in 15 rounds. The beating he took showed in his performance on Saturday, shooting 1-of-10 in the first half and 2-of-14 overall, finishing with just seven points. North Dakota State needed a far better performance from its senior stud, who averaged 18.0 points per game coming into Saturday’s game.
  3. It’s Saul over. North Dakota’s Cinderella run stops at one, which means eminently quotable coach Saul Phillips won’t be heard on a national stage. (Next year’s probably not great either, as Braun and center Marshall Bjorklund both graduate.) But hey, on the bright side, not winning two games may mean less media attention and prominence and more of a chance of Phillips sticking around in Fargo for another season.

Star of the Game: San Diego State’s defense. The Aztecs held the nation’s best-shooting team to 31.3 percent shooting from the field. The Bison got eight offensive rebounds and only turned the ball over six times, but still finished with just 44 points. If San Diego State’s defense continues to show up like this, a Final Four might be within reach.

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Rushed Reactions: #12 North Dakota State 80, #5 Oklahoma 75 (OT)

Posted by Kenny Ocker on March 20th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion. Kenny Ocker is an RTC correspondent. He is covering the Spokane pods of the East and West regionals this week. He wrote this after 12-seed North Dakota beat 5-seed Oklahoma 80-75 in Spokane on Thursday evening.

Three Key Takeaways.

Celebrate North Dakota, your team is headed for the Round of 32. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Celebrate North Dakota, your team is headed for the Round of 32. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

  1. “WE’RE STAYING HERE.” North Dakota State coach Saul Phillips wants you to know that he’s not ready to leave the Pacific Northwest just yet, and he wanted his fans to know that too, coming over to visit the Bison faithful after the game ended. The best game of the Spokane sub-regional went down to the wire – twice. North Dakota State came back from three points down with 20 seconds to go to force overtime, then came out and ran Oklahoma off the court in overtime, despite star guard Taylor Braun fouling out halfway through the extra period.
  2. North Dakota State is one of the nation’s best-shooting teams for a reason. The Bison came into Spokane with the nation’s fifth-best effective field-goal percentage and hit that target again, with an effective field goal rate better than 60 percent despite stars Braun and Marshall Bjorklund being contained well. The pair combined for just 24 points, but guard Lawrence Alexander picked up the slack for them with 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting. Also, a 20-of-22 performance from the free throw line certainly helped their cause.
  3. Cameron Clark showed up at the biggest possible time. The Oklahoma forward carried his team’s offense late in the game, jump-starting it with a shot after an eight-plus-minute field-goal drought, putting the Sooners within two with three minutes to go. From then through the end of regulation, he had seven of his team’s nine points, and finished with 25.

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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.

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