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Tale of the tape

Round Of 64 Matchup: #5 Oklahoma Vs. #12 North Dakota State

By Shawn S. Lealos

The Oklahoma Sooners return to the NCAA Tournament for the second time since 2009 and prepare to face a North Dakota State team whose only tournament appearance in program history was also 2009. The Sooners make it back to the Big Dance thanks to head coach Lon Kruger, who turned his team around. The Bison have remained a great team in a mid-major conference just fighting to get noticed. This could end up as one of the tournament’s first upsets.

(credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) (credit: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
(credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) (credit: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

#5 Oklahoma

#12 North Dakota State

When Kruger arrived in Norman, the Oklahoma Sooners had hit rock bottom. They had just fired their head coach and were facing NCAA sanctions. Three years later, he has the Sooners back in the tournament for the second straight season. Kruger accomplished a 23-win season in a tough conference without a first-team Big 12 player on the squad, winning the Big 12 Coach of the Year award. Coaching Saul Phillips is in his seventh year as the head coach of the Bison and led them to the college basketball tournament the first year they were eligible in 2009. This year, he leads six seniors that he personally handpicked, players that most other schools overlooked but have helped lead his team to two straight 20-win seasons and a return to the Big Dance.
In what has to be an amazing feat, the Oklahoma Sooners rank seventh in the NCAA in points scored per game despite a field goal percentage ranking 133rd in the nation (45.1 percent). They did this without a single first-team All-Big 12 player, but they had one man on the second-team in Buddy Hield, who leads the Sooners with 16.9 points per game. Five Sooners average 9.8 points or more a game and this is a true team effort. Offense The Bison know how to score, leading the entire NCAA in field goal average at 50.9 percent, but only scores 76.4 points compared to Oklahoma’s 82.2. The Summit Player of the Year, Taylor Braun, leads this unit with 18.2 points per game and 5.5 assists. He is an all-purpose weapon that the Sooners will have a lot of trouble containing.
The Sooners biggest weakness through most of the season was the fact that they had to outscore teams to win games. The Sooners allowed teams to shoot 48.6 percent against them from short range, which is where the Bison excel. If the game is kept close, the Sooners defense could cost them the win. Oklahoma ranks 308th in the nation in points allowed. Defense The Bison play a high pressure defense where they attempt steals, and that can work against them when their opponents get hot. OU is a fast paced team and takes a lot of three point opportunities, which is the biggest weakness of the North Dakota State defense. This defense could allow the Sooners to score a lot of points fast if they give up too may outside shots.
The Sooners bench is a group of role players, with all four major bench players averaging 9.3 minutes a game or more. However, while they get a lot of playing time, they are not contributors to this high octane offense. Once you get past the starters, there is not a lot of scoring from the bench. Bench Depth Not only did the Bison return all five starters, but they also brought back their top sixth man in Mike Felt. North Dakota State has eight players who average over 10 minutes a game and they all contribute well to that high field goal percentage.

We'll just call it a tie

(credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) (credit: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

The North Dakota State Bison can walk away from this with a win if the score is kept close, because the Oklahoma Sooners defense is patchy enough to allow OU to lose here. However, they key is Lon Kruger, who has coached five different schools in the tournament and wants to make the Sooners the fifth he has won with. OU needs to break out fast, scoring strong and keeping the tempo quick enough to throw off the Bison. If the Sooners can do that, they will move on in the tournament.

-Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer with more than 15 years of experience in the media He covers all things college basketball. Find his work at Examiner.com.

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